How long can Norway ignore Peru's indigenous rights violations?

| 10th December 2014
'And now my friends, my cousins, died for this wood.' Photo: still from 'Our Fight' by Handcrafted Films.
'And now my friends, my cousins, died for this wood.' Photo: still from 'Our Fight' by Handcrafted Films.
The COP20 host, Peru's President Humala, certainly talked the talk on indigenous rights last September when he signed a $300 million deal with Norway. But his violations of indigenous rights, 'hands off' approach to murders of indigenous leaders and recent unguarded comments betray his true sentiments.
I disagree with labeling indigenous peoples as the best guardians of the forests because the state must employ forest guards and there is the National Forest Service.

In September 2014, Peru and Norway signed an agreement to reduce deforestation in Peru. When the US$300 million agreement was signed under the New York Forests Declaration, AIDESEP and Rainforest Foundation Norway warned that Peru needed to improve its policy on Indigenous Peoples.

In his speech at the signing of the agreement in New York, President Ollanta Humala talked about Indigenous Peoples rights and made clear the importance of Indigenous Peoples to protecting the forests:

"We also recognize that Amazon indigenous peoples have been traditionally the best guardians of the forest, and they still are, so by committing to a low-carbon development we are paying tribute to their endeavors and sacrifices."

The agreement between Peru and Norway includes several mentions of the importance of indigenous peoples' rights to protecting forests:

Under the headline "General approach and principles", the Peru and Norway Letter of Intent includes the intention to:

  • "Give all relevant stakeholders, including local communities, indigenous peoples, civil society, and women, the opportunity of full and effective participation in REDD+ planning and implementation."
  • "Respect the rights and proposals (as REDD Indígena Amazónico) of indigenous, forest dependent and local communities to give or withhold their Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) to operations on lands to which they hold legal, communal or customary rights, and ensure that those tenure rights are respected."

Phase II of the agreement, which is due to run from January 2015 to the end of 2017, includes the following objective, to

"Increase by at least 5 million hectares the regularization of indigenous lands, specifically native communities (sum of demarcation plus issuing of land right / title) (2017)."

This is a significant provision as 594 indigenous communities with claims to 20 million hectares of land remain with no secure title from the government, in violation of Peruvian law - leaving their forests open to illegal logging, plantations and settlement.

The day Humala's mask slipped

So it is perhaps surprising to read a recent interview with President Humala in Andina. In response to a question about the commitments that Peru would make "to strengthen the right of indigenous peoples to their lands and also protect the Peruvian Amazon", Humala said

I disagree with labeling indigenous peoples as the best guardians of the forests because the state must employ forest guards and there is the National Forest Service.

"I think it important to reflect on the native communities in the sense that they deserve a chance of development. I disagree with labelling them as the best guardians of the forests because the state must employ forest guards and there is the SERFOR [National Forest Service], etc."

Humala thus directly contradicted what he said when he signed the agreement with Norway.

In the interview Humala also mentioned the expansion of the Camisea gas project into an indigenous people's reserve. Humala suggests revising the concept of indigenous peoples living in voluntary isolation, because, he said, it is "condemning vulnerable populations to remain poor".

In January 2014, Forest Peoples Programme released a report documenting the impacts of the Camisea gas project on isolated indigenous peoples. Unfortunately, Humala appears oblivious to these impacts.

Can Norway carry on ignoring Peru's woeful performance?

Surely Humala's attitude to the rights of indigenous peoples is not something that the Norwegian government can ignore?

For too many indigenous peoples in Peru this is a matter of life and death. Global Witness reports that since 2002, 57 environmental activists have been murdered in Peru, most of them indigenous. The rate is increasing, with 60% of the deaths in the last four years.

In September 2014, four Ashéninka leaders - Edwin Chota Valera, Leoncio Quincima Meléndez, Jorge Ríos Pérez and Francisco Pinedo - were murdered. Global Witness points out that these murders are symptomatic of wider governance issues in Peru's forests:

"The government's failure to recognise indigenous claims to their traditional lands, an issue Chota and other indigenous leaders campaigned on for more than a decade; poor law enforcement and pervasive corruption that is allowing illegal logging to thrive in the Peruvian Amazon; and the gaps in institutional capacity and resources to adequately address these problems."

Only 1% of the people responsible for the murders have been brought to justice. Worse yet, state employees are behind a large number of the crimes, with 78% of the suspects being the police or police acting in conjunction with armed forces or company security forces.

This short film, 'Our Fight', by Handcrafted Films includes interviews with the widows and friends of the four Ashéninka leaders who were murdered in September and documents their ongoing struggle for land titling.

How much longer can Norway turn a blind eye to Peru's gross violations of Indigenous rights, and to President Humala's transparent disregard for the spirit if the agreement he signed?



Chris Lang runs REDD-Monitor, which aims to facilitate discussion about the concept of reducing deforestation and forest degradation as a way of addressing climate change.

This article was originally published on Redd Monitor.


More from this author


The Ecologist has a formidable reputation built on fifty years of investigative journalism and compelling commentary from writers across the world. Now, as we face the compound crises of climate breakdown, biodiversity collapse and social injustice, the need for rigorous, trusted and ethical journalism has never been greater. This is the moment to consolidate, connect and rise to meet the challenges of our changing world. The Ecologist is owned and published by the Resurgence Trust. Support The Resurgence Trust from as little as £1. Thank you. Donate now.