Peru: court rules for indigenous sovereignty
Peru's Supreme Court on Sept. 26 ruled in favor of the Shipibo and Ese'Eja indigenous community of Tres Islas in the southern Amazon basin region of Madre de Dios, finding that the rainforest dwellers have the right to block a road that illegal miners and timber cutters use to enter their territory. Indigenous organizations hailed the ruling as an important precedent for peoples trying to halt mining, logging or oil drilling on their lands. "We think this will serve as an example for other indigenous groups to take their cases to the top court," said Jaime Tapullima Pashanase, president of the Ethnic Council of Kechwa Peoples of the Amazon (CEPKA). Added Julio Ibañez Moreno, a lawyer for Peru's trans-Amazonian alliance AIDESEP: "I consider this ruling very important for indigenous communities. This is an advance in terms of the rights they have been demanding."
Others expressed caution at the ruling, noting that it came in a case concerning activity that was already officially illegal. "The sentence said every right, even the right to property, has limits, and the state decides those limits," said Javier La Rosa with the Legal Defense Institute in Lima. "That's dangerous. Because of that, the state can suddenly say 'your land is part of a concession.'"
The ruling cited Peru's new prior consultation law, which requires the government to consult with indigenous communities before making decisions that directly affect them. But this too has a loophole, stating that any government interference on indigenous land "must be duly justified."
The consultation law, which the administration of President Ollanta Humala is now putting into force, gives indigenous peoples more say over their lands but stops short of allowing them to veto government-approved extractive projects. "The consultation law was an important step towards realizing these rights, but it has been significantly weakened in its implementation," said Gregor MacLennan of Amazon Watch. (La Primera, Sept. 27; La Republica, Reuters, Sept. 26)