The United Nations' Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) is urging the Peruvian government to 'suspend immediately' plans to expand the country's biggest gas project.
CERD's request was made in a letter dated 1 March to Peru's Ambassador to the UN, Luis Enrique Chavez Basagoitia, expressing concern over government plans to expand the Camisea gas project in the Kugapakori-Nahua-Nanti Reserve for indigenous peoples living in 'voluntary isolation' in the Amazon.
'The Committee is concerned at the possible discriminatory impact on the indigenous inhabitants of the reserve,' the letter says.
'We request that the Peruvian government immediately suspends the planned extractive activities in the reserve that could threaten the physical and cultural survival of the indigenous peoples living there and impedes their enjoyment of their economic, social and cultural rights,' it continues.
The expansion is planned by Pluspetrol, the leader of a consortium of companies, which includes Hunt Oil, operating in a concession called 'Lot 88' in the Camisea region in the south-east of the country.
CERD discussed Pluspetrol's plans at its 82nd session in Geneva held between 11 February and 1 March, following a formal submission made by Peruvian indigenous organizations AIDESEP, ORAU, COMARU and international human rights organization Forest Peoples Programme.
'Expansion violates the isolated indigenous peoples' rights under Peruvian and international law and could lead to their extermination,' said AIDESEP in a statement on 7 February making its submission public.
The appeal to the UN followed an announcement last December that the same three indigenous organizations, together with another, FENAMAD, intend to sue Peru's government and the 'company responsible' to stop the expansion.
According to Pluspetrol documents submitted to Peru's Energy Ministry, expansion in 'Lot 88' consists of two distinct phases.
The first phase is the construction of three wells at a location called San Martin Este, for which Pluspetrol received permission from Peru's Energy Ministry last year.
The second phase is drilling eighteen other wells, building a 10 km flow-line, and doing hundreds of kilometres of 2D and 3D seismic testing, for which the company has not yet received permission.
However, an article published in Peruvian newspaper Gestion last week quotes a Pluspetrol representative, Nelson Soto, claiming that his company would receive permission within the next two or three months.
Two weeks before that, just four days before CERD wrote to Peru, Gestion had published an article saying Pluspetrol would begin its seismic tests in April and it intended to invest US$480 million expanding the controversial project.
CERD's letter to Peru also expresses concern about the 'possible creation of a new concession in the reserve', 'Lot Fitzcarrald', and points out that states should not 'take any decision directly affecting (indigenous peoples') rights and interests without obtaining their previous consent.'
Both phases of expansion are scheduled to take place in the Kugapakori-Nahua-Nanti Reserve, which was established in 1990 and intended to be entirely off-limits to gas companies and other extractive activities.
The indigenous peoples living in 'voluntary isolation' in the reserve have no regular contact with outsiders and could easily be decimated by any form of contact with gas workers.