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Environment

Peru - A tough place for environmentalists

According to a report of Global Witness, Peru is one of the most dangerous countries for environmentalists. Chris Moye explains to DW why they are murdered and what that may mean for the climate talks in Lima.

As Peru hosts the United Nations climate talks in Lima this week, a report by Global Witness says the country is failing to protect its carbon-rich forests - and the lives of the people who live in them. Illegal loggers were charged with the murders of four indigenous land rights campaigners in September - the latest in a series of killings that make Peru one of the world's most dangerous places for environmental activism.

Deutsche Welle: What were the report’s main findings?

The Global Witness Report ‘Peru's Deadly Environment’ focuses on the killings of environmental and land defenders between 2003 and 2014 and we've been able to document that there have been 57 killings of there environmental defenders over the last decade.

What's quite striking is that the last three or four years have accounted for over 60 percent of the killings, so you're seeing a massive increase. Overall, this means that Peru is now the fourth most dangerous country on Earth for environmental and land defenders and the second most dangerous in Latin America. It's also likely that these figures are an underestimation because there are likely still many cases that have not been documented properly or reported on.

(Photo: picture-alliance/dpa/K. Lozano).

Near Conga mining project, Peru, 2013: Hundreds of people are on their way to the mining project to show their rejection towards the works that might pollute water reservoirs.

So who is responsible for these deaths and why are they happening?

Chris Moye: The majority of the deaths - 80 percent - are in the extractor sector, so largely oil, mining and gas. And the police dominate the number of killings that happen and they are largely happening during protests by indigenous communities against extractive sector projects that are likely to affect their land.

What are these protests about?

In the extractive sector, the protests are largely about the failure of the government to properly implement the free prior and informed consent of indigenous communities before mining concessions are assigned to multinational companies that want to extract largely copper an gold.

In the forest sector, the main problem is illegal logging and the fact that there are over 20 million hectares of pending land title forest applications from indigenous communities, and also the fact that over 20 million hectares of forest have been assigned to either forest concessions or to oil concessions. Those are the underlying drivers of the protests and also of the killings.

Tell us more about the four recent murders discussed in the report.

On the first of September, four indigenous Ashéninka activists were killed by illegal loggers. Our report goes into the details of that specific case because it is emblematic of the problems of illegal logging which has been ignored for the last decade in Peru. Those individuals who were killed had been submitting police reports for over a decade of illegal logging that was happening on their land that was left to expand to the extent that is was actually affecting their ability to subsist and to properly manage their land. Edwin Chota (one of the activists killed) claimed he had come across corruption in the prosecutors' office, in the director of the forest authorities' office, and that is why the complaints that he submitted never moved.

The Ashéninka were one of the communities that had those pending land title applications. Deforestation in Peru has increased markedly from about 150,000 hectares prior to 2011, to 250,000 hectare between 2011 and 2012. So that half of all climate gases are the result of deforestation in Peru and what's the government's response to this? To assign 20 million hectares of forest to the petrol sector and to forest concessions, despite the fact that forest concessions have to documented to have at least an 80 to 90 percent rate of illegal logging, according to some sources.

How is Global Witness getting its information?

Our first port of call in Peru is the Human Rights Ombudsman's office which is a formal independent government office whose task it is to document human rights abuses in the country including killings, and then from that information we extract those that we consider to be environmental and land defenders and we also get info from the media and civil society sources on the ground to corroborate the information we get from the Human Rights Ombudsman's office.

So could authorities be doing more to protect these activists?

Of the 57 killings over the last decade, 41 have happened at hands of policemen in conjunction with other state security forces. Peru has just passed law that strengthens the hand of the police and the other state security forces when carrying out violent action towards peaceful protestors, essentially providing them with immunity from prospection. So the very problem is the authorities.

With Peru hosting the UN climate talks in Lima this week, what steps should the country be taking to prove its commitment to environmental protection?

The most immediate requirement is or them to protect those environmental land defenders. And that means to protect respecting the human declaration on human rights and revoking the recent law that provides immunity of prosecution for Peru's security agencies. We're also asking - in terms of Peru's forest sector commitments - for them to process 20 million hectares off pending indigenous land claims because we know indigenous communities best conserve the forest, and we're asking for them to investigate corruption in the extractive and forest and sector, and finally we're revoke a law that weakens environmental protection procedures.

Do the UN talks provide an opportunity to pressure the government on these issues?

Yes, absolutely, the fact that the climate change conference is being held in Lima puts Peru firmly in the spotlight over its two central commitments to reducing its own greenhouse gas emissions - namely conserving 54 million hectares of forest and reducing deforestation to zero.

How are indigenous land rights tied in with the protection of Peru's forests?

Its been well documented across Latin America that where indigenous communities live they properly conserve the forest in a way that if you adding land titles to them will reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The fundamental problem with Peru is that it has been signing over far too many concessions have been signed over the extractor sector or the logging sector rather than titling indigenous communities land.

Chris Moye is a forest campaigner at Global Witness, a non-governmental organization that has been working for more than 20 years for environment and human rights.

The interview was conducted by Charlotta Lomas.

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