Prior consultation bill sent to Humala after approval in Congress

Peru’s Congress has unanimously approved a bill to implement prior consultation for indigenous communities that could be impacted by development projects, mainly in the mining, energy and agricultural sectors.

The bill was the first approved by the new Congress, which was formed in July following the general election in April.

The bill, known as prior consultation and which recognizes indigenous community rights in their own territories, is now to be sent to President Ollanta Humala to sign into law. Humala has been a strong proponent of the legislation, which is intended to ensure that Peru’s domestic laws are in compliance with the International Labor Organization’s Convention 169.

Convention 169, which Peru signed in 1994, requires the State to consult indigenous people prior to adopting administrative and legislative measures, as well as investment projects and development plans that could affect their communities.

National and international rights organizations had recently been calling for Peru to approve the bill after a similar initiative was turned back by ex-President Alan Garcia.

In 2010, Garcia rejected the bill after it was approved by Congress, over concerns that it would give communities veto rights over projects, which industry executives have said would be catastrophic for investments.

Peru’s largest indigenous Amazonian federation, Aidesep, said that the approval of the bill is an “important step” to recognizing indigenous rights. Aidesep said, however, that it will be cautiously watching the implementation of the law.

Once the bill is enacted, Congress will need to set out the regulations governing different aspects of the law. 

“Time will tell if the law will be honored by government and extractive industries bent on exploiting natural resources on indigenous lands,” said the executive director of US-based Amazon Watch, Atossa Soltani, who added that the passing of the law is “historic.”

“Indigenous peoples’ right of free, prior, and informed consent has been reaffirmed in recent years through the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and legal judgments of the Inter-American Court on Human Rights,” Soltani said. “Consultation, when truly carried out in good faith, is an important element for promoting that right.”

London-based Survival International’s director, Stephen Corry, said: “There are two factors at stake here. Firstly, Humala should support the decision of Congress to approve the Prior Consultation Law. Secondly, the Peruvian Government must commit to upholding it.”

Officials are hoping that prior consultation will help resolve the some 200 social conflicts in Peru, which have often turned deadly and delayed numerous private sector investment projects as a result of the government’s refusal to recognize and implement the right to prior consultation.

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