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Special Rapporteurship on Economic, Social, Cultural, and Environmental Rights
Washington, D.C.- The Office of the Special Rapporteur on Economic, Social, Cultural, and Environmental Rights (REDESCA) of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses its deep concern over the oil spill that has occurred in the Ventanilla Sea, in Peru, since January 15, 2022, regretting the consequences that it represents for the rights to the environment, as well as for the life, health, water, food, housing and cultural rights of broad sectors of the population.
Specifically, REDESCA notes that the events in the sector of Ventanilla, Province of Callao, have been characterized as the worst ecological disaster that occurred in Lima in recent times, which would be endangering the flora and fauna in two protected natural areas, which include the National Reserve of the Island System, Islets and Puntas Guaneras, Islotes de Pescadores and the Ancón Reserved Zone. Consequently, hundreds of fishing families have been seriously harmed and the authorities found various marine species covered with oil, many of them already dead. It should be noted that the Environmental Assessment and Control Agency (OEFA) indicated that on January 25 a second spill would have been registered, which the same entity would be supervising.
The Office of the Special Rapporteur notes that, according to Repsol (the company that operates the refinery involved in the spill), the January 15 spill would be equivalent to approximately 10.396 barrels. The OEFA estimates that as of January 23, 713 hectares of sea and 180 hectares of coastal strip would be affected. Although the causes of this incident are not yet clear, the company said it has deployed a contingency plan in the face of the situation.
REDESCA notes that the State has adopted various measures to respond to the environmental disaster, including the formation of a Crisis Committee to determine the damage and analyze corporate responsibility. In turn, cooperation has been coordinated with specialized agencies of the United Nations and with the National Security Council of the United States. For its part, the Peruvian Prosecutor's Office has opened an investigation for the alleged crime of environmental pollution against the legal representatives and officials of the refinery. Likewise, the REDESCA is aware that the competent authorities have declared the Environmental Emergency of the affected marine-coastal area for 90 days and ordered the suspension of operations in the refinery until the causes that originated the oil spill in the aforementioned area are determined.
The Office of the Special Rapporteur deeply regrets the effects that this tragedy entails for Peru, while expressing solidarity with all affected people and communities, as well as expressing its concern about the significant damage that the spill implies for people and ecosystems. REDESCA recalls that, in accordance with the inter-American standards on business and human rights, established in its 2019 report, both States, when exercising their regulatory, supervisory and judicial functions, as well as companies, within the framework of their activities and commercial relations, must take into account and respect the human right to a healthy environment and the sustainable use and conservation of ecosystems and biological diversity, paying special attention to its close relationship with indigenous peoples, Afro-descendant communities and rural and peasant populations.
In this regard, the REDESCA recalls that, as established by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in its Advisory Opinion OC-23/17, States have the obligation to prevent, regulate and control environmental pollution. This obligation derives from and forms part of the right to live in a healthy environment, recognized by article 11 of the Protocol of San Salvador, in its relationship with article 26 of the Pact of San José, Costa Rica. In the light of these provisions and in accordance with the principle of prevention, States should adopt all appropriate measures based on accurate and scientifically relevant information to prevent environmental damage and reduce its impacts.
In the same way, the REDESCA recalls that States must act with due diligence to prevent, investigate, punish and repair facts such as those that arise from this communiqué, whether they come from state agents or private actors. In line with the above, the priority adoption of all relevant measures is required to contain the spill, mitigate its impacts and safeguard the rights of the population, as well as those necessary to avoid the repetition of this type of situation.
On the other hand, as established in the aforementioned REDESCA report on 'Business and Human Rights: Inter-American Standards', the international obligations of States in this area generate effects on companies, which have the responsibility to respect human rights, and must guide their actions and processes by the international standards that are applicable. Consequently, the REDESCA makes a special call to the company Repsol to proceed with due diligence, including an evaluation of the real and potential impact of its behaviors and activities on human rights in relation to the spills, providing for mitigation and environmental adaptation measures, as well as the participation and effective reparation of the affected people and communities.
On a different note, it should be recalled that chronic exposure to hazardous substances can seriously affect the right to health and a dignified life of individuals, among other human rights that can also be interdependently violated. In the present context, therefore, particular attention should be paid to the risks that exist for traditional fishing communities. In relation to them, and in particular, to those living in poverty or extreme poverty, the State must take urgent and specially aimed measures both to prevent chronic exposure to dangerous substances and the effects that pollution may affect their livelihoods and labor rights. This obligation is extended to all persons who are in the territory, with special attention to workers or volunteers who carry out cleaning work. Regarding the latter, an emphatic call is made to ensure that their work is carried out under safe conditions, by providing the necessary equipment to protect themselves from contact with crude oil.
Additionally, the REDESCA urges the State of Peru to prioritize the realization
of a diagnosis on the economic and social impact of the spills, under a human
rights approach, as a basis for giving a comprehensive and urgent response to
the effects that they would be producing in the affected populations.
All the actions mentioned above must be framed within the respect and guarantee of the rights of access to participation, information and justice in environmental matters. They are part of the right to a healthy environment and are codified in the Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters in Latin America and the Caribbean (Escazú Agreement). With regard to the latter, REDESCA takes the opportunity to urge the State to ratify it promptly.
Finally, in order to contribute to the adequate rights-based approach to remediation and response to the situation, REDESCA offers the State its technical advice, while expressing its interest and willingness to visit Peru in order to verify in situ the human rights situation in relation to oil spills in the country.
The REDESCA is an autonomous Office of the IACHR, specially created to strengthen the promotion and protection of economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights in the Americas, leading the Commission's efforts in this area.
A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.