Photos in an internal report by a Peruvian government agency reveal illegal clearings in a reserve in the Amazon purportedly protecting indigenous peoples living in 'voluntary isolation' and 'initial contact.' The report is based on helicopter over-flights of the Kugapakori-Nahua-Nanti Reserve (KNNR) made by the National Institute for the Development of Andean, Amazonian and Afroperuvian Peoples (INDEPA) on 2 and 3 February 2012.
Almost a quarter of the KNNR is superimposed by a gas concession, Lot 88, where a consortium led by Pluspetrol has exploited the Camisea gas fields since 2004. According to the report, the clearings, numbering seven in total, are all at the same locations where Pluspetrol is now hoping to drill up to 21 new wells as part of a massive expansion of its operations.
One of the report's conclusions reads, "Of the seven projected future drilling platforms forming part of the Exploration and Development of Lot 88 (San Martin Este, San Martin Norte, Kimaro Centro, Kimaro Norte, Kimaro Oeste, Armihuari Norte and Armihuari Sur), all are marked with clearings."
The company’s plans to drill three wells at San Martin Este were approved by the Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM) on 13 April 2012, but MEM has not given its permission for the other 18 wells at the other six locations.
An aide memoir attached to the report states, "It should be noted that during the over-flights it was registered that the locations of the proposed platforms for the Kimaro, Armihuari and San Martin formations – all of which are inside the KNNR – have already been cleared. Apparently this relates to biological studies carried out by Pluspetrol in 2010-2011." The aide memoir recommends ‘making the respective enquiries about the administrative procedures followed by Pluspetrol in order to have carried out the clearings at the proposed platform locations."
According to a formal information request made by Forest Peoples Programme (FPP) to the Ministry of Agriculture (MINAG), Pluspetrol received permission on 13 June 2011 to clear 0.24 hectares at locations called Kimaru Norte, San Martin Norte, Armihuari Norte, Armihuari Sur, Kimaru Oeste and Kimaru Centro because it needed to land helicopters inside the KNNR while researching an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of its plans to expand its operations.
However, irrespective of these administrative procedures, the company’s presence in this region is illegal under international, and therefore Peruvian, law.
On 12 July 1978 Peru ratified the American Convention on Human Rights, meaning that all rulings by the Inter-American Court on Human Rights, even if made about other countries, set binding precedents that apply in Peru. Among the Court's many rulings relevant to the Camisea project is the 2012 judgment about the Kichwa people living in a community called Sarayaku in the Ecuadorian Amazon which reinforces the right of indigenous peoples to prior consultation before concessions are established on their lands. That followed a landmark ruling in 2007 about the Saramaka people in Suriname which established that, in the face of ‘large scale’ projects, states must not only consult indigenous peoples but also "obtain their free, prior and informed consent according to their customs and traditions."
Yet the indigenous peoples in 'voluntary isolation' in the KNNR have neither given their consent to, nor been consulted about, Pluspetrol's expansion plans. Indeed, not only is it impossible to secure their informed consent for such projects but any attempt to contact them in order to seek such consent could kill many of them via epidemics because of their lack of immunological defenses.
Peru’s Constitutional Court has confirmed that international human rights treaties ratified by Peru are incorporated into Peruvian domestic law via the Constitution and enjoy constitutional status, therefore standing above national laws or specific investment contracts.
"Exploitation of the Camisea gas fields is certainly a large-scale project and it is clear Peru is flouting the law," says FPP's director Joji Cariño. "The survival of the indigenous peoples living in 'voluntary isolation' in the Camisea region is seriously threatened."
Pluspetrol has already drilled wells in Lot 88, three of which are in the western part of the KNNR. An EIA for the proposed 18 new wells, a 10.5km pipeline extension and seismic tests across 100s of square kilometres is currently pending approval by MEM.
Pluspetrol admits in this EIA that contact with the indigenous peoples in ‘voluntary isolation’ is ‘probable’ during its operations, that such people in general are highly vulnerable to contact and ‘massive deaths’ can occur as a result, and that the impacts of its expansion on them will be, or could be, considerable for a wide variety of reasons.
In March the UN's Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination urged Peru to 'immediately suspend' the expansion of the Camisea gas project in the KNNR.