Amnesty International published a report in 2017 regarding Peru’s treatment of Indigenous communities following the contamination of their main water sources. The Indigenous communities in this study are located in Cuninico and Espinar, Peru. The Cuninico community relies heavily on the Marañón River and have a spiritual relationship with it; however, in 2014, an oil spill by Petroperú contaminated the river with heavy metals, resulting in the community’s exposure to the toxic water. Similarly, Indigenous communities in Espinar, Peru use the Cañipía and Salado river basins for human consumption, but ongoing mining activity in this province has contaminated these vital water sources as well. Members of these communities have been exposed to mercury, lead, arsenic, and other heavy metals, which has led to extremely harmful health issues, such as rashes, fever, migraines, infertility, chronic fatigue, cancer, and death. After raising concerns to State agencies, Peru continuously promised retribution to Indigenous communities in the form of health visits and new health facilities, but members of these communities have said that virtually none of the State’s promises have been fulfilled, leaving these communities urgent health situations that they were unprepared to deal with.
The purpose of this report was to capture the local effects of environmental degradation, specifically in an indigenous context. The ways Amnesty International set out to do this was by conducting interviews with members of affected communities, medical professionals, legal advisors, and government representatives with regard to water contamination and the health effects of exposure to heavy metals. Amnesty International sent researchers to these communities to depict the disparity between Peru’s promises to Indigenous communities and the reality of negligence and denial on the part of government entities. The information gathered for this project was recorded first-hand, thus giving a better sense of credibility to the report.
This report is indicative of the weakness of human rights when they are not enforced. It also accurately demonstrates how it is often the responsibility of affected communities to fight for their rights, rather than enforcement mechanisms being set in place. Peru’s constitution establishes the right to health, health services, and government action in the event of a health crisis. Peru is also a participant in various international agreements regarding the right to health for all, and still, the promises made to Indigenous peoples are largely unfulfilled. Not only does this reflect poorly on Peru, but it places a huge burden on the lives of Indigenous peoples, as they have to continue fighting for rights that are supposed to be guaranteed, while fighting off the side effects of their exposure to toxic water. Because Peru has such a high population of indigenous peoples, it is imperative for mechanisms of accountability to be set in place to give legitimacy to human rights as they apply to all members of a state, rather than those who have the capability to demand them.