Indigenous activists and social organizations applauded the unanimous passage in Congress of a law requiring that native peoples be consulted before projects that directly affect them receive a green light.
Lawmakers approved the law on Aug. 23, and it will go into effect three months after it is signed by President Ollanta Humala.
Indigenous rights proponents say the law could help stem a wave of social conflicts, which have turned increasingly deadly. During the five-year term of former President Alan García, which ended July 28, 191 people were killed in social conflicts, according to the prime minister’s office for social conflict management.
The Inter-Ethnic Association of the Peruvian Amazon, or Aidesep, an umbrella organization representing 1,500 native Amazon communities, said in a statement that the law’s passage “is a necessary step for the recognition of the knowledge, conditions, needs and the protection of indigenous peoples from the blow they have suffered for centuries at the hands of the Peruvian state.”
For Iván Lanegra, a lawyer for environmental issues at Peru’s Ombudsman’s Office, the law will both ensure that indigenous peoples’ rights are respected and will give them the opportunity to decide “for themselves their future and path to prosperity.”
The Legal Defense Institute, a non-profit organization, said that this brings Peru in line with the International Labor Organization’s Convention 169 on the rights of indigenous peoples, which has been in effect in Peru since 1995.
The law was first approved by Congress in May 2010, but then-President García refused to sign it, returning it to lawmakers with a series of requests, specifically that indigenous groups will not have the right to a veto in administrative or legislative issues.
But even though the norm does not make the indigenous vote binding, or give the communities a right to a veto, it does establish that the communities and the government must “reach an agreement or consent” in legislative or administrative issues that affect the communities directly, “through an inter-cultural dialogue that guarantees their inclusion in the state’s decision-making processes and the adoption of measures that respect their collective rights.”
Currently, three-quarters of Peru’s Amazon River basin have been concessioned off to extractive industry, such as oil and gas. A series of presidential decrees during García’s term to fast-track oil, gas, forestry and mining projects on indigenous lands exploded in clashes in June 2009 between local indigenous groups protesting the laws and police that left 34 police and indigenous dead.