SHIPIBO-KONIBO COMMUNITY OF SANTA CLARA DE UCHUNYA

Case study

The Shipibo-Konibo community of Santa Clara de Uchunya are struggling against the dispossession and devastation of their ancestral lands due to the aggressive expansion of oil palm. As well as negatively impacting food security and destroying their way of life, the company’s presence has driven fierce competition for control over lands between groups of settlers dedicated to land-trafficking and exposed the Shipibo-Konibo indigenous community to intimidation, threats and attacks. Despite years of struggle, the Peruvian Government has failed to legally recognise the community’s ancestral territory.

Commodity: Palm Oil

Country: Peru

Abuses: Defamation, criminalisation, death threats, violent attacks

Key recommendation: We recommend States desist from issuing any further rights to third parties which might affect untitled indigenous territories until effective interim protection measures are put in place to safeguard such lands, in line with international human rights obligations.

The invasion of oil palm

In 1986 the community succeeded in securing a collective land title covering 218 hectares. However, this is only a tiny portion of their ancestral lands.

Since 2011, a significant portion of the community’s lands have been deforested and converted to oil palm plantations by the company Plantaciones de Pucallpa SAC (now Ocho Sur P SAC), part of the “Melka Group” of agribusiness companies.

Plantaciones de Pucallpa capitalised on the State’s failure to fully recognise the Shipibo-Konibo people’s territory, exploiting illegal land trafficking and the alleged corruption of regional government public civil servants to accumulate lands.

 

Within 4 years, over 7000 hectares of community land had been destroyed to make way for vast oil palm plantations.

 “Our struggle continues” – confronting the dynamics of dispossession

For the past five years, the Shipibo have been fighting to defend what is left of their forests, waters and way of life and prevent further aggressive oil palm expansion, with some significant successes.

In September 2015, the company was ordered by the Peruvian government to suspend its operations. In April 2016, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) issued a Stop Work Order to the company. In February 2017, United Cacao (one of the financiers of Plantaciones de Pucallpa) was delisted from the London Stock Exchange’s Alternative Investments Market. In December 2017, a court in Lima issued an injunction ordering the company to immediate suspend all operations in Santa Clara de Uchunya’s territory.

Yet the structures of impunity in Peru mean that the condemned plantation is able to keep operating on the community’s lands. The company has withdrawn from the RSPO and has ignored all other rulings. 

 

“There is nothing left for us” - Food security at risk

 

As deep forest is converted to imposing oil palm, the traditional way of life of the Shipibo is deeply affected. Where food was once abundant, it is now more difficult to find. The community must now travel much further to hunt animals, fish and collect medicinal plants.

“Before, we had everything we needed. For us, our market was our territory. Now we can no longer walk for even an hour, because we are under threat. That’s why I’m concerned, because tomorrow, in the future, what will our children eat? How are they going to feed their children?” - Luisa Mori Gonzalez, President of the Mothers Club and leader from Santa Clara de Uchunya

Streams have been destroyed and the river has become contaminated by chemicals from the plantations. The water is undrinkable. The fish are dying.

 “Anything can happen to any one of your leaders” - Living in fear

The targets of intimidation, warnings to abandon their homes, vivid death threats and shootings, community leaders describe a growing sense of fear.

"We find ourselves under a lot of pressure, oppressed by fear. The community can no longer live in peace because of the company and the deforestation.”

Carlos Hoyos, who in July 2018 narrowly escaped from being shot by three masked men as he was out with his brother gathering evidence of new forest destruction, said, “My health is in pieces due to what happened and the trauma it caused me. I am now very afraid to return to my community; we need support to ensure the security and wellbeing of our families.”

One family had their home destroyed and were forced to abandon it: in 2014, late at night, a large gang of men arrived on a truck and burnt the house of community member Huber Flores to the ground. Others have been subject to assassination attempts.

The way forward: regaining territory, reclaiming the future

"We will not rest until we achieve the integral titling of our territory, because these are the lands that we have been taking care of and protecting since the times of our ancestors." - Public pronouncement of Santa Clara de Uchunya, July 2019

The community of Santa Clara de Uchunya is not alone; their case is emblematic of ongoing land struggles and insecure tenure faced by over 1,200 indigenous communities in the Peruvian Amazon whose applications for land titles remains unrecognised. This represents over 20 million hectares of land.

In order to stem the violence and criminalisation faced by Santa Clara de Uchunya, rapid, clear and secure land tenure of their entire territory is required.

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