Reflections on Rio+20, Sustainable Development and the Green Economy by Robert Guimaraes, Shipibo-Konibo People, Amazon School of Human Rights, Peru

Reflections on Rio+20, Sustainable Development and the Green Economy by Robert Guimaraes, Shipibo-Konibo People, Amazon School of Human Rights, Peru

The outcomes of governments’ negotiations at Rio+20 do contain some useful elements, especially the recognition of the importance of diverse economies and development policies. However, although human rights have been reaffirmed in the governments’ ‘vision’ for the future, the topic was not incorporated into many of the results. In general, there are few clear policies or commitments with respect to indigenous peoples. The lack of recognition is evident, for example, in the text on forests, which does not mention our peoples that sustain the majority of the world’s remaining natural forests within our ancestral territories through our customary practices and values. In my view, the results from Rio+20 do not constitute a significant breakthrough because they leave out key rights issues, such as the right to free, prior and informed consent (FPIC).

Similarly, looking at the past 20 years since the Earth Summit was held in 1992, it is clear that countries have made only minimal changes in addressing the issue of development and the environment. In a lot of cases, State actions have been restricted to the establishment of new bodies, like for example the Ministry of Environment in Peru. In many countries, including Peru, the State has not taken any actions to implement international treaties on the environment and human rights. As a result, indigenous peoples’ issues and state obligations to uphold our rights have been swept under the carpet by governments.

States dress up their development policies with talk of poverty eradication and environmental protection. They talk about numbers and reduction in poverty levels.  Former Peruvian president Alan García, for example, said on his report to the United Nations that the Peruvian people are free from illiteracy and that Peru is now a country of ‘rapid economic growth’. However, these ‘development’ and growth policies are geared towards the accelerated and major expansion of extractive industries within indigenous territories, which has caused deep suffering, environmental damage and massive violations of our collective rights. Our peoples remain vulnerable in the face of these top-down extractivist policies of the Peruvian state.

Therefore states and international development agencies must change their approaches and criteria for measuring poverty and sustainable development. The current criteria have a focus on monetary income, possession of electro-domestic products, the level of illiteracy and the number of cars and home ownership across the population. This data does not reflect quality of life for indigenous peoples. For us, wellbeing is measured by the existence of clean water and clean rivers, fish without contamination, healthy and intact forests, unpolluted air, and to our freedoms to move and use different ecosystems and resources.

So what is this ‘sustainable development’ that we talk about? Which ‘Green Economy’ is it when there are children with cadmium and lead in their blood, as is the case in the Corrientes and Loreto provinces  in eastern Peru? Where did ‘development’ go when the Camisea gas field was opened up and caused the death of 50% of the Nahua-Nanti people in the 1980’s? And now, where is the ‘sustainable development’ when there are project proposals to build interconnection roads between Ucayali (Peru) and Acre (Brazil) under the IIRSA (La Integración de la Infraestructura Regional de Sudamérica/Integration of South American Regional Infrastructure) mega-central plan, when these proposals run the same risk of killing the Isconahua indigenous people in voluntary isolation? The answer is that there is not sustainable development: instead, we are actually in a situation of systematic violations of our fundamental right to survival.

We indigenous peoples have viable alternatives based on local, bio cultural, non-polluting economies. We can offer organic products to the market, which do not harm people or the world like rosewood, Amazonian cocoa and medicinal plants that can cure cancer and diabetes. We offer these benefits to the world, as long as our rights and traditional knowledge are fully protected.

Consequently, states have to guarantee and make binding commitments and take concrete actions to respect our rights within the framework of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and other international instruments and agreements on human rights. We must initiate an inclusive process using an intercultural approach to sustainable development dialogue between states and our peoples.

In general, I feel that indigenous peoples presented strong demands to governments at the Rio+20 Summit. We know that our resistance and efforts to propose new alternatives will carry on. We reaffirmed with one voice that it is time to assume the historical responsibilities to reverse centuries of predation, pollution, colonialism, violation of rights and genocide of our peoples.  It is time to take responsibility for our future generations. Today, we choose life.