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Democracy and human rights

Include the indigenous

by Bettina von Dungen

In depth

In order to keep social peace in Peru it is crucial to involve representatives of indigenous communities

In order to keep social peace in Peru it is crucial to involve representatives of indigenous communities

Over the last few years, Peru’s economy has been doing rather well – though frequently at the expense of the environment. In­di­genous peoples are the most afflicted; conflict is on the in­crease. Targeted training courses aim to inform civil servants and civil society on the legal situation and sensitise them for the problem. [ By Bettina von Dungen ]

The Peruvian economy has been growing for some time. According to President Alan García, it is one of the few countries worldwide whose GDP has risen by more than six per cent annually for the last five years. Unfortunately, though, the rule of law and environmental standards have largely been ignored in this process. In a May 2008 speech on occasion of the opening of the Peruvian environment ministry in Lima, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the country would only de­velop sustainably if social justice and environmental protection were respected. Merkel promised German backing for the environment ministry.

Peru still has a long way to go. The poor, especially those living in rural areas and those belonging to the indigenous communities, have been particularly hard hit by environmental issues. Mining, oil and gas development as well as illegal deforestation do serious damage to nature. Conflicts over oil, gas and other natural resources between civil society and indigenous communities on the one hand and the state and companies on the other hand are escalating.

Business is booming for the oil and gas industry in the Amazon region of Peru, an area nearly twice as big as Germany. More than 70 per cent of the region has already been divided into oil and gas concession blocks. The blocks overlap with indigenous people’s land, with the territories inhabited by isolated groups of Indians, with forest resources and protected areas. Recognising indigenous territories and establishing control of renewable and non-renewable resources is crucial. Indigenous organisations and international agreements have stated that indigenous peoples have to be asked to approve projects affecting their land – and that such consultation should occur without restrictions, early in the process and be backed by comprehensive information.

The Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention (C169) of the ILO and the Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples, agreed on by the UN in September 2007, provide the framework for formu­lating the rights of indigenous peoples in the signatory countries. They recognise collective rights, indigenous legal systems, territorial rights and resources, and the state commits itself to introducing appropriate measures and policies.

ILO Convention 169

Observers are keenly watching the upcoming adoption of a law that would mandate prior consultation with Peru’s indigenous people. Peru ratified ILO Convention 169 in 1994 but never applied its tenets – which led to protests and riots. In June 2009, 33 people were killed in Bagua in Peru’s Amazon region in the northeast of the country. Indigenous peoples had demanded the abrogation of several laws that had been passed in 2008 without consulting with them beforehand – as is mandated by the ILO Convention 169 when the rights of indigenous peoples are directly affected.

The draft law on consultation was sent to the country's parliament so as to guide dialogue between the state and indigenous peoples. President Alan García sent the bill back to parliament because he believed changes needed to be made. His view is that the state should not be prevented from taking decisions that deal with the interests of all Peruvian people. García says the law strengthens certain specific interests of indigenous peoples which clash with the interests of the government. The law’s near certain adoption has been delayed. But many legislators are in favour of beginning dialogue with the indigenous peoples as soon as possible so that the law can finally pass – as is called for by the ILO Convention 169.

Statistics show that unrest has been on the increase in Peru. In June 2008, there were 132 violent incidents; by June 2009 that number had more than doubled to 273, with most of those conflicts taking place in the Cajamarca, Cuzco, Junín, Lima and Puno regions. Environmental issues sparked most of these regional conflicts. In 86 % of the cases, dialogue with those affected only began after the conflict had turned violent – the worst possible time since by then each group has already become radicalised.

The Hanns-Seidel Foundation is trying hard to work against this trend by offering specific training courses. We brief local and regional government representatives, along with justice officials and members of civil society on the legal situation with respect to national legislation and inter­national conventions.

Endangered peace

In no other Andean country indigenous peoples are so underrepresented in the political process. So in order to keep the peace in Peru, it is extremely important to include representatives of indigenous communities on a long-term basis – and to train them accordingly thanks to seminars such as those offered by the Hanns-Seidel Foundation. The ignorance of legal issues of the indigenous community and Peru’s civil society makes it challenging to implement laws and decisions. Part of it is that the state does not provide information in indigenous languages. Taking into account the experience of local people is not the only element needed for an effective knowledge transfer – using simple language is also key. The indigenous representatives can then integrate what they learn in the seminars into local radio programmes, broadcast in Spanish and Quechua. That makes the know­ledge accessible to a bigger group of people.

The aim is to stop nascent conflicts early on. The project partners can attend additional conflict resolution workshops, since they are frequently the first who are asked for advice. Trainings, roundtable discussions and public information work – all of these help to provide those employed by local and regional governments, the judiciary as well as civil society with information on existing international conventions and court decisions on environmental issues. The internationally renowned Lima-based NGO Instituto de Defensa Legal (IDL) – which has been fighting for democracy and human rights in Peru for decades – has partnered with the Hanns-Seidel Foundation.

Setbacks and conflicts

The latest developments in Peru show that strengthening the understanding of democracy and the rights of individual communities are an essential part of development cooperation. When the work of renowned institutions working towards strengthening the rule of law, human rights and environmental protection is slandered, then that is not the sign of a well-functioning democracy. The fact that government officials tried to deport John McAuley, a British religious official who had defended the indigenous peoples and environmental protection in the Amazon region shows the threat posed by social and environmental activism to the government. The Supreme Court in the Loreto region was able to quash the deportation order. But the government’s actions against radio stations that don’t toe the official line speak volumes. The best-known case was when the government temporarily closed “La Voz de Bagua” (the voice of Bagua) radio station, which had broadcast detailed reports on violent clashes in Bagua in 2009. But thanks to influential institutions, the previously relatively unknown small broadcaster is back on the air, talking of freedom of information and opinion in its broadcasts.

The setbacks for democracy – along with the many conflicts in the country – also explain why the current Peruvian administration under Alan García is one of Latin America’s least popular governments. Even in his last year in office, the president has been unable to address the contradiction between the positive macroeconomic data and his government’s extreme unpopularity.

Only if the government succeeds in promoting the protection of the environment and in strengthening the rule of law – and if it overcomes the ongoing marginalisation of the indigenous peoples – it will be possible to achieve peaceful and sustainable development in Peru.