Urgent Action request to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) to address the situation of the Achuar indigenous people of the Río Corrientes suffering severe health problems due to State-authorised oil exploration on their l

Urgent Action request to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) to address the situation of the Achuar indigenous people of the Río Corrientes suffering severe health problems due to State-authorised oil exploration on their l

Submitted by FECONACO and the Grupo de Trabajo Racimos de Ungurahui

  Executive Summary

  1. We direct this communication to the United Nations Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (hence CERD) in the name of the indigenous communities belonging to the Achuar, Quechua and Urarina peoples who live in the River Corrientes basin, in the district of Trompeteros, Province of Loreto, Region of Loreto, Peru. The aim is to call attention to the pressing and potentially dangerous situation that is unfolding in the Peruvian Amazon, owing to the expansion of petrol activities in the territory of the Achuar indigenous people, in the Corrientes river basin. Their lands are already heavily polluted due to decades of petrol activities, and the current expansion of new hydrocarbon blocks is occurring upon the only remaining healthy area left in this peoples territory.
  2. This situation requires the attention of the Committee because the Peruvian State has not merely failed to meet its obligations to protect indigenous territories and violated their rights to participate in decisions related to the development plans that the State promotes upon said lands. The Peruvian State has still not resolved the grave environmental problems nor the irreparable damages to the health and lives of the Achuar people caused by three decades of State approved hydrocarbon activities. Despite knowing of the damaging impacts, and without consultation, the Peruvian State has decided to expand these activities and has negotiated new petrol Blocks that overlap these communities' territories. Yet these communities are already victims and suffering the impacts from previous activities. In November 2007 the State granted rights to a third petrol Block, upon already polluted territory, and currently the new companies are preparing to initiate their activities in the area. The intrusion upon indigenous territory is imminent and the environmental, physical and cultural damage of these new activities is great. These actions are a violation of Peru's obligations within the mandate of the International Convention for the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (henceforth "the Convention") as regards equality before the law and the enjoyment of rights consecrated within Article 5, in particular the rights to land (5d, incision v) and the right to public health (e, incision iv) as well as the right to personal safety (5b) and the right to culture (5e, incision vi).
  3. The situation is urgent and of extreme gravity because the area in which these new petrol activities are to be developed is the last space the Achuar people have for carrying out their subsistence activities and their physical and cultural reproduction. The rest of their territory has been devastated by the pollution of the River Corrientes during 37 years of hydrocarbon activities. In this time almost 100 million barrels of untreated production waters have been released into local river systems, polluting the Achuar's main sources of fresh water, necessary for drinking and other subsistence activities. As is described in detail later, the official reports of the Peruvian State recognise that the Achuar population of the River Corrientes have alarmingly high levels of lead and cadmium in their blood, and that the infant population is the most affected. Over 98% of the Achuar population in this area that are under 18 years of age have above safe levels of cadmium in their blood; 66.21% of the whole sample showed higher than safe levels of lead amongst children and more than 20% of the adult population has higher than safe levels of lead. Currently a large sector of the population suffers from illnesses related to these high pollution levels.
  4. Peru is a signatory of ILO Convention 169 for Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, that establishes that the protection of ancestral and collective territory and the obligation of the State to consult indigenous peoples prior to making any decision regarding the exploration or exploitation of resources within their territories. Yet despite this the hydrocarbon legislation in Peru has not implemented mechanisms to ensure the prior consultation of indigenous peoples, nor does it grant special guarantees to indigenous property. This absence occurs as issues regarding indigenous peoples have been entirely absent from public policy and their rights are subordinated by the Peruvian Government's economic policies. The current Government, presided over by Dr. Alan Garcia Perez, has gone so far as to eliminate the only State institutions that dealt with issues regarding indigenous peoples in Peru: the National Institute for the Development of the Andean, Amazonian and Afro-Peruvian Peoples (INDEPA) and the Special Land Titling Programme (PETT).
