Two United Nations human rights experts warned today against the proposed re-licensing of heavily polluted land in the Department of Loreto region of Peru, saying the move would perpetuate and exacerbate serious violations of human rights of indigenous peoples, including their right to health, food and water.
Victoria Tauli Corpuz and Baskut Tuncak, the UN Special Rapporteurs on the rights of indigenous peoples, and for human rights and hazardous substances sounded their warning after the Peruvian Government’s decision on Monday to license further oil extraction from a heavily polluted block of oil-rich land, despite a signed agreement between the State-owned oil company and indigenous communities to clean up land and water contaminated by 44 years of oil spills.
“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. “Companies extracting oil in this region have left behind a toxic mess with disregard for the rights of affected communities and laws of Peru.”
According to the Peruvian Ministry of Health, 98 per cent of children in the affected communities surpass the admissible levels of toxic metals in their blood. Pollution of food and water sources has also resulted in serious health problems.
In 2013 and 2014, the Peruvian Government declared environmental and health emergencies in the Department of Loreto following reports of oil spills in the area that contaminated the region’s lakes and rivers. Recent official studies show high levels of contaminants in water and soil.
“While the world looks on to Paris following the conclusion of the Lima Conference of Parties (COP20) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), 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.
“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,” she said.
The indigenous peoples affected have requested suspension of all new licenses until lands and waters and restored and damage is repaired. Those responsible for damages should face sanctions, they say. They also want their territories titled and a consultation process, and wish to participate in environmental monitoring.