The proposed re-licensing of heavily polluted land in the Department of Loreto region of Peru would perpetuate and exacerbate serious violations of human rights of indigenous peoples, including their right to health, food and water, two United Nations experts on indigenous peoples and toxic waste have said today.
The UN human rights experts’ warning comes after the Peruvian Government’s decision to start licensing block 192 (formerly 1 AB) on 15 December 2014, despite a signed agreement between the State-owned oil company Petroperu and indigenous communities to clean up land and water heavily polluted by 44 years of oil spills.
”While the world looks on to Paris following the conclusion of the Lima Conference of Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Peruvian Government needs to do more to protect their own citizens from environmental harm and prevent the recurrence of environmental emergencies affecting indigenous peoples, including the Quechuas, Kichwas, Kukamas and Urarinas,” the new UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, Victoria Tauli Corpuz, said.
“Peru must adopt measures to ensure remedy to such situations and to protect and respect the rights of indigenous peoples to their land, territories and resources and to consultation towards obtaining their free, prior and informed consent,” Ms. Tauli Corpuz stressed, recalling the recommendations made in 2013 by the previous UN Special Rapporteur on indigenous peoples after his first country mission to Peru.
In 2013 and 2014, the Peruvian Government declared environmental and health emergencies in the Department of Loreto following reports that barrels of oil had been spilled in this area, contaminating the lakes and rivers in the region.
Recent official studies show high levels of barium, chromium, mercury, lead, total petroleum hydrocarbons (also known as TPH/THP) and other contaminants in water and soil, as well as aluminum, manganese, arsenic, and water acidity.
According to the Peruvian Ministry of Health, 98% of children in the affected communities surpass the admissible levels of toxic metals in blood. Pollution of food and water sources has also resulted in serious health problems.
“Companies extracting oil in this region have left behind a toxic mess with disregard for the rights of affected communities and laws of Peru,” the UN Special Rapporteur for human rights and hazardous substances, Baskut Tuncak noted.
“Peru has obligations to clean up the toxic oil spilled to protect the rights of people in the region, and to hold the companies accountable for their failure to respect human rights, before re-licensing the land and making an awful situation worse,” Mr. Tuncak stressed.
The indigenous peoples affected have requested the suspension of all new licenses until some requirements are fulfilled, including the restoration of the lands and waters and the reparation of the damage done; the titling of their territories; a consultation process; the participation of the communities in environmental monitoring; and applicable sanctions to those responsible for the damages.