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Peru: Changes to forestry law will threaten survival of indigenous peoples, UN expert warns

31 January 2024

GENEVA (31 January 2024) – Amendments to Peru’s Forestry and Wildlife Law could legalise and encourage the dispossession of Indigenous Peoples from their lands and threaten their physical and cultural survival, a UN expert warned today.

“This legislation will affect the ancestral territories of the Amazonian peoples of Peru,” said Francisco Cali Tzay, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples.

“This happens at a time when the State still has pending obligations to fulfill to legally recognise and secure Indigenous Peoples’ territories,” the Special Rapporteur said. “Approximately a third of the Indigenous Peoples in the Peruvian Amazon have not been titled, leaving them without legal security and vulnerable against third parties,” he said.

The expert said the law explicitly mentions native and peasant communities and Indigenous Peoples in voluntary isolation but has not gone through a consultation process with a view to obtaining the free, prior and informed consent of these Peoples.

“Indigenous Peoples in situations of isolation and initial contact would be particularly vulnerable to regulatory change, which could threaten their physical and cultural survival,” Cali Tzay said.

The UN expert recalled that Peru had obligations under international law with regard to enacting laws that affect Indigenous Peoples, including article 19 of the UN Declaration on Indigenous Peoples.

Cali Tzay warned that provisions of the law classifying land and rules about agricultural activities would ensure that areas possessed by Indigenous Peoples and were once forests, where agriculture is currently conducted, would automatically become “agricultural exclusion areas.”

“Given strong pressures on unprotected indigenous territories, these exclusion areas could generate impunity for crimes of logging and usurpation, and imply weakening the fight against deforestation and aggravating the current climate crisis,” the expert warned.

“Under the new regulatory framework, activities such as illegal logging and deforestation would be legalised,” he warned. “These activities constitute crimes under the Penal Code, further encouraging deforestation of the Amazon which is especially worrying given the high levels of deforestation in the Peruvian Amazon in recent years,” he said.

“This situation could encourage greater pressure towards indigenous territories and their biological, cultural, environmental and spiritual integrity,” the expert warned.

The expert was gravely concerned that this setback in the country’s forest governance turns its back on threats, attacks and murders of indigenous and environmental defenders, who oppose illicit activities in the forests of their territories.

“In recent years, 33 indigenous leaders have been murdered, including the leader of the Kichwa people, Quinto Inuma. These reforms seem to ignore that territorial dispossession is the driving force of violence against indigenous leaders and implies a withdrawal of the State in rural areas,” Cali Tzay warned. “This void is filled by criminal groups dedicated to illegal logging, informal mining, coca cultivation and drug and land trafficking, promoting illegal economies that destroy the social fabric and undermine public institutions,” the expert said.

Francisco Cali Tzay is the Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either 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 from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

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