Indigenous Kichwa community in Peru files landmark lawsuit against regional government of San Martin for imposition of protected area on their lands and failure to respect their land rights

The village of Nuevo Lamas
By
Forest Peoples Programme

Indigenous Kichwa community in Peru files landmark lawsuit against regional government of San Martin for imposition of protected area on their lands and failure to respect their land rights

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The Kichwa people of the San Martin region have traditionally occupied the upland forests which since 2005 were classified as the Regional Protected Area - Cerro Escalera by the regional government of San Martin. Today, many of these communities lack any secure rights to these forests and are regularly stopped and restricted from accessing its forest resources vital for their subsistence.

In 2016, and after a long struggle for recognition of their rights one of these communities, Nuevo Lamas de Shapaja, was issued with a land title extending over 1620 hectares. This constituted only a tiny fraction of the lands which they have traditionally relied on for access to vital forest resources. To make matters worse when the community examined the detail of the title they realised that only 31 hectares of the area or 2% was actually titled in their name, the rest had been issued to them in the form of a contract or leasehold known in Peru as ’cesion en uso’. Further details of the contract revealed the precariousness of this lease establishing multiple conditions and circumstances under which community rights could quietly be annulled.

This model of land titling whereby forests have been excluded from indigenous land titles has long plagued Peru's indigenous communities. Activists and lawyers have long pointed out that the model is flawed and discriminatory. Private landholders and highland communities regularly are issued with land titles including areas classified as forest but not amazonian communities. This may be however the first time that the courts in Peru have been used to challenge this longstanding paradigm that undermines secure community land rights.