Peru: Amazon Indians sue government to title indigenous lands

A typical riverside indigenous village in the Peruvian Amazon near Loreto. Photo: Thomas Stromberg via Flickr.

Peruvian law requires the government to recognise indigenous peoples’s ownership of their lands. Yet 594 communities with claims to 20 million hectares of land remain with no secure title – leaving their forests open to illegal logging, plantations and settlement. Now one village is taking its demands to the courts.

The Shipibo indigenous community of Korin Bari has filed a law suit against the Peruvian government for its failure to title its traditional territory.

The result has been the repeated invasion of community lands by illegal loggers and coca growers threatening the lives of community members who protest.

The community has presented formal applications for a land title in the Calleria river basin since 2010 but while the government has recognised the existence of the community its land title remains pending, exposing the community and its lands to continued insecurity.

Murder, mayhem and destruction

In 2011, community houses were flattened by logging operators who were bulldozing an illegal road through community lands to access the area’s valuable timber.

Only last month and in a similar case, Edwin Chota and three other Ashaninka leaders from the nearby village of Saweto were murdered as a result of their efforts to try and secure legal title to their lands and evict illegal loggers.

The Peruvian government has been legally obliged for decades to ensure indigenous peoples’ territories are guaranteed both with legal measures to recognise indigenous peoples’ collective property rights over their traditional lands as well as with effective measures of protection.

These commitments are also enshrined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which establishes that

“Indigenous peoples have the right to the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired”, and that “States shall give legal recognition and protection to these lands, territories and resources.” (Article 26).

594 untitled indigenous communities in Peru’s Amazon

In spite of this, the cases of Korin Bari and Saweto represent two of at least 594 communities in the Peruvian Amazon whose lands remain untitled.

In all about 20 million hectares of indigenous peoples’ lands remain unrecognised in Peruvian law, according to statistics compiled by AIDESEP, Peru’s national indigenous Amazonian organisation.

“There are many communities in the same situation as Saweto”, said Robert Guimaraes Vasquez, Vice President of FECONAU, the local indigenous federation supporting the village of Korin Bari and Saweto.

“They don’t have property title – but the Peruvian state has the obligation to guarantee the legal security of indigenous peoples lands and allocate the necessary resources to finalise this work.”

Intensifying forest destruction

A forthcoming study by AIDESEP and the Forest Peoples Programme (FPP) shows that the government’s failure to ensure secure legal recognition of indigenous territories and to support community efforts to protect their forests is intensifying forest destruction.

In 2012 alone this destruction reached over 250,000ha. The main drivers are rampant illegal logging, uncontrolled illegal mining, the conversion of primary forest for palm oil plantations alongside the construction of roads and other infrastructure projects.

This failure to address deforestation and protect indigenous peoples’ rights is increasingly in the spotlight on the eve of the next UN climate conference to be held in Lima in December 2014.

Source: Ecologist