09/10/2013 07:01 BST | Updated 08/12/2013 05:12 GMT

UN Says Peru's Gas Plans Could Threaten Indigenous Peoples

A United Nations committee says that plans by Peru's government to expand a controversial gas project in the Amazon could threaten the 'physical and cultural survival' of indigenous peoples.

The Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) wrote to Peru's UN Ambassador on 30 August, stating that it had discussed the gas expansion and its potential impacts at a recent meeting under its 'Urgent Action and Early Warning Procedure.'

CERD's letter says that the gas expansion could cause indigenous people living in the Kugapakori-Nahua-Nanti Reserve (KNNR) 'irreparable harm' because of their 'extreme vulnerability', and urges Peru to protect them according to its 'international obligations.' In particular it refers to CERD's own 'General Recommendation no. 23' which requests that states ensure that 'no decisions directly relating to [indigenous peoples´] rights and interests are taken without their informed consent', as well as to an international law called Convention 169 which states that indigenous peoples have the 'right to decide their own priorities for the process of development.'

This is at least the second time that CERD has written to Peru's government this year about this issue. On 1 March the Committee requested Peru to 'immediately suspend' the expansion - a request that the Energy Minister, during a hearing in Peru's Congress in mid-April, made clear he intended to ignore.

The KNNR was established in 1990 supposedly to protect extremely isolated indigenous peoples, but a gas concession was superimposed over almost a quarter of it 10 years later. Wells and pipelines already exist in the west of the reserve, but there are now plans to move further north, east and south into the KNNR and drill another 21 wells, build a 10.5km pipeline extension, and conduct seismic tests across 100kms.

The concession, 'Lot 88', is operated by a consortium led by Pluspetrol and including Hunt Oil and Repsol. An Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the pipeline extension, seismic tests and 18 of the 21 wells is currently pending approval by the Energy Ministry.

CERD's March letter was a direct response to an appeal made by indigenous organizations AIDESEP, COMARU and ORAU and international human rights organization Forest Peoples Programme.