The tragic incident occurred on August 9th after some 100 indigenous people entered the operating grounds of block 95 in Loreto, Peru, at 1 am on the UN International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.
The group occupied the block in order to demand that the government and Canadian operating company PetroTal, provide support promised to local indigenous communities when operations started in 2018, and are now urgently needed in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, which has devastated indigenous communities in the Amazon.
According to ORPIO, one of RFN’s main indigenous partners in Peru, the protesters aimed to shed light on the government’s inadequate response to the COVID-19 pandemic and to draw attention to the devastating pollution created by oil drilling in their ancestral lands.
Indigenous communities lack basic services
The situation took a tragic turn when police clashed with the protesters, leaving three indigenous people dead and 17 injured, including six police officers. The indigenous people who attempted to occupy and halt production at the oil field are represented by ORPIO.
"This is a sad development on what otherwise should have been an International Indigenous Peoples’ Day to draw attention to the importance of indigenous peoples for the world. We are in dialog with ORPIO to determine how we can help and prevent further escalation", says senior advisor Armando Lamadrid of RFNs Peru and Colombia program.
He says the indigenous peoples of Loreto have legitimate reasons to protest, as the oil operations is generating lots of revenues, of which the surrounding local communities see very little despite the operations occurring on their ancestral lands. The communities lack the most basic of services, both social and sanitary.
Block 95 also overlaps with the proposed Yavarí-Tapiche isolated peoples’ reserve in Peru. Oil exploration and extraction within these areas risks contacting these peoples, whose immune system are highly susceptible to any contagious pathogen they are not already used to.
"We will help in whatever way we can so that ORPIO can push the government to come to the table to talk and take real steps to answer the cries of the people surrounding and in block 95, rather than responding with repression", says Lamadrid.
UN: Peru must address situasjon for human rights defenders
The incident on block 95 happened only six months after the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst, stated that «the increasing criminalization and stigmatization of human rights defenders and local communities across Peru by State and non-State actors needs to be addressed urgently.»
After a 14-day visit to Peru in February, during which he met with some 450 human rights defenders from various regions, he said that «they suffer from criminalization, judicial harassment, stigmatization, intimidation and excessive use of police force during social protests.»
"The case of block 95 seems to be an extension of the trend of criminalization of protest", says Lamadrid.
In May this year Human Rights Watch criticized Peru for enacting a law that the organization claims «limits an explicit requirement that the use of force by police must be proportionate and grants police special protections against criminal prosecution.»
This is putting added pressure on activists in a country that Global Witness has called the fourth most dangerous in the world for environmental defenders.
"The impunity of the police and military, as well as industrial actors causes environmental defenders to be significantly vulnerable in Peru now", says Lamadrid.