  5. Since 2004 the Peruvian State has systematically increased its promotion of petrol activities in the Amazon. Of the 75 million hectares of Peruvian Amazon, more than 53 million hectares are currently covered by hydrocarbon blocks: 70% of the total Amazon area. Even National Protected Areas, lands reserved for isolated indigenous peoples (these peoples are highly vulnerable to infection from introduced diseases, which cause fatal epidemics) and territories titled as Native Communities to indigenous peoples have been overlapped with petrol blocks. This situation illustrates the commitment of the Peruvian State to develop hydrocarbon activities within the country. The current legislative and political situation does not guarantee adequate protection from the social and environmental impacts that this activity can cause in the fragile environment of the Amazon jungle.
  6. With this communication we hope that the members of the committee know the so urgent need to demand immediate answers from the Peruvian State about the situation of the indigenous communities on the Corrientes River and urge that they paralyse the authorisation of new operations that put the lives and health of the indigenous population of the river basin at risk. The situation is so serious that the environment will be irreparably damaged if the CERD does not intervene soon, with unforeseeable consequences for the health and future of the Achuar people in Peru. We also hope that this Urgent Action will be the start of a sustained involvement of the Committee regarding the situation of indigenous peoples in the Peruvian Amazon. Immediate action by the committee would not only limit the degree to which the Convention's causes are violated but also limit the continuing systematic violations of the Convention.
  7. This Committee's 1999 report, responding to the annual report by the Peruvian State of the same year, expressed a concern about the situation of indigenous people in Peru and observed the lack of systematic information about their social and economic situation. The Committee recommended that the Peruvian State collect and circulate this information. Unfortunately all subsequent governments have failed to respond to this mandate and to date no report has been sent to the CERD regarding Peru's indigenous peoples. The Peruvian State has thus failed to meet its obligations to return periodic reports every two years, as is stipulated by Article 9 of the Convention.
  8. Since the last presentation to the CERD, the Peruvian State has made no significant advances towards resolving the worries expressed by members of the Committee. The policies to promote extractive activities within the Amazon have been developed without considering the collective rights of the indigenous peoples, resulting in the systematic and constant violation of their rights to ancestral territory - rights that the Peruvian State itself has accepted - and also puts at risk their health and physical and cultural integrity, as outlined in detail later in this document.
  9. For all the above reasons, and with the aim to avoid more problems, the petitioning organisations respectfully ask that the Committee oblige the Peruvian Government to reverse the impacts upon the Achuar people caused by the environmental pollution and stop putting their ancestral lands, their environment and their health at further risk through the promotion of new petrol activities in the remaining healthy, uncontaminated areas. For these reasons, and consistent with the Committee's procedures to follow up its report regarding Peru and its early warning and urgent action procedures, we ask that the Committee carry out the following actions.
    1. Implements an Urgent Action measure expressing its grave concern regarding the situation of the Petrol Blocks 101, 102, 104, 106 and 143 that overlap with Achuar territory, affect their property and threaten their culture, health and ancestral territories with which they have spiritual and cultural relationships and from which they obtain many of the resources they need for daily subsistence.
    2. Demands that the Peruvian government presents a detailed explanation of how it is implementing and responding to the Committee's 1999 recommendations, particularly regarding Achuar territory in the River Corrientes.
    3. Asks the Peruvian Government to implement its obligations within ILO Convention 169 and The Convention, in particular regarding the fulfilment of consultation processes with indigenous peoples prior to the initiation of any hydrocarbon project within their territories.
    4. Urges the Peruvian Government and other State institutions to refrain from carrying out any activity that could result in impacts upon the lives, cultures, health and ancestral property of Peru's indigenous peoples.
    5. Asks that the Peruvian Government informs the Committee about the measures it is taking to ensure the fulfilment of the Committee's regulations, that it respond to the concerns raised in the Committee's 1999 report and informs on the measures it is taking to ensure that the rights inscribed in Article 5 of the Convention are upheld for the indigenous peoples of the River Corrientes.
    6. Requests that the Peruvian Government provides relevant information about this case that can be revised by the CERD during its next session, in accordance with the authority invested in the Committee by Article 65 of its rules of procedure.