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Peru: Indigenous People

Volume 712: debated on Monday 6 July 2009


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether, following the statement by the European Heads of Mission on the recent violence and loss of life in the Peruvian Amazon, the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on the Rights and Freedoms of Indigenous Peoples will investigate the background to those events.

My Lords, we are very concerned by the events in Bagua and welcome the Peruvian Government’s invitation to the United Nations special rapporteur on the situation on human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people to investigate the recent violence in the Peruvian Amazon. We look forward to receiving his report into events. We condone any excessive use of force and urge the full protection of indigenous people’s rights. We are very concerned by reports that people are still missing.

My Lords, since I tabled this Question, the UN rapporteur has, in fact, visited Peru and we understand that he has recommended an independent inquiry into these events, with participation by the indigenous people’s representatives and the international community. Can the Minister say whether this is going ahead? What is the Government’s policy on the issue underlying the disturbance, which is that the agreements between Andean states and the European Union appear to give carte blanche to multinational companies developing oil and mineral resources in the Andean region at the expense of the indigenous inhabitants?

My Lords, as to the noble Lord’s second point, there is a genuine long-term need for dialogue between the Government and indigenous groups about the social and economic development of the Amazon region of Peru. This has been a long-standing sore in the political life of the country, and the disturbance is just the latest tragic expression of that. On the noble Lord’s first point on the report of the special rapporteur, I am afraid that he is ahead of me, as it has not yet been received. While the rapporteur, Mr James Anaya, made some comments while he was there and encouraged the creation of an independent commission, as the noble Lord said, we must wait until we get the official report before we know exactly what the Government of Peru should do to implement it.

My Lords, the position of the indigenous Peruvian Amazonians may seem a little remote from our immediate national interest, but given the current negotiations between ourselves, via the EU, and Peru on a free-trade area agreement, do we not have a considerable interest in maintaining the stability and development of the minorities in Peru and elsewhere? Will the Minister ensure that in our connections with the Peruvian Government we encourage them in their stance to ensure the rights—particularly the property rights—of these indigenous people, and that they continue to be involved fairly in a way that gives them respect?

My Lords, the noble Lord is completely correct. It was indeed a free-trade agreement—not the one with Europe—which prompted this dispute that led to the loss of 33 lives. It came precisely because the Government exercised powers to overrule existing legislation on landholdings and other related issues. The overruling has been reversed, which shows the need to deal with this issue with great delicacy, not just on behalf of the Government of Peru, but for outsiders like ourselves.

My Lords, will the Minister consider making representations—or persuading HMG to make representations—to the European Union, and possibly to the United States, about the extent to which the protection of indigenous people in the Amazon is very much part of a green agenda? The indigenous people have resisted massive logging in the Amazon and have done their best to protect the biological resources in that huge forest, often for very exciting new cures for diseases. Has not that issue become bigger than the question of one small tribe in Peru, and is it not one that the Government should address?

My Lords, the noble Baroness is completely correct—it is part of a broader issue. The rights of indigenous people throughout the Amazon and the Andes is an increasingly important political issue in the region in terms of its development and in terms of the need to include those people in the political dispensation of those countries and support them in their need to assert control and sustainable usage over the natural resources that are the basis of their livelihoods.

My Lords, given the UK’s position as the second largest foreign investor in Peru, what advice is given through the British embassy in Lima and other government agencies to potential British investors about the importance of prior consultation with local, especially indigenous, communities throughout Peru before final investment decisions are made?

My Lords, I hope that the advice is to be careful, sympathetic and fully conscious of the issues—to be good corporate social citizens with the kind of investment programmes, and the kind of respect for corporate social responsibility standards, that will ensure that such investments do not become a source of political confrontation and controversy. I will take the question of the right reverend Prelate also as advice, and make sure that that is what we are saying.

My Lords, one method that is essential if indigenous people are to be able to assert their rights is an effective system of mapping, so that they know the exact boundaries of where they are entitled to their rights, and where people who are seeking to develop the resources of the area can do so. Is it not clear that accurate mapping must be part of any solution to the problem that has been discussed?

My Lords, I suspect that the noble Lord is completely correct. Many of these land claims are disputed and were asserted when accurate mapping was not possible. Therefore, there is a lot of history to work through in dealing with the claims, which would no doubt form part of a good mapping exercise.

My Lords, does the Minister have any concerns about the character of the military in Peru, which has only recently come through some years of very heavy criticism of its behaviour? Does he feel that the military is now properly under the control of the civil authorities?

My Lords, as far as concerns this incident, of the 33 known deaths, 20 were of police who were involved in seeking to suppress the incidents. There is a report just out by the ombudsman of Peru—a well regarded, independent figure—and there will be the report of the UN special rapporteur. We will have to see whether the police in this case acted in any way extra-legally. At the moment, there is no confirmation of that.

My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of the Cusichaca project in the Andes for 20 years. Would the Minister pay tribute to the contribution made by British non-government bodies towards relations with Peruvians in a series of similar episodes across the country?

My Lords, perhaps I should have declared an interest, because I lived and worked in Peru at one point in my life. That gave me the privilege of seeing the extraordinary role of the British NGO and civil-society community around these issues in Peru.