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On Tuesday August 23rd, Peru’s congress unanimously approved a new law that would grant indigenous communities the right to prior consultation on projects that will affect them and their lands. The approval of the Law on Prior Consultation with Indigenous Communities (Ley de Derecho a la Consulta Previa a los Pueblos Indígenas) marks a historic step in Peru’s recognition of indigenous rights and the integration of indigenous communities into the decision-making process for large-scale natural resource development projects.

In recent years, Peru’s government has faced serious conflict with indigenous communities, particularly from the country’s vast Amazonian region, over extractive projects in the oil, gas, mining, and logging sectors. Two years ago, in June 2009, more than 30 people were killed in the northern Amazon province of Bagua when Peruvian security forces violently clashed with indigenous communities protesting new legislative decrees that aimed to open up their lands to increased oil, gas, mining and hydropower development, without requiring prior consultations with indigenous communities. Ultimately these legislative decrees were overturned, but with nearly 75 percent of the Peruvian Amazon already carved into oil and natural gas blocks, the conflict and debate over the use of the country’s natural resources has continued.

Commenting on the Law on Prior Consultation with Indigenous Communities, Alberto Pizango Chota, President of the Interethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Rainforest (Asociación Interétnica de Desarrollo de la Selva Peruana) (AIDESEP), stated that Peru’s “indigenous peoples only demand respect for the right to a dignified life and this approval signifies a demonstrated willingness of the government to follow through with the great changes the country needs…and continue promoting the harmonious development of the country” (translation mine).

Newly elected President Ollanta Humala also commented via Twitter that “the right to prior consultation on the development of indigenous communities is a further sign of social inclusion. We are building a Peru for all” (translation mine).

President Humala has two weeks to sign and approve the new law. Although Peru ratified the International Labour Organization Convention 169 in 1994, which requires that governments conduct consultations with indigenous communities for projects which will affect them, the prior consultation process has not always been meaningfully applied. The approval of this new law marks a significant step in the reform of domestic Peruvian law to recognize the rights of the country’s indigenous peoples.