Press Release

IACHR Carries Out Visit to Peruvian Amazon Region

July 25, 2017

   Related links
   Contact info

IACHR Press and Communication Office
Tel: +1 (202) 370-9000

   More on the IACHR
A+ A-

Washington, D.C.—The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) conducted a visit on July 8-9, 2017, to the communities of Chiriaco, Cuninico, and Puerto Alegría, as well as to three oil spill areas along the Norperuano pipeline, to gather information on the human rights situation of communities affected by oil spills in the Peruvian Amazon region. The delegation was made up of the IACHR Rapporteur for Peru, Commissioner Paulo Vannuchi, and staff from the IACHR Executive Secretariat.

The IACHR thanks the Peruvian State for its invitation and valuable collaboration and for the opportunity provided to carry out this visit. It also appreciates the participation during the visit of State institutions which provided all the information the Commission needed, including staff of the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Housing, the Environmental Assessment and Oversight Agency (OEFA), the Supervisory Agency for Investment in Energy and Mining (OSINERGMIN), and personnel from Petroperú. The Commission especially values and acknowledges the participation of the Minister of Justice and Human Rights, María Soledad Pérez Tello, and the Minister of Energy and Mines, Gonzalo Tamayo Flores, in the visit.

The Commission was invited to conduct this visit during the hearing “Impacts on Human Rights of Oil Spills in Peru,” held in June 2016 during the Commission’s 158th session, which took place in Santiago, Chile. During that hearing, leaders of the affected communities reported that there had been 40 oil spills in the area in the last 20 years, half of them in the last four years, and that this had poisoned the waters and forests, leaving the communities without water and food. At that hearing, the leader or “Apu” of the Cuninico community, a woman from that community, and the President of the Wampis Nation informed the Commission that members of their communities, especially children, were suffering from multiple illnesses. For his part, the President of the State-owned company Petroperú said that the company had done cleanup work in the affected area and provided compensation to the affected communities, and he invited the IACHR to verify the situation on the ground. The IACHR also received a request for precautionary measures related to the situation of 38 communities located in the Marañón, Chiriaco, and Morona areas as a result of oil spills from the Norperuano pipeline in areas adjacent to their communities. That request is currently pending before the IACHR.

During the visit, the Commission visited the communities of Cuninico, Chiriaco, and Puerto Alegría. In meetings which included Apus and authorities from tens of communities, as well as massive community participation, the IACHR received information from indigenous leaders, human rights defenders, and other members of the communities regarding their situation in the context of the oil spills. The Commission thanks the communities for their hospitality and organization in presenting information and expressing their main concerns.

From a general standpoint, the IACHR was informed in the three communities about the continuing presence of petroleum and other minerals in the rivers and trees used for transportation and subsistence. All the authorities stressed the importance of the presence of two government ministers in the delegation and expressed their hope of being heard. According to the information the IACHR could confirm, the communities of Cuninico and Puerto Alegría lack access to potable water and have therefore developed a system to collect rainwater, which they drink untreated. The indigenous authorities told the Commission that the river water is polluted and is unfit for human consumption. The Commission also received information on the impact of the oil spills on the diet of community residents, because the number of fish reportedly decreased after the spills and the fish that survived are said to be unfit to eat, with deformities and a petroleum taste. As a result, inhabitants of the area have reportedly suffered health effects such as colic, diarrhea, skin problems, allergies, bleeding, and dizziness, as well as high levels of malnutrition. The IACHR also received information about the lack of adequate, comprehensive medical care for these conditions, which were reported as new and which the communities do not know how to treat. The IACHR also received information regarding the need to build classrooms and train teachers.

The first community visited by the IACHR, Cuninico, welcomed the Commission with a ceremony that brought together Apus or indigenous authorities and various leaders from nearby communities. They pointed out that their main activity is fishing, and said that since the oil spill they have been unable to find fish fit for consumption and that only about 10 percent of the fish remain. They added that their crop yields have dropped and that the banana trees no longer produce enough food for them. They indicated that the river water is contaminated and that they lack potable water. The community health worker and the local president of the Programa Vaso de Leche [Glass of Milk Program] said that health problems have increased, as have the levels of contaminants found in children (based on the results of blood and urine tests) as well as malnutrition in children due to a lack of food. They asked the State to urgently provide drinking water and adequate nutrition while the damages from the oil spills are repaired; they also asked for support to build a fish farm and requested adequate health care. They noted that the medical outpost that was built needs to be properly equipped and said that so far, a doctor has visited only once in three years.

