By María José Veramendi Villa, legal advisor, AIDA, @MaJoVeramendi
“In Peru, the general state of social conflict is strongly influenced by the dynamics of economic growth that the country has experienced in recent years; but this growth has not necessarily brought measures that generate a perception of social welfare or political representation for certain sectors of society. ”
(Ombudsman’s report No. 156: Violence in social conflict, March 2012)
Peru is rich in minerals and other natural resources. Evidence of this is that as of June 2012, 20.3% of the national territory was licensed for mining activities, according to a report by the Cooperación NGO based on data from the government’s Geological Mining and Metallurgical Institute (INGEMMET).
In June 2013, the Ombudsman of Peru released its Monthly Report on Social Conflict No. 112 (in Spanish). The report lists 223 registered social conflicts: 170 of which are active (76.2%) and 53 latent (23.8%).
While there was a decline in the number of conflicts from the previous month, the most significant and prevalent type of conflict was socio-environmental, of which there were 145 cases in June. Of those cases, 105 were in mining, 18 in hydrocarbons, eight in energy activities and four in forestry projects.
The Ombudsman’s office defines social conflict as “a complex process in which different sectors of society, the state and the private sector have conflicting objectives, interests, values or necessities, and that these contractions can lead to violence.”
In the 2007 report Socio-environmental Conflicts from Extractive Activities in Peru (in Spanish), the Ombudsman´s office identified at least five causes of these conflicts:
People’s justified fear that extractive activities like mining can potentially cause contamination;
Communities feel vulnerable living in areas where these activities are being developed;
People lack trust in the government’s ability to prevent the contamination and degradation of the environment where they live;
Concerns that weak regulations and controls on extractive activities can cause contamination resulting in collateral damages to third parties, imposing higher costs on activities like agriculture, whose existence and development can be jeopardized by the decline in quality or quantity of available water; and
The negative impacts of extractive activities.
These causes are as pertinent today as they were in 2007. But the Peruvian authorities still appear to ignore the situation, and, in response, the justified fear of the population and the mistrust in the state worsen.
A recent example: The implementation of prior consultation
Convention No. 169 (in Spanish) of the International Labour Organization (ILO) came into force in Peru on February 2, 1995. Since then the country has been obligated to comply with its provisions, which enforce, among others, the right of indigenous and tribal peoples to be consulted onissues that affect them. The convention also states that these people, in a prior, free and informed manner, can participate in the processes to develop and formulate policies that affect them.
According to the jurisprudence of the Peruvian Constitutional Court, the convention has constitutional status. Despite this, its implementation was non-existent to the point of being a systematically denied right in the country until August 23, 2011. That’s when the Peruvian Congress approved legislation on the right to prior consultation for indigenous and tribal peoples. The law was promulgated and published on the September 6, 2011, and it has been in effect since December of that year. The Rules of Procedure to apply the Law were issued on April 3, 2012 and put into force a day later.
But these legal instruments, which could be seen as an act of good faith to implement norms that already exist in our legal system, have been heavily criticized for technical failures and for reducing the standards of protection achieved by indigenous people through their many years of struggle. These protections were cemented in the ILO Convention No. 169 of 1989, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007) and in the jurisprudence of the international bodies set up to protect human rights, especially the Inter-American Court of Human Rights
I want to highlight two facts on these shortcomings:
First, the Rules of Procedure of the Consultation Law only applies to acts conducted after its approval. This means that during the 16 years between the approval of Convention No. 169 and the Consultation Law and its Rules of Procedure, the former was merely a decorative instrument. The second little-known fact is that the Judgment 00025-2009-PI/TC (in Spanish) of the Constitutional Court states specifically: “The enforceability of the right to consultation is linked to the implementation of the ILO Convention 169 in our legal system."
Government officials (in Spanish) have signaled that the Law of Prior Consultation is not binding. Even the Peruvian president said the law “should be viewed as an instrument allowing investment, and to not to be seen as an obstacle.” We remember that in the case of The Kichwa Peoples of Sarayaku Vs. Ecuador, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled that proper consultation is a general principle of international law.
It’s time to be alert. The proper implementation of the right to consultation and prior, free and informed consent is the key to developing effective protection of indigenous rights. In a country where socio-environmental conflict is the norm – along with the causes mentioned above, it is essential to build trust and confidence among the population and give assurances that their rights will be safeguarded. If these points are not put into action, it would be no surprise to see a surge of conflicts in future.