The Peruvian authorities must promptly ensure thorough, independent and impartial investigations into the deaths of two men in the past two weeks amid the policing of anti-mining protests in the south of the country, Amnesty International said.
In the most recent case, Henry Checlla Chura, 35, was killed early on 5 May when police allegedly opened fire against protesters blocking a highway in the Alto Inclán area of Mollendo. Clashes left scores of protesters and police officers injured.
His death follows clashes with police in nearby Cocachacra on 22 April which resulted in the fatal shooting of 61-year-old Victoriano Huayna Nina and injuries to 13 others, including two police officers.
“That two people have now been killed amid the social unrest in southern Peru raises red flags over the policing of these ongoing protests. Their killings must spark prompt, independent and impartial investigations, and any police officer suspected of having committed a crime must be brought to trial,” said Guadalupe Marengo, Deputy Americas Program Director at Amnesty International.“Using excessive force to quell protests is unacceptable. People must be allowed to exercise their right to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression.”
According to international human rights law and standards, police may use force only when strictly necessary and proportionate to a legitimate purpose. Firearms may only be used as a last resort in defence against an imminent threat of death or serious injury, and intentional lethal use of firearms may only be made when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life.
If some groups of demonstrators carry out acts of violence, police should not use the violent acts of some as a reason to quell the right to peaceful assembly of the majority and should ensure as far as possible that those who are protesting peacefully are able to continue to do so.
The ongoing protests in southern Peru’s Islay province are against the planned Tía María copper mining project, overseen by the Southern Copper Corporation, headquartered in Arizona, USA. A recent escalation in tensions has resulted in a very high number of injuries amid the protests, including of scores of police officers.
A troubling video circulated on social media in recent days shows Policía Nacional del Perú (PNP) officers planting “evidence” in an attempt to smear some of the protesters.
Pattern of excessive use of force
Amnesty International has previously highlighted to the Peruvian authorities how the PNP has repeatedly deployed excessive use of force against protesters, often with deadly consequences. In the past four years alone, almost 40 people have died in circumstances where it appears the police used excessive force.
The overwhelming majority of these cases have yet to be investigated. On 29 April, in a response to a letter Amnesty International sent in January this year, Peru’s Public Prosecutor’s Office said there were only two open investigations into the deaths of two individuals allegedly caused by excessive use of police force during previous protests. This covers only one person from the list of almost 40 names Amnesty International supplied to the Public Prosecutor.
“This impunity has to stop. Wearing a police badge does not give an officer a licence to kill at will – on the contrary, it carries great responsibility to uphold the law and protect human rights. The Peruvian authorities must strictly adhere to international regulations on the use of force and investigate all alleged cases of excessive use of police force to send a clear message that such violence is unacceptable,” said Guadalupe Marengo.