The community of Puerto Alegría welcomed the Commission with a ceremony which included the participation of Apus and indigenous authorities from several nearby communities. The information provided by the representatives matched that presented by Cuninico, in the sense of needing drinking water, food, and adequate health care. One of the specific requests about the existing health outpost, for example, was to find a way that boats could have proper access to be able to disembark passengers in need of medical attention. The IACHR was also given a sample of water that contained petroleum, which the community reported had been collected from the river that same morning.

The community of Chiriaco welcomed the IACHR delegation with a ceremony led by the Mayor of Chiriaco and Apus from various communities. Added to the information the Commission had received previously—consistent with the lack of water, food, and adequate health care—representatives reported that children had been used in the cleanup efforts to rid the river of oil. They added that the investigation into these incidents has not moved forward and said they are asking for a prompt and efficient investigation and penalties, as well as adequate redress. They said that in addition to the petroleum, there has been mercury, cadmium, and arsenic contamination, mainly due to mining activities and the oil spills. They urgently asked the State to make adequate health services available to the indigenous peoples in the area and to ensure that their right to prior, free, and informed consultation is respected.

For its part, the State—in a meeting with the Minister of Justice and Human Rights; the Minister of Energy and Mines; representatives of the Ministries of Health and Housing, OEFA, and OSINERGMIN; and high-level authorities from Petroperú—reported that prior to this administration, social programs were not implemented in areas along the pipeline because these were considered high-income areas. Thanks to a decree, today all the indigenous communities may be considered for social programs. They also informed the Commission that Petroperú is a 100 percent State-owned company, headed by the Minister of Energy and Mines, and that its primary function is the transport of hydrocarbons. In the information that they provided to the Commission, the authorities stressed that an oil pipeline always entails risks but that the number of incidents in Peru—1.32 per 1,000 kilometers per year—is nevertheless very low when compared with other countries. Representatives of the company stated that they have taken various measures to maintain the pipeline, hiring companies with the latest technologies to monitor it and ensure that it is functioning properly. The company also indicated that it is taking every step, to the extent possible, to prevent more oil spills, such as hiring security guards and patrols in the area and working with the communities and indigenous peoples so that they can participate in protecting the pipeline. In terms of these incidents, they added that from the time the pipeline was built until 2017, 62.63 percent of the incidents had occurred due to actions of third parties, 26 percent due to natural causes, 10 percent due to corrosion, 1 percent due to abrasion, and 1 percent due to welding failures.

The Commission received information from State authorities indicating that a high number of incidents took place between 2014 and 2016, most of which were because the pipeline had been cut. They said they were on high alert because of this situation and had prepared a contingency plan to mobilize quickly, based on international good practices. This plan consists of an operational phase to reach the site of the break and repair it; a phase to implement preventive social actions to attend to anyone who reports being affected by the spill; and an environmental action phase, to control the impacts of the oil spills and do cleanup work through companies that specialize in these types of operations. The IACHR visited two areas of oil spills, as well as a camp established as a base of operations for the cleanup activities. Based on what the IACHR could verify, the areas it visited were free of oil. The State explained in detail the restoration efforts it had undertaken through specialized companies, and the OEFA and OSINERGMIN explained their oversight of the cleanup projects. The State explicitly indicated that the damage could not be fully repaired, and said that evaluations are underway to determine whether to end the cleanup efforts. The State added that a community relations plan was created in 1996, which Petroperú considers especially important, and that this plan focuses on providing social support through the delivery of water, medical care, and food supplies; training in the communities and jobs as community health workers and environmental monitors; and pipeline security.

The IACHR urges the State to continue and expand the dialogue with the affected communities, so as to protect the full enjoyment and exercise of their human rights, and to adopt the necessary measures to provide water, food, and adequate health services to the communities that have been affected by the oil spills and by pollutants such as mercury that come from other activities.

The Commission is especially concerned about the information circulated by the Environmental Assessment and Oversight Agency (OEFA) two days after the visit, in which the agency reports a new oil spill at kilometer 59 of the pipeline, in the district of Urarinas in Loreto province, near the community of Cuninico. The IACHR urges the Peruvian State to redouble its efforts to prevent oil spills, so as to keep such incidents from happening again, and to urgently take the necessary steps to protect the communities from the effects of this spill and provide humanitarian assistance.

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.

No. 105/17