UN body calls for "immediate suspension" of Amazon gas plans

The United Nations committee for the elimination of racial discrimination (CERD) has demanded an immediate halt to the expansion of a major gas project in the Peruvian Amazon, over concerns that it poses a grave risk to the lives of uncontacted Indian tribes living nearby.

More than half of this Nahua man's tribe died from diseases in the 1980s when Shell explored for gas in the area.
© David Hill/Survival

In a letter to the Peruvian government, CERD requested the "immediate suspension" of plans to expand the existing Camisea gas project further into the Nahua-Nanti reserve, as it "threatens the physical and cultural survival of the indigenous peoples living there."

The call follows an appeal to CERD by Peru's indigenous organizations Asociación Interétnica de Desarrollo de la Selva Peruana (AIDESEP), Organización Regional Aidesep Ucayali (ORAU) and Machiguenga Council of the Urubamba River (COMARU) who are also launching legal action against the government and companies involved in the $1.6 billion project.

Camisea is run by a consortium of companies including Argentina's Pluspetrol, US's Hunt Oil and Spain's Repsol, and is one of the largest gas projects in the Amazon.

The gas project lies in the heart of the Nahua-Nanti Reserve that was created to protect the land and lives of uncontacted Indians.

Now the companies plan to carry out seismic tests in the forest – detonating thousands of explosives – and to drill more than 20 exploratory wells.

CERD says the work will have a devastating impact on the local inhabitants, who rely on the rainforest and its game for their survival. Any contact with the uncontacted Indians could also prove fatal.

In 2003, a Supreme Decree was passed, as a condition of a loan by the Inter-American Development Bank, which prohibited any further expansion of the project.

But in flagrant violation of the Decree, Peru's ministry of energy approved part of the expansion of Camisea in April 2012. The ministry is imminently set to approve the next phase of expansion, costing $480 million.

Stephen Corry, director of the non-profit tribal conservation group Survival International said today, "The Peruvian government promised the Inter-American Development Bank that it wouldn't expand the Camisea project, and even passed a Supreme Decree to write the pledge into law. Now it's doing exactly what it promised not to. Small wonder the UN has demanded this reckless project be stopped."