El Estrecho, Peruvian Amazon – December 16th, 2021
Indigenous Secoya communities filed a landmark lawsuit today against the Peruvian Ministry of Agriculture and the Regional Government of Loreto Province that aims to guarantee Secoya ownership over 300,000 acres of ancestral lands currently held by the Peruvian government. The legal action, brought by the communities of San Martin de Porres, Mashunta, Vencedor (Wajoya), has the potential to benefit 2,000 Indigenous communities in Peru directly, and could catalyze much needed reforms to ensure formal Indigenous ownership of more than 10 million acres of rainforest territories.
The lawsuit alleges that the national titling system in Peru, which excludes intact forest area from Indigenous land title, is discriminatory, unconstitutional and contrary to international law. The national titling system, which relies on soil classifications instead of customary claims or historic use by Indigenous peoples, allocates forested land to the government, and grants to Indigneous peoples only temporary and revocable usage rights over the huge swaths of intact forest they depend on for their physical and cultural survival.
The Secoya communities filing the lawsuit hold property rights over only a small portion of their titled lands: the community of Mashunta owns only 20.34%, the community of San Martin de Porres only 39.71% and the community of Vencedor only 38.90%. That means that around 300,000 acres of their lands, inhabited and protected by the Secoya currently and historically, is legal property of the Peruvian state.
The lawsuit shows through a series of anthropological, botanical and linguistic studies that the Secoya have inhabited these lands for more than 2,000 years. The Secoya survived missionaries, Western plagues and war, yet the traditional names of rivers and the existence of milenarily cultivated plants and roots clearly show, as Secoya elders have testified, that the Secoya are the ancestral and rightful owners of these lands.
These forests are essential for the physical and cultural survival of the Secoya, and the current system that only allows Indigenous peoples to hold temporary use agreements over their intact forest lands puts their rights and their existence in jeopardy.
Peru’s current legal framework ignores the growing consensus that Indigenous peoples are the Amazon’s best guardians and scientific certainty that the world’s climate crisis cannot be solved without protecting the Amazon, and puts the country at grave risk of failing to comply with international obligations to title Indigenous lands and reduce both deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions.
Roldan Yapedatsa Ankutere Wajokapi, Leader of Vencedor (Wajoya) Community
“Our territory is located along the banks of the River Napo. That is where we find our past, our historical and sacred sites. For those that don’t know the Amazon, they think this is just a forest, but for us it is where all of our spirits live. Our grandparents fought for this territory, which is why it is called Wajoya, river of warriors. Our demand is that our territory is recognized in full.”
Edgar Neyser Gañosa Mendoza, Leader of Mashunta Community
“84% of our community, Mashunta, is loaned to us by the government and the rest is our property. We want to own 100% of our land, so that we can take care of it, manage it, and meet our needs. This territory is a market and a pharmacy for us.”
Juan Carlos Ruiz Molleda, Instituto de Defensa Legal, IDL
“Peru’s national legislation does not meet international human rights standards. The current system of titling Indigenous territories is completely unaligned with the actual material relationship that Indigenous peoples have with their ancestral lands, of which they are the rightful owners. By only granting temporary usage rights, what actually exists is an act of forced dispossession of Indigenous lands by the Peruvian government.”
Jorge Acero, Senior Attorney, Amazon Frontlines.
“Indigenous communities have a special relationship with their territories, which are their source of physical and cultural survival and which they have protected and maintained in balance with nature for centuries. Governments, with policies favoring deforestation, extractivism and agroindustries, have dispossessed and displaced Indigenous peoples from their lands, and in doing so have led to the destruction of the Amazon, nature and our global climate. The rights of nature and the rights of Indigenous peoples are intimately connected, and the world depends on those rights being upheld. The government of Peru must make a drastic change and recognize Indigenous peoples as the legitimate owners of their lands.”
Press Contacts (Additional photos available upon request):
Brian Parker, Amazon Frontlines: +593 98 401 2463 / Brian@amazonfrontlines.org
Gerardo Saravia, IDL: +51 997 574 695
You can watch the recorded Press Conference here.