The regional campaign "Securing indigenous territories to protect life" puts the spotlight on the importance of guaranteeing legal security of land and territorial rights for indigenous peoples.
Oseas Barbarán, indigenous leader of the Shipibo Konibo people and president of the Confederation of Amazonian Nationalities of Peru (CONAP), explains how indigenous peoples' own forms of governance and territorial management contribute to strengthening their territorial rights and ensuring their right to self-determination.
Indigenous peoples face various situations of violation of their fundamental rights, such as the right to life, health and culture, and to be able to decide on their own forms of development, among others.
"Today, our territories are under threat, despite the fact that we develop social, cultural, economic and political activities in them that are essential to ensure our food and generate economic income, as well as to access natural resources that provide us with medicinal plants or construction materials. Moreover, these territories are the source of our ancestral wisdom. Therefore, ensuring the preservation of indigenous peoples' territories is of vital importance, as there is a close relationship between the conservation of our territories and our survival," says Oseas.
In the Peruvian Amazon, the granting of concessions on indigenous peoples' territories is the main threat. According to this indigenous leader, not only do they face illegal activities, but also legal activities backed by great economic power, which often subjugates the indigenous communities. In addition, due to the high level of corruption in some government sectors, many indigenous peoples have been dispossessed of their territories, limiting their access to and restricting the use of their natural resources.
In this situation, autonomy and indigenous peoples' own forms of governance and territorial management play a fundamental role in strengthening their territorial rights. For Oseas, "indigenous governance has been of vital importance in addressing all these threats. As legitimate voices and interlocutors, indigenous organisations have enabled us to claim our rights at local, regional and national levels. The organisations have been the voice of peoples who were not listened to and, little by little, they have achieved recognition of their rights, the safeguarding of their culture, the strengthening of their language and the possibility of building a sustainable future for themselves.
Autonomy has also been a fundamental part of the existence of indigenous peoples for many centuries. "It even existed before the processes of colonisation in the Americas to build a social fabric and a collective system that has endured to this day, and which has allowed the development of our language, culture and given us the capacity to face the challenges and changes that globalisation has brought with it," explains Oseas.
In the case of the indigenous peoples of the Peruvian Amazon, autonomy and self-government imply, according to the indigenous leader, "having, within the State our own indigenous governance structure. This allows us to govern ourselves internally and defend our collective rights". Although, on many occasions, the State does not give due recognition to indigenous peoples in terms of autonomy, "we hope that it will recognise us as indigenous people who have their own autonomy in organisational, social, cultural and political terms; we want the State to recognise this right that we have as an integral part of Peruvian society", he adds.
In addition to autonomy and self-government, the right to self-determination is another fundamental right of indigenous peoples that allows them to decide their priorities for life and collective well-being, without others deciding for them. "Self-determination is one of the main rights we have, as it allows us to make our own decisions, to identify and organise ourselves, and to develop as indigenous peoples in a society where there are different visions and ways of looking at social, cultural and economic development. Self-determination is the cornerstone that has allowed indigenous peoples today to survive in the face of the constant changes that have taken place," says Oseas.
PARTICIPATION AND PRIOR CONSULTATION, PENDING CHALLENGES
On the other hand, States have to ensure participation and consultation processes not only to guarantee the right to self-determination of indigenous peoples, but also for the formulation of policies, norms and measures that secure their rights to land and territory. However, the Peruvian State often implements private investment programmes and projects in their territories without consulting indigenous peoples, resulting in environmental contamination and social conflicts. Oseas explains that indigenous peoples are not opposed to these projects, "but without consent, our rights are affected and permanent conflicts can arise. Therefore, it is important that we are consulted and our consent is obtained before such projects are carried out". Furthermore, according to him, "the State should carry out these prior consultation processes to determine how we can actively participate, as we also want to play a significant role in the sustainable development of the communities in the Peruvian Amazon".
Prior consultation processes are important, as they allow for a social agreement between the State and indigenous peoples in order to implement actions that are sustainable over time.
THEREFORE, STATES MUST ENSURE SUCH PROCESSES THROUGH DIALOGUES AND EXCHANGES UNDER EQUITABLE CONDITIONS, RESPECTING THE FORMS AND SPACES OF AUTONOMY AND ORGANISATION OF INDIGENOUS PEOPLES.
However, there are many limitations to carrying out these processes. "The main limitation is the lack of knowledge that some sectors have of indigenous peoples. In addition, there are often not enough technical, logistical and/or economic resources allocated to ensure the full and effective participation of indigenous peoples, nor is their participation managed from the outset," says Oseas.
In the case of Peru, the different stages of the prior consultation processes are not easy, especially in the dialogue stage, where it is difficult for the State to understand the priorities of indigenous peoples. According to Oseas, another limitation of these processes is that "if no agreement is reached between the indigenous peoples and the State, it is often the State that makes the decision, without taking into account that this decision may affect these peoples". For this reason, "prior consultation should really be consultation so that indigenous peoples, through our representative indigenous organisations, whether at the local, regional or national level, can participate and make their contributions", he concludes.
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