Shipibo community in the Peruvian Amazon call on UN to safeguard their forests from government sanctioned landgrab

Santa Clara de Uchunya, Ucayali
Santa Clara de Uchunya, Ucayali

Shipibo community in the Peruvian Amazon call on UN to safeguard their forests from government sanctioned landgrab

Geneva, 7 July 2019

Indigenous and human rights organisations in the Peruvian Amazon have filed a formal petition to the UN to appeal for urgent action to prevent the land grab and destruction of their lands. The action comes in response to the decision by the Regional Government of Ucayali (GOREU) to remove protections for 3.5 million hectares of Amazon rainforest and allow for the invasion of indigenous lands, with at least 100,000 hectares under immediate threat from settlers and agribusinesses. These forests have previously been classified as “Permanent Production Forests” (BPP), meaning they enjoy a high degree of legal protection from deforestation, and rights cannot be issued to companies or private individuals.

The petition, submitted to the UN Committee on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (UNCERD), was signed by the Federation of Native communities of Ucayali (FECONAU), the Institute of Legal Defense (IDL), the National Coordinator of Human Rights in Peru (CNDDHH), and the Forest Peoples Programme (FPP).

Shipibo map of Amazonian deforestation 2011-2018

[New map shows rapid advance of deforestation for oil palm and other agribusiness between 2011 and 2018 within Santa Clara traditional territory. The Ucayali government’s new initiative will result in an exponential increase in this deforestation thereby undermining Peru’s climate change mitigation commitments.]

On 28 June 2019 the Ucayali Agrarian Agency, the regional office of the Forestry and Wildlife Service, district mayors and other officials from the regional government of Ucayali set up a commission which will have the ability to strip protections for BPP-classified forests, and enable settlers to obtain certificates giving them rights over invaded lands. These “possessionary certificates" are frequently used to enable land-trafficking and deforestation throughout the Peruvian Amazon, particularly in untitled indigenous territories such as those of the Shipibo community of Santa Clara de Uchunya in Ucayali.

The petition calls on the UNCERD to make an urgent appeal to the highest levels of the Peruvian government to immediately:

  1. cease all actions of GOREU aimed at the implementation of regional ordinance No. 010-2018-GRU-CR, before the State has processed completely the territorial claim of the Indigenous Community of Santa Clara de Uchunya;
  2. create and implement immediate measures to safeguard traditional lands that are under formal claims, so that their use and value are not irreparably damaged while the land claim is being properly considered consistent with international law.

The petition comes on the back of UNCERD’s formal observations to the Peruvian government in May 2018 which concluded that there is an “absence of effective mechanisms for the protection of indigenous peoples’ rights to their lands, territories and resources — a situation which continues to provoke serious social conflicts.”

Recently cleared forest for large scale agriculture along the highway leading to Santa Clara de Uchunya
Recently cleared forest for large scale agriculture along the highway leading to Santa Clara de Uchunya

Miguel Guimaraes, President of FECONAU, commented, “We alerted CERD to the dispossession of the territory of Santa Clara de Uchunya in March last year. The situation has become even more difficult as deforestation and land invasions continue. In the absence of any safeguard for our untitled lands, the decision of the GOREU to dissolve the BPP protections threatens to expose the community’s territory to even more invasions by land traffickers and agribusiness companies. We trust that the Committee will now take firm action to prevent irreparable harm.”

Earlier Mr Guimaraes and community leaders had appeared on national radio stations to call on government Ministers of Environment and Agriculture for urgent interventions to stop the implementation of the GOREU’S plans.

“We want to speak with the Ministers of Environment and Agriculture; they must have the courage and decisiveness to defend the Amazon….This new law is meant for the (palm oil) company because they not only plan to destroy the territory of the community but primary forests, forests which are supposed to be untouchable. Our aim is to try and reverse this law because it will violate the collective rights of indigenous peoples,” said community leader Ivan Flores.

The petition will be reviewed by CERD’s committee of experts who will be convening in Geneva from 5 August. The committee will evaluate whether the actions of Peru’s government, including those of GOREU, represent a violation of Peru’s legal obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination.

Further details:

1. The May 2018 observations of UNCERD were made in part in response to a shadow report submitted by civil society organisations which included the case of Santa Clara de Uchunya as an example of an indigenous community whose untitled traditional lands have been unlawfully acquired by third parties taking advantage of the Peruvian government’s longstanding failure to legally recognise or safeguard such lands. In this case over 7000 hectares of the community’s lands have been destroyed and converted to oil palm operations. Additional background information can be found here.

2. Amongst its concluding Observations (May 2018) the Committee urgently recommended the Peruvian government to:

(a) Establish an appropriate and effective mechanism for filing land claims and for the restitution of ancestral territories and lands and ensure that adequate human, technical and financial resources are allocated for the proper operation of that mechanism; [and]

(b) Ensure the protection of indigenous peoples’ right to own, use, develop and exercise full control over their lands, territories and resources by, inter alia, providing the necessary legal recognition and safeguards in line with international standards.