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How Many Times Can Peru Ignore the UN?

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Many around the world will be aware that today, August 9, is the United Nations' International Day of the World's Indigenous People, but how often do governments actually heed what the UN has to say about such people?

On March 1 this year the UN's Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) urged the Peruvian government to "immediately suspend" the expansion of the Camisea gas project, operated by a Pluspetrol-led consortium, in the Amazon because it "could threaten the physical and cultural survival" of indigenous peoples in "initial contact" and "voluntary isolation" living in a reserve overlapped by the project. The government's response? To claim, at a hearing in Congress in mid-April, that the expansion is legal and will not affect the indigenous peoples in isolation, and to make it clear it intends to push ahead with the expansion as planned.

That isn't the only directive coming out of one UN entity or another that the expansion in Camisea -- 21 new wells, a pipeline extension and seismic tests involving thousands of explosives across more than 1,000 square kilometers of the Amazon -- clearly ignores. Here are another four examples from the last few years:

• The "Guidelines for the Protection of Indigenous Peoples in Voluntary Isolation and Initial Contact in the Amazon, the Gran Chaco and eastern Paraguay," published in February 2012 by the UN's Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. These "guidelines" state that, among other things, "lands delimited by States for indigenous peoples in isolation and initial contact should be intangible" and that "activities different from the ancestral uses and customs of the indigenous people living there should not be carried out." Do wells, a pipeline and dynamite sound "ancestral" to you?

• A request in 2011 by UNESCO's World Heritage Committee to Peru to protect the indigenous people in "initial contact" and "voluntary isolation" in the Manu National Park, a UNESCO biosphere reserve, "from external pressures" after acknowledging that the "impacts of the nearby Camisea gas field" included "reported movements of indigenous peoples into the [park] as a result of the decimation of wildlife in the Camisea River Basin." In February 2013, SERNANP, the Peruvian government entity responsible for "protected areas" such as Manu, expressed its concern about the same issue:

Knowing that the nomadic populations frequently move between the reserve [for the "isolated" peoples] and the Manu river basin... it is believed that, as a result of the expansion, the migration of these people to Manu will be frequent and lead to new settlements being established in the area. This will mean using the natural resources in the region and could generate conflict with the indigenous communities in the Manu River basin inside the Manu National Park.

That notwithstanding, SERNANP gave its seal of approval to the expansion plans last month.

• A report published in 2010 by the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations (CEACR) at the UN's International Labour Organization (ILO), which effectively urges the Peruvian government to suspend natural resource extraction in regions inhabited by indigenous people in "voluntary isolation." "The Committee encourages the government of Peru to suspend the exploration and exploitation of natural resources which are affecting the peoples covered by the Convention [169]," the report states, "until such time as the participation and consultation of the peoples concerned is ensured" (my italics)/

Have the indigenous people in "voluntary isolation" in the Camisea region participated in, or been consulted about, the expansion? Absolutely not -- and any attempt to make that happen could kill many of them because of their lack of immunity to introduced diseases.

• The UN's "Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples," approved by the UN's General Assembly in 2007. Article 32, clause 2, reads:

"States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free and informed consent prior to the approval of any project affecting their lands or territories and other resources, particularly in connection with the development, utilization or exploitation of mineral, water or other resources" (my italics).

Has the Peruvian government obtained the free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous people in "voluntary isolation" in the Camisea region? Again, absolutely not -- and trying to do so could kill many of them.