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Climate Governance Integrity Programme

Climate & Corruption Case Atlas - Climate Governance Integrity Programme

  • Peru

Defending Land and Lives in Peru

Corruption Type


Peru’s indigenous communities have cared for the Amazon ecosystem for centuries, maintaining the forest’s natural balance. They have also been fighting for decades for recognition of their ancestral territories. But the government has been reluctant to grant communities land titles, instead giving land away to outsiders who make millions from illegal logging, agribusiness and drug trafficking. Corruption plays a central role in these dealings.

In 2003, Peru’s government granted several companies more than three million hectares of forested land – including 80 per cent of the ancestral territory of the Alto Tamaya-Saweto community. When illegal logging began, community leaders stepped up their ongoing campaign for recognition of their lands – and received harassment and death threats in response. They sent more than 100 letters to the authorities, reporting environmental crimes and persecution, but were constantly rebuffed. Officials said they would only make an assessment if the community paid for their food and transport. Undeterred, they continued to demand justice but in 2014 four community leaders were tortured and murdered.

A complex web of corruption

“We are not against the development of our country,” says Herlin Odicio Estrella, President of the Native Federation of Kakataibo Communities, “but we need our rights as indigenous peoples to be respected.” However, a report by Proética, Transparency International in Peru, uncovers the shady process for assigning land titles. Caught in complex webs of corruption and business, officials profit from illegal logging, drug trafficking and land grabbing – while failing to protect the territories and lives of vulnerable forest communities.

This contravenes Peru's national and international obligations. Forest communities are dispossessed of their lands, deprived of natural resources and facing continuous aggression.

In 2020, Gonzalo Pio, leader of the Amanecer Hawaii community, was kidnapped with his wife and tortured, following decades of dispute over illicit exploitation of his people’s ancestral lands. His wife escaped, but Gonzalo was brutally murdered – like his father a few years previously.

Reaching an international platform

In October 2020, Proética and indigenous organisations took Gonzalo’s story and those of other community leaders to a public hearing at the Inter-American Council on Human Rights (IACHR). It was the first presentation to an American regional body showing how corruption affects indigenous people. The IAHCR urged Peru’s government to carry out detailed investigations and apply appropriate sanctions, inviting the government to a virtual roundtable on business and human rights.

The hearing drew widespread national and international media attention, enabling indigenous leaders and Proetica to meet with leading national authorities including the President of Congress and the Ministers of the Interior and Culture. Peru’s government says it is willing to work with the IAHCR – yet attacks on indigenous leaders have intensified.

Speaking out for forest protection

Proetica is continuing to support indigenous demands and expose the underlying causes of harassment and illegal deforestation. It is advocating for effective police protection for community members, and advising communities’ legal cases over the assassinations and intimidation. It is also working with the Environmental Prosecutor’s Office to develop a complaints mechanism and a publicly accessible website of thousands of land cases, and has contributed to two draft laws on protecting human rights defenders.

These approaches are exposing the intersection of corruption, indigenous rights violations and ecological devastation. They are steps towards a future where the voices of people challenging environmental and human rights abuses are heard – and welcomed – as a vital part of Peru’s forest protection system.

Key Lessons

  • The combination of international non-governmental organisations (INGOs) and local communities can be powerful. INGOs can help amplify local voices through legal and technical expertise and access to regional or global bodies, while communities bring first-hand insight and legitimacy to INGO campaigns.
  • Environmental campaigns can gain muscle by coordinating with non-governmental or community-based organisations working in other fields, such as human rights, transparency and women’s rights.

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