19/09/2013 08:04 BST | Updated 16/11/2013 05:12 GMT

78 (Or Is That 148?) Civil Society Groups Lobby Peru's President over Amazon Gas Plans

Last month 19 Peruvian civil society organizations wrote an open letter to the country's president, Ollanta Humala, expressing their concern about the planned expansion of Peru's biggest ever gas development, known as the 'Camisea project.'

The letter states that expansion would violate the rights to life and health of indigenous people living in the Amazon in 'isolation and initial contact' - in other words, people with little, very little, almost no or absolutely no contact with 'outsiders.' It focuses on an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of one phase of the expansion which was written by the company leading the Camisea consortium, Pluspetrol, together with a UK consultancy Environmental Resources Management (ERM), and which is currently pending approval by Peru's Ministry of Energy.

'We urge the Peruvian state to prioritise the protection of the basic rights of the indigenous peoples in isolation and initial contact when considering the approval of the EIA for Exploration and Development in Lot 88, given that the approval of that document in its current state would violate the basic rights of these peoples,' states the letter, circulated by Lima-based DAR and signed by organizations such as Aprodeh, Desco, Grufides and the Instituto de Defensa Legal.

That letter followed one sent to Humala in July by Peru's National Coordinator for Human Rights (NCHR), an umbrella group for 81 civil society organizations in Peru, and yet another one in February signed by 58 international human rights and environmental organizations including Amazon Watch, Forest Peoples Programme, Friends of the Earth-France, Global Witness and Survival International. The February letter went further than the subsequent two by explicitly urging Humala to abandon the expansion plans altogether, stating that they constitute a 'threat to the physical and cultural survival' of the 'isolated' indigenous people and that they not only violate Peruvian law but 'international human rights treaties in force for Peru - and their authoritative interpretation by bodies such as the Inter-American Court of Human Rights - [which] are incorporated into [Peruvian] domestic law via the Constitution and stand above national laws.'

Less than two weeks later the United Nations' Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) requested the Peruvian government to 'immediately suspend' the expansion.

The EIA currently pending approval by the Ministry of Energy details Pluspetrol's plans to drill up to 18 wells, build a 10.5km pipeline extension, and conduct seismic tests across a huge swathe of the Amazon in a concession called 'Lot 88', almost 75% of which overlaps the Kugapakori-Nahua-Nanti Reserve established in 1990 to supposedly protect the 'isolated' peoples.

The EIA was the subject of a critical report by the Ministry of Culture in July that generated tremendous controversy after being removed from the public sphere within just a few hours. It was later annulled, and Ministry personnel 'resigned' and Peru's Prime Minister publicly intervened.

One phase of the expansion - three new wells - was approved by the Ministry of Energy in April last year. Other companies in the Pluspetrol-led consortium include Hunt Oil and Repsol.