Amnesty International calls for approval of prior consultation laws

Amnesty International called on Peru and other Latin American countries on Friday to enact laws to improve consultation for indigenous peoples in relation to projects in the extractive industries, state news agency Andina reported.

The group said there is a “false and dangerous dichotomy” between development and indigenous rights, the report said.

“There is a belief based on the false premise that projects in the extractive industries or other types, that multiply the wealth and are favorable for national interests, shouldn’t be ‘blocked’ by indigenous peoples who are ‘only’ a small part of the population,” Amnesty International said.

In 2010, Peru’s Congress approved a prior consultation bill,  intended to allow Peru to comply with article 6 of the International Labor Organization’s Convention 169. The article requires the state to consult with indigenous people prior to adopting administrative and legislative measures, as well as investment projects and development plans that could affect their communities.

However, the legislation was blocked by President Alan Garcia, who cited concerns that it could lead to veto powers for communities. The bill was sent back to congress to be reworked but was not approved before the end of his administration last month.

Peru’s mining sector has been key to the country’s strong economic growth over the past 10 years. Peru is one of the world’s top producers of base and precious metals, although production has been steadily decreasing over the past three years. Industry representatives blame the decline partially on social conflicts, which have blocked the startup of new projects.

Many projects have been rejected by communities that are concerned they could impact their local water and air quality. The most recent project to be set back was Canadian junior company Bear Creek Mining, which faced stiff opposition to its Santa Ana silver project in Puno.

Weeks of protests earlier this year by mostly Aymara Indians in Puno led to the cancellation of the project by the Peruvian government, but only after five people were killed. That protest is one of more than 200 social conflicts in Peru, with many of them related to socio-environmental issues. In June last year, the government’s refusal to repeal or rewrite new investment laws that northern Amazon communities considered a threat, led to protests and the death of 14 police and 10 indigenous protesters in Bagua.

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