Amazon - Peru
In the ongoing struggle against climate change, the protection of ecosystems such as the Amazon becomes a catalyst of the problems (WWF, A changing Amazon?, n.d.) we face but it also gives us a glimpse of a possible successful approaches to it.
The Amazonian basin and forest represent “one of Earth's most precious biological treasures and a major component of the Earth system” (Malhi, et al., 2008). Notwithstanding the biological interest of the region, it hosts numerous indigenous peoples, some completely remote from modern society, who have been interacting with their ancestral lands in a way that matches the definition of sustainable land management (IPCC, 2020).
This close relationship with their environment puts them in a privileged position to teach us how to approach land and resources management yet it also puts them at primary risk as they are among the first to face the direct consequences of climate change. Nevertheless, indigenous peoples are still too rarely considered in public discourse on climate change (UN, Spring 2008).
The situation in Peru and how the amazon is endangered by deforestation and the country’s policies.
The deforestation processes that take place in the Amazonian countries, including Peru, regardless of government policies, affect the ecosystem throughout the region, even those countries without the Amazon.
This is due to the essential role of this green giant: supplying humidity to South America, regulating the region’s climate and capturing large amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2), the main greenhouse gas.
Small-scale agriculture has traditionally been the main cause of deforestation in Peru, but not the only one. In recent years, the cultivation of oil palm, cocoa and coca has been gaining ground. The oil is used globally in food production, cosmetics and fuel.
The Peruvian government is taking a long time to build the mechanisms to monitor, control and punish deforestation for these and other activities (BBC, 2020).
Illegal gold mining also increasingly threatens the Peruvian Amazon. Peru is the largest gold exporter in Latin America and the sixth in the world. However, experts say that up to 25% of the country’s annual production comes from illegal mining.
Since 2006, Peru has experienced a new fervor for the exploitation of gold in the Tambopata Natural Reserve, one of the most biodiverse in the region, driven by the increase in the price of the metal and by the construction of the Brazil-Peru Interoceanic Route. Until today, Peru has lost around 8% of its original forest.
Killing of Indigenous
Indigenous leaders who denounce deforestation, land trafficking, illegal mining, as well as drug trafficking present in the Amazon and that affect it and the indigenous peoples are being murdered. Two of them from the Cacataibo ethnic group, Herasmo García and Yenes Ríos, were murdered in February of this year in Peru. This is the latest in a series of killings of indigenous leaders from the Amazonian regions Ucayali and Huánuco that, in recent years, have denounced invaders who cultivate coca destined for drug trafficking and land traffickers (Campuzano, 2020).
The leaders of indigenous communities in the Peruvian Amazon alerted the Government of death threats against indigenous leaders, however the government did not take the necessary measures to protect them. Before the murders, the Justice Minister and the Public Prosecutor’s Office were alerted that six leaders were threatened with death, but received no response. Leaders of the Cacataibo, Ashaninka and Shipibo ethnic groups also reported that eight indigenous communities were at greater risk: one of them was Sinchi Roca, in Ucayali, of which García, one of those killed recently this year, was a leader (Hallazi, 2021).
The forestry authority estimates that 42,000 hectares have been deforested on the lands of indigenous communities, mainly due to drug trafficking. Ricardo Pérez, a member of the Amazon Watch team in Peru, indicates that some of the threatened Amazonian apus have requested guarantees, but the police only give them protection in the cities. In the communities they are facing drug traffickers who want to plant coca, every day they are facing danger.
Since 2011, 220 leaders defenders of the Amazon have been murdered in Peru according to the report ‘Undermining Rights’, presented by the Observatory of the World Organization against Torture and the FIDH, and the National Coordinator of Human Rights.
Deprivation of the indigenous communities’ human rights
The afore mentioned national policies and the consequences of climate change are generating severe repercussions to indigenous human rights, and what is crucial, they are putting the survival of these indigenous communities at stake.
These activities affect their access to natural resources which are the keystone to their basic necessities to subsist. Oil extraction has been reported to affect the water and the soil (Survival C. , 2017): high levels of arsenic, mercury, iron, i.e. toxic substances are found in the rivers and the soil. Indigenous communities use the rivers for fishing but the fish stock is declining (WWF, Oil and Gas extraction in the Amazon: CAMISEA, n.d.) which leads to malnutrition.
Furthermore, following the Universal Periodic Review of the Human Rights Council, it was found that children from these indigenous communities show high levels of lead and cadmium which can lead “to lung cancer, heart disease, kidney failure and brain damage” (Survival C. , 2017). Their lands, health (Survival, n.d.), physical integrity and way of living are in jeopardy and furthermore, killings, as mentioned above, are increasingly being reported (Peoples, 2020).
While the indigenous communities have the right to enjoy their own culture, Peru’s activities endanger this right and breaches article 27 (UNGA, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1976) of the ICCPR. Furthermore, the ICESCR, which Peru is a party to, recognized the fundamental right of an adequate standard of living, which includes “adequate food, clothing and housing and, the continuous improvement of living conditions” (UNGA, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 1976).
Additionally, their fundamental rights to life, to humane treatment, to property, among others under the American Convention on Human Rights (IACHR, 1969) and the rights to mental and physical integrity, to liberty and security under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNGA, UNGA 61/ 295 Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, 2007) are being infringed. Finally, these activities infringe the provisions of the ILO Convention no. 169 (ILO, 1989) and the national Law no. 29785 granting the right of consultation (Graciela, 2011).
In essence, this is evidence of serious violations of indigenous human rights and breaches of international law.
The worrying conclusion is that the government and its policies in Peru are not doing enough to preserve the Amazon and protect its indigenous communities. If these levels of deforestation and degradation are not reversed in the Amazon, the consequences of climate change could accelerate across the planet.
It is therefore important that states, such as Peru, which has the 3rd highest number of indigenous people (IMRG, 2020) and the 2nd largest share of the Amazonian Forest (Atlas, 2017) increase their commitment to the fight against climate change (Association, 2018) and include indigenous communities in the public discussion. Such actions are also mandated both from their obligations under the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNGA, UNGA 61/ 295 Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, 2007) to respect the rights of the indigenous peoples that walked these lands but also under their engagement as state party to the Paris Agreement (UNFCCC, n.d.).
The goal of Global Human Rights Defence (GHRD) is to encourage States such as Peru to uphold their international obligations and to grant the rights to all minorities, marginalized groups and to respect their environment.
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