UN urges Ucayali government to shelve plans which would expose indigenous territory in Peruvian Amazon to further land grabs

FECONAU at the Constitutional Court
FECONAU at the Constitutional Court

UN urges Ucayali government to shelve plans which would expose indigenous territory in Peruvian Amazon to further land grabs

Geneva, 30 October 2019

The UN has requested that the Regional Government of Ucayali cancel its plans to remove protections for a 3.5 million hectare area of Permanent Production Forest (BPP). This would facilitate the invasion of indigenous Shipibo lands in Peru, and expose at least 100,000 hectares to immediate threat from settlers and agribusiness operations.

The request came in a formal communication from the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (UNCERD), which stated, “The allegations reviewed by the Committee, if verified, would amount to a breach of the State party duty to recognize and protect the rights of the Santa Clara de Uchunya indigenous community to own, develop, control and use the lands and territories they have occupied traditionally…. The Committee would like to recall the Committee’s General Recommendation No. 23 (1997) on the rights of indigenous peoples to ensure that no decisions directly relating to indigenous peoples’ rights are taken without their free, prior and informed consent.”

The letter came after civil society organisations made a request under UNCERD’s Urgent Action and Early Warning procedure in July 2019. This request highlighted how the Ucayali government’s plans would not only result in large scale deforestation – thus undermining Peru’s stated commitments to climate and biodiversity – but would also sabotage the community’s efforts over many years to secure legal recognition of their lands. The government has been given until 18 November to respond.

In addition, UNCERD called on the regional government to take special measures to protect the rights of the community of Santa Clara de Uchunya affected by an ongoing conflict in territory. The conflict is associated with the conversion of over 7000 hectares of their traditional lands to palm oil plantations. The measures recommended by UNCERD include:

  1. Consider cancelling the Regional Ordinance No. 010- 2018-GRU-CR, recently adopted by the Regional Government of Ucayali.
  2. Ensure a full and adequate discharge of the duty to consult with the view to obtain free, prior and informed consent.
  3. Protect the members of the Santa Clara de Uchunya indigenous community from intimidation, harassment, threats and attacks by groups of land-traffickers present within the ancestral territory.

Miguel Guimaraes, President of FECONAU, one of the signatories of the request said, “we welcome the UN intervention and call on the media to hold our Government  in Ucayali and Lima to account for its failure to respect and secure the lands of Santa Clara de Uchunya and hundreds of other indigenous communities over many years. These lands are now at the mercy of agribusiness and logging industry and a land trafficking frenzy which is endemic in our region.”

UNCERD is comprised of international experts who are authorised to interpret the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, a treaty whose provisions are binding on the Peruvian government.

The letter from UNCERD is the second communiqué from the UN in recent days. Last week, the UN Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Rights submitted a legal briefing to Peru’s Constitutional Tribunal which is currently evaluating a lawsuit filed by the community in 2016, The lawsuit seeks the restitution and restoration of their lands unlawfully acquired by the palm oil company Ocho Sur P. The briefing highlights Peru’s legal obligations to respect indigenous peoples’ untitled traditional lands.

The two UN interventions come at a crucial point in the community’s longstanding struggle, as the landmark case is nearing conclusion with a definitive decision of the court expected before the end of the year.