Civil Society, Headlines, Human Rights, Indigenous Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean

RIGHTS: Peruvian Government Accused of Poor Track Record

Milagros Salazar

LIMA, Oct 11 2007 (IPS) - The Peruvian government will be asked to explain Friday to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) decrees that human rights groups say are aimed at clamping down on social protest, and what it has done to protect the rights of uncontacted indigenous peoples.

Petitioners at the hearing in the IACHR headquarters in Washington will present several cases to demonstrate what in their view have been human rights setbacks under the administration of Alan García.

IPS spoke with representatives of the government and of the non-governmental organisations that requested the IACHR hearing, before they headed to Washington.

In its zeal to silence voices critical of its economic policies, the García administration is attacking freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of association and free speech, says the document to be presented to the IACHR by the Pro Human Rights Association (APRODEH).

Lawyer Wilfredo Ardito of APRODEH says the government must answer for “the accelerated criminalisation of social protest” and “the setbacks in the defence of human rights” that have been seen since García took office in July 2006.

One illustration of that phenomenon, according to APRODEH, is decree-law 982, which declares that military personnel and police officers who injure or kill someone “in the line of duty” cannot be held legally responsible or tried in court.

The measure formed part of 11 decree-laws that were adopted by the executive branch in July under special powers granted by the legislature to crack down on organised crime.

But the Defensoría del Pueblo (ombudsman’s office) believes that 37 percent of the modifications introduced by the decree-laws went beyond the powers granted by Congress.

Decree-law 982 generates unprecedented impunity, to an extent that has not been seen under any recent government, says the APRODEH document.

In response, the executive secretary of the governmental National Human Rights Council, Luis Alberto Salgado, told IPS that the decree “is in no way a free licence for human rights violations” and is merely “a clarification to keep the police and armed forces from feeling inhibited when it comes to fighting organised crime.”

Salgado said it does not mean the security forces will be exempt from any legal investigation whatsoever, because it is the justice system that has the power to determine their guilt or innocence.

But Ardito told IPS that the office of the public prosecutor has invoked decree-law 982 to try to free police officer César Salas of responsibility for the death of Jonathan Condori, a teenage protester who was killed during an August 2006 demonstration in Sicuani, in the southern highlands province of Cusco.

Condori was killed when a tear gas canister hit him on the head.

The decree-law also bans public employees and officials who take part in protests or strikes from continuing to work for the state or engaging in politics, and makes them liable to prison terms.

This clause was adopted in response to participation by regional authorities in popular demonstrations and protests over the past year.

The government argues that the constitution prohibits public officials from going on strike, but the Defensoría del Pueblo and human rights groups argue that the measure banning them from civil service or public office is unconstitutional.

In its presentation to the IACHR, APRODEH argues that the measure penalises the exercise of freedom of expression and the right to participate in public affairs enjoyed by any citizen, and, indirectly, depicts strikes as criminal activities.

In the first year of the government of García, who belongs to the APRA party, 10 people were killed in street protests, compared to a total of 15 for the entire five-year term of his predecessor, Alejandro Toledo (2001-2006).

Catholic priest Marco Arana, the founder of GRUFIDES, a Cajamarca-based environmental, sustainable development and social justice organisation, will also testify before the IACHR, as a victim of spying and surveillance by a security company allegedly hired by the Yanacocha gold-mining company.

The complaint filed by Arana, whose organisation is defending rural communities in an environmental dispute with Yanacocha, has been shelved by the office of the public prosecutor in Cajamarca, in northern Peru.

The priest will also provide the IACHR with details of several cases in which the rights of local communities have been abused in conflicts with mining companies.

Violations of the human rights of indigenous people in Peru’s Amazon jungle region also form part of the list of complaints to be presented to the IACHR by other groups.

The Inter-Ethnic Association for Development of the Peruvian Jungle (AIDESEP) asked the IACHR in July to adopt precautionary measures to protect the isolated Kugapakori-Nahua and Nanti indigenous communities, who have been affected by the Camisea natural gas pipeline project.

Another request is in defence of other uncontacted tribal peoples living in voluntary isolation, the Waorani, Pananunjuri and Aushiris, who are reportedly threatened by the activities of U.S. oil company Barrett Resources and Spanish oil giant Repsol YPF.

In both cases, the IACHR will be asked to adopt protective measures to guarantee the indigenous peoples’ right to life, personal integrity and health, and to safeguard their territories and cultures and their right to live in a healthy environment.

AIDESEP lawyer Bady Casafranca said he will tell the IACHR that the state “favours private investment over the effective defence of the rights of these communities.”

Casafranca said that, due to forced contact with oil company workers in late December 2006, the Nanti Indians suffered an outbreak of dysentery that brought to mind the epidemic that killed more than half of the Nahua people in the mid-1980s, when exploration by the British-Dutch Shell oil company opened up the territory of that previously uncontacted tribe.

Uncontacted tribal people are extremely vulnerable to any form of contact with outsiders, no matter how brief, because they do not have immunity to outside diseases.

The National Human Rights Council’s Salgado said the health needs of indigenous groups living in voluntary isolation have been attended to in coordination with local authorities.

He also pointed to laws that recognise the rights of native peoples, such as the “law for the protection of indigenous peoples in voluntary isolation and initial contact”, the regulations for which were published Oct. 5.

In addition, said the official, the Peruvian state requires extractive companies operating in Peru to design contingency plans “so that they can act in a timely manner in case of contact with indigenous communities.”

But Casafranca said the government’s actions are ineffective, and its provisions remain on paper only.

Although the Kugapakori-Nahua people have their own reserve, two-thirds of that area has been encroached upon by the Camisea gas pipeline, and the state continues to offer parts of the reserve in concession to extractive companies, said the AIDESEP representative. The group is calling for the suspension of activities in the area by extractive companies.

But Salgado said that will not happen, because investment by foreign companies allows the government to bring in resources to alleviate the poverty that undermines the economic and social rights of local communities.

If the IACHR asks Peru to take precautionary measures and the government fails to comply, the case could go to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, whose sentences are binding, said Casafranca.

A complaint against Peru in the Inter-American Court will be sought Friday by the Native Federation of the Madre de Dios River and Tributaries (FENAMAD), which argues that the Peruvian state has failed to comply with the implementation of a precautionary measure requested by the IACHR to protect the Yora, Mashco-Piro and Amahuaca tribes from the intensification of illegal logging in their territories in southeastern Peru.

The precautionary measure was requested in 2005, but according to FENAMAD lawyer Percy Assen, “the government has merely promised more of the same.”

Salgado, however, said checkpoints have been set up to protect the uncontacted tribal peoples, and a working group has been created to deal with the problem of illegal logging, with the participation of representatives of indigenous communities.

But Assen said the checkpoints in the areas of the Las Piedras and Tahuamano rivers are financed by the local communities themselves, because the state has failed to come through with funding, and that statutes and laws have been passed without taking into account the views expressed by indigenous people in their dialogue with the government.

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