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Peruvian Indians win court case

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A small community of Indians from the department of Madre de Dios, in the Peruvian Amazon, has won a case against loggers and miners in Peru's highest court.  This is likely to have far-reaching implications for indigenous land rights in the country and is the first time a national level jurisdictional organ in Peru has made a pronouncement over indigenous autonomy or self-determination. 

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Last September, just after the price of gold hit a record high of US$68 per gram, pressure increased dramati ally on the ground in Madre de Dios - the ground zero of Peru’s gold rush where an estimated 30,000 artisanal and small-scale miners work small and large plots or riverbanks, sometimes day and night to repay loans on hire-purchased dredgers and diggers.

Illegal gold-mining is a particular problem for many communities and, of course, the rainforest and biodiversity in a region considered one of the most biodiverse and sensitive environments on the planet.  Logging, too, has been on the rise for most of the 21st century as road access improves to many remote forested areas in Peru's almost forgotten corners.

Belonging to the Shipibo and Ese-eja Indians tribes and living in a small place called Tres Islas, the community went to court over a rash of illegal logging and gold-mining that was destroying their territory.  Previous attempts by the community to block the entry of loggers and miners into their forests had been challenged in the regional courts so the community leaders took their case to the Constitutional Court in Lima.  This week the court upheld the community's right to control outsiders' access onto their lands and overturned a previous ruling by the High Regional Court of Madre de Dios.

The Court has ruled that indigenous peoples' land is of such vital importance to their livelihood and survival that they must be able to control who has access to it.  The ruling left unclear whether or not indigenous communities in Peru have the right to block large-scale projects, such as oil and gas exploration or drilling.  Guidelines on this are seen as lacking and have serious impacts for an increasing number of Peruvian Indians, including isolated groups.  The community has suffered intrusions by illegal loggers in recent years, but now, following this new ruling, they have the right to expel them.

Source:  Survival International and El Comercio (Peruvian daily)

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