Peru: Clean up oil pollution in indigenous communities before allowing more drilling, UN experts urge
28 June 2021
GENEVA (28 June 2021) – Peru should clean up environmental damage in the country’s largest-yielding oil field and remedy harm done to indigenous communities living nearby, UN experts* said today.
They made the call as Peru proceeds towards awarding 30-year rights for oil exploration and exploitation in Block 192 in the remote Amazonian Loreto region of northern Peru, already suffering from almost 50 years of oil spills and pollution.
“We call on Peru to implement its own government decisions and to enforce regulatory body rulings that environmental damage should be cleaned up in consultation with the four indigenous communities who live on the land,” said the experts.
The continued exploration of fossil fuels aggravates the global climate change emergency, toxifies indigenous peoples’ lands, waters and resources and fundamentally undermines environmental protections.
“Over the last 50 years, oil contamination has threatened absolutely everything these communities need for survival – their crops, water, fish, forest and sacred sites,” said the experts. “At the same time, these communities do not have proper health facilities to adequately address their medical issues.”
They said the government is fast-tracking a consultation process already riddled with irregularities. It will decide which company gets the next 30-year contract.
“Four indigenous federations – the Kichwa, Quechua, Achuar and Urarina – agreed in good faith to participate in consultations,” said the experts. “And now they find that the government wants to proceed with a new contract despite that the company that previously held the contract, Pluspetrol Norte S.A., has not honoured its pledges to clean up damaged areas and compensate the communities.”
Pluspetrol, which has pulled out of the area and declared bankruptcy in December, has itself identified more than 2,000 contaminated sites. Last month the Peruvian government went to court to try to block liquidation of the company until it has honoured its commitments.
Indigenous peoples’ health has been hard hit by the oil spills. A 2019 government study showed that at least 57 percent of indigenous peoples living around the Pastaza, Tigre, Corrientes and Marañón river basins were exposed to high levels of lead. According to the same study, 45.9% of children showed unacceptably high levels of arsenic in their blood, and 25.6% had high mercury levels. The study also said oil spill sites are causing cancer and other diseases.
“We have raised these issues repeatedly with the government of Peru since 2014 and now it is time for the government to ensure that these indigenous communities are able to live in safety and health on their traditional lands,” said the experts. “It’s also time for the government to guarantee that oil companies honour their obligations to clean up toxic impacts on the environment. Companies simply cannot be allowed to pollute the land and rivers, damage people’s health, and then leave.”
*The experts: Francisco Cali Tzay, Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, Marcos Orellana, UN Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights.
The Special Rapporteurs are part of what are known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. The Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN human rights system, is the general name for the Council's independent investigative and monitoring mechanisms that deal with specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent of any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.
For further information and media enquiries, please contact Ms. Christine Evans ([email protected]).
For media enquiries about other UN independent experts, please contact Renato de Souza (+41 22 928 9855 / [email protected]),
Follow news related to UN independent human rights experts on Twitter @UN_SPExperts.