First Prior Consultation To Be Implemented In Loreto

Indigenous groups in Peru’s northeast jungle region of Loreto will be the first communities to put into practice a new law that aims to ensure prior consultation before any infrastructure or projects are developed within their areas.

The indigenous federations of communities located near the oil block 1-AB in Loreto, in the watershed of the Pastaza, Corrientes and Tigre rivers, will be consulted before a concession is finalized to extract oil, daily La Republica reported.   The consultation will take place in early 2013, prior to any exploration concession being granted. A call for bids for the concession will be held before the consultation. 

The prior consultation law was the first legislation enacted by President Ollanta Humala when he took office last year. 

The law —recognizing Peru’s signing of the International Labour Organisation’s Convention 169— is intended to give indigenous communities the right to an opinion on development projects in in or around their territories. The law is expected to prevent the social conflicts that have increased in recent years over major mining and energy projects.

Peru signed and ratified the ILO Convention between 1993 and 1994, but it took 15 years to write into law.  In that time, dozens of mining and oil concessions were granted without any prior consultation with local communities, and in the jungle many of the concessions encroach on indigenous territories.  

The Garcia administration’s refusal to incorporate Convention 169 into national legislation led to demands and later protests over a two-year period by Amazon community groups, and ended in a tragic confrontation in Bagua, in the north central jungle, in which 34 people were killed, including 24 police.  The government’s report of the incident was widely rejected as biased, not only by indigenous institutions but by the Catholic bishops of the area and independent institutions.

President Humala said the law will improve dialogue between private investors and indigenous communities and reduce social conflicts regarding natural resource projects. However, some analysts remain skeptical.

Many of the conflicts, involving environmental concerns and/or local community benefits,  are related to mining projects in the Andean highlands, though there have also been disputes over oil and gas activities in the Amazon jungle.

Peru’s ombudsman, the Defensoria del Pueblo, has said it will supervise the first prior consultation. “It has to be developed with the greatest care in order to respect the rights of indigenous people and so the process serves for other consultations to go ahead,” said Eduardo Vega of the ombudsman’s office.

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