Communities in the Peruvian Amazon – especially indigenous communities – have been suffering from numerous oil spills from the Norperuano Pipeline for nearly 50 years. The pipeline is operated by the Peruvian government, through its state-owned oil company PetroPeru. Official statistics confirm at least 37 spills between 1996 and 2016 alone – nearly two per year – but the real number may be far higher.
In addition to directly contaminating the rivers and streams that communities depend on for drinking water and fish, the spills have left toxins such as heavy metals and probable carcinogens in surrounding soil, sediment, and water, leading to significant drops in crop yields and further affecting regional food security. Communities have also reported a number of health problems stemming from the contamination, including nausea, migraines, vomiting, stomach pain, skin rashes, and even miscarriages among pregnant women; tests have confirmed contaminants in blood and urine. Especially at-risk are women, nursing mothers, the elderly, and children, who may suffer long-term developmental damage.
In 2015 and 2016, the native communities and their representatives took legal action in Peruvian courts to hold the government accountable. After major new spills occurred in early 2016, EarthRights International joined with other groups to ask for interim remedies – known as precautionary measures – from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, on behalf of two particularly heavily affected native communities. The Commission granted these measures in December 2017, calling on the Peruvian government to ensure that the affected communities have access to adequate medical care, potable water, and a diet that is “nutritionally and culturally appropriate.” The decision also calls on the Peruvian state to carry out medical screenings to determine the level of contamination that affected community members have been exposed to, with the aim of then administering the necessary treatments. ERI continues to work to enforce and implement these precautionary measures.
Note: In the Inter-American System, attorneys and NGOs often act as petitioners on behalf of other beneficiaries.
Instituto de Defensa Legal (IDL)
Coordinadora Nacional de Derechos Humanos (CNDDHH)
Asociación Interétnica para el Desarrollo de la Selva Peruana (AIDESEP)
Instituto de Defensa Legal del Ambiente y el Desarrollo Sostenible (IDLADS Peru)
Organización Regional de los Pueblos Indígenas del Oriente (ORPIO)
El Gobierno Territorial Wampis
Galo Vasquez Silva from the Federación de Comunidades Cocama Unidas del Marañón (FEDECUM)
Native Communities of Cuninico and San Pedro in Loreto, Peru
Government of Peru
The Norperuano Pipeline is installed in the northern Amazon region of Peru, in the region of Loreto.
The Peruvian government documents 37 oil spills on the pipeline; independent sources put the number at 190.
In June, a pipeline leak dumps over 1,600 barrels of crude oil in a forested area upstream from the indigenous community of Cuninico, killing off several tons of fish—which the community depends on both for subsistence and income—and contaminating the very river locals use for drinking, cooking, washing, and bathing.
In November, a massive spill of 7,800 barrels devastates the neighboring indigenous Kukuma community of San Pedro.
The native communities of Cuninico, Nueva Esperanza, San Francisco and Nueva Santa Rosa submit a legal complaint in Peruvian court challenging the government’s failure to adequately respond to the 2014 spills.
In January, the Regional Organization of the Indigenous Peoples of the Peruvian Amazon of Northern Peru (ORPIAN) files a lawsuit against three Peruvian governmental agencies.
In February, spills of 3,000 barrels of oil contaminate indigenous communities including Cuninico, prompting the Peruvian government to declare a public health emergency, and to order a shutdown of the pipeline.
Also in February, ORPIAN files another environmental complaint against PetroPeru for poor maintenance, failing to contain oil spills, and harm from contamination from the Norperuano Pipeline.
In March, ERI and others submit a request for precautionary measures to the Inter-American Commission, urging the Commission to require the Peruvian state to adopt necessary measures to protect the rights of members of the several communities impacted by the series of oil spills occurring in or near their territories.
In June, the Commission holds a thematic hearing on the impacts of oil spills in Peru; leaders and representatives of communities affected by the spills describe how recurring contamination over the last 20 years has negatively affected the health, nutrition, and overall well-being of the communities.
Also in June, yet another spill occurs, indicating that PetroPeru had continued using the pipeline without permission. Germán Velásquez Salazar, head of PetroPeru, resigns, and is charged with criminal environmental pollution.
In July, the indigenous federation ACODECOSPAT files a court action alleging violation of constitutional rights with respect to the November 2014 spill in San Pedro, demanding that the government remedy the environmental and social harms affecting the community.
In October, the Peruvian government expands the public health emergency to four entire river basins.
In July, the Inter-American Commission visits three oil spill sites and three native communities affected by the spills.
In December, the Commission grants the request for precautionary measures, calling on the Peruvian state to carry out its obligations by ensuring that members of the affected communities have access to adequate medical care, potable water, and a diet that is “nutritionally and culturally appropriate.” The decision also calls on the Peruvian state to carry out medical screenings to determine the level of contamination that affected community members have been exposed to, with the aim of then administering the necessary treatments.
The key question in any precautionary measures proceedings at the Inter-American Commission is whether the situation presents an imminent risk of irreparable harm to people. The petition regarding the oil spills presents a range of issues regarding the human rights that are threatened by contamination from the oil spills. These include:
Scientific American | Oil Spill in Amazon Sickens Villagers, Kills Fish | July 23, 2014
Peruvian Times | Labor Ministry Investigates Use of Children to Clean Up Oil Spill | July 24, 2014
The Guardian | The Amazon oil spills overlooked by environmental leaders in Lima | December 9, 2014
Mongabay | 9 months after Amazonian oil pipeline spill, effects and fears linger | March 30, 2015
Russia Today | Water emergency in Peruvian Amazon after 3,000-barrel oil spill contaminates 2 rivers | February 23, 2016
Reuters | Petroperu fined, president ousted over oil spills in Amazon | June 30, 2016
Mongabay | Health concerns, food insecurity linger months after Peruvian oil spills | July 25, 2016
National Geographic | ‘Things Shouldn’t Be Like This’: Lingering Effects of Peru’s Jungle Oil Spills | September 7, 2016
TeleSUR | Oil Spill Hits Peru’s Amazon — Again | October 16, 2016
The Guardian | $1bn to clean up the oil in Peru’s northern Amazon | August 3, 2017
OAS | CIDH otorga medida cautelar a favor de las comunidades de Cuninico y San Pedro en Loreto, Perú | December 12, 2017
Servindi | “Me siento mal. Estoy arrojando. No puedo comer.” | December 21, 2017