UN human rights committee calls on the Peruvian government to secure indigenous peoples’ land rights and protect human rights defenders

UN human rights committee calls on the Peruvian government to secure indigenous peoples’ land rights and protect human rights defenders

The UN’s committee on the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination (UN-CERD) has issued its final observations on the performance of the Peruvian government.(1)

In its 11 May 2018 response, the committee highlighted its concern at the ‘lack of effective mechanisms for the protection of the rights of indigenous peoples over their lands, territories and resources in part due to the inadequate nature of the procedure for recognition and titling of lands… which continues to result in serious social conflicts’. It called on the Peruvian government to, a) ‘establish an effective and appropriate mechanism to permit the claims for, and restitution of, ancestral lands and territories…’ and, b)‘guarantee the protection of indigenous peoples’ rights to possess, use, develop and control their lands, territories and resources including through their legal recognition and protection in accordance with international standards’.

These observations were made in the light of submissions made by civil society organisations, including a parallel report(2) filed by a coalition of organisations including FECONAU (Federation of Native Communities of Ucayali), CEPKA (the Ethnic Council of the Kichwa People of the Amazon), IDL (Institute of Legal Defense), CNDDHH (The National Coordinator of Human Rights) and FPP. The report highlighted ongoing and systematic violations of indigenous peoples’ rights in the regions of Ucayali and San Martin including:

  • The creation of the Cordillera Escalera Protected area on traditional lands of the Kichwa indigenous people by the regional government of San Martin without their Free, Prior and Informed Consent
  • The restrictions placed on Kichwa communities’ rights to own, use and access forest resources including through the issue of land rights in the form of a ‘leasehold contract’ rather than a property title
  • The appropriation and destruction of more than 6,000 hectares of the traditional lands of the Shipibo – Conibo community of Santa Clara de Uchunya by palm oil developers in collusion with the Ucayali regional government

The case of Santa Clara de Uchunya also highlighted the ongoing threat faced by human rights and environmental defenders in Peru in large part due to the failure of the Peruvian government to legally recognise their lands. The parallel report detailed how the community and their organisation FECONAU continue to experience defamation, death threats and criminalisation of their resistance. The report showed that the Peruvian government has failed to implement effective measures to protect their lands and lives and that certain officials in the regional agricultural agency continue to issue discriminatory and racist statements and to dismiss the community’s land rights claims. 

Meanwhile, in San Martin, the parallel report highlighted how community leaders have been threatened with legal action and prosecuted by officials of the regional government of San Martin (GORESAM) for use of their traditional lands within the Cordillera Escalera Protected area. At the same time, a legal action filed by the community of Nuevo Lamas in July 2017(3), which sought to secure recognition of their land rights overlapped by the protected area, triggered the dismissal of community representatives from positions held within the government. There was also a public campaign, led by local environmental organisations and promoted by the regional government, to defame and intimidate community leaders and their support organisations. Worse still, it also triggered efforts by GORESAM to suspend an ongoing land titling programme in the region as a form of reprisal.

In their official response, the CERD committee expressed its concern that even through the government had recently established a national human rights plan, it still lacked a ‘protocol for the protection of human rights defenders including an independent mechanism which still depends on the provision of necessary resources’. It called on the Peruvian government to, amongst other measures, a) Adopt effective and strategic measures to prevent acts of intimidation, harassment, retaliation and violence against human rights defenders… b)establish an independent national mechanism for the protection of human rights…..including the assignation of the human, technical and financial resources necessary for their function’ and, e) Conduct a campaign to raise awareness of the fundamental work conducted by human rights defenders… with the aim of fomenting a climate of tolerance which will allow them to do their work free of all forms of intimidation threat and reprisals’.

In a joint response, Robert Guimaraes Vasquez and Gider Sangama Tapullima, Presidents of FECONAU and CEPKA, said: “We welcome the resolutions of the CERD committee which upheld our concerns, however, the committee members of the CERD and other UN human rights bodies must watch Peru like a hawk if these aspirations are to be fulfilled. International organisations including the governments of Norway and Germany, the UNDP and the Inter-American Development Bank, who are supporting the Peruvian government’s land titling programme and zero deforestation strategy, must take note and hold the Peruvian government to account for its failure to respect our land rights and protect our people’s lives. When will the ancestral lands of the community of Santa Clara de Uchunya be titled and cleared of oil palm plantations? When will the Kichwa peoples’ rights to the lands now categorised as the Cordillera Escalera protected area be recognised? Until then FECONAU and CEPKA will remain vigilant to ensure these recommendations are implemented.”

 

Notes:

  • The CERD report was based on a periodic review of the Peruvian government’s compliance with the Convention of the Elimination of all forms of racial discrimination. 
  • Peru’s compliance was assessed through evaluation of Peru’s formal submissions to the committee, the submissions and briefings of civil society and a hearing in Geneva (25-26 April 2018) where a Peruvian government delegation was questioned by committee members
  • The full report (Spanish only) is available at: http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/Treaties/CERD/Shared%20Documents/PER/INT_CERD_COC_PER_31205_S.pdfand makes a series of recommendations to the Peruvian government on issues including prior consultation, access to justice and the use of force.