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

RIGHTS-PERU: No Justice for Indians in Amazon Massacre

Ángel Páez

LIMA, Feb 19 2010 (IPS) - Although the technical investigations cleared two of the indigenous demonstrators accused in the murders of 12 policemen during a bloody June 2009 clash between native protesters and the security forces near the northern Amazon jungle town of Bagua, they are still behind bars.

Feliciano Cahuasa and Danny López have been in prison for over eight months, despite the fact that technical crime scene investigations showed that neither of them fired a single shot, and that they are thus innocent of the Jun. 5 killings of the police officers.

On the other hand, no police are in prison for the Jun. 5 shooting deaths of at least 10 indigenous protesters, which occurred when the police were ordered to clear their roadblock on the main highway near Bagua.

The killings put an end to a two-month demonstration and traffic blockade by thousands of native protesters demanding the repeal of decrees passed by the government of Alan García that opened up indigenous land in the rainforest to oil, mining and logging companies.

The decrees were passed without the required consultation with native communities. (Since the Jun. 5 incidents, Congress has revoked several of the decrees.)

According to different sources, the local police chiefs and the protesters had reached an agreement for a peaceful lifting of the roadblock at 10:30 AM on Jun. 5. But at dawn that day, heavily armed police units arrived and opened fire on the demonstrators, some of whom were still sleeping.

When the shooting began at the Curva del Diablo, the area on the highway where the roadblock was set up, indigenous protesters took 38 police at a nearby oil pumping station (Estación 6) hostage, and stripped them of their weapons.

Police officers who survived the attack on the hostages told IPS after the incident that the indigenous protesters killed some of their colleagues in reprisal for the security forces’ failure to respect the peace agreement reached with the local police chiefs.

The courts in Bagua were investigating 96 native and non-indigenous demonstrators in connection with the murders of 23 police and the disappearance of another during the incidents, which are known in Peru as the “Baguazo”.

Juan José Quispe and Gustavo Campos, two of the lawyers representing the native protesters charged with the murders of the police who died that day, have filed an injunction for an extension of the deadline for the legal inquiry in the courts in Bagua, which has expired.

The attorneys argue that the judges failed to carry out investigations that are crucial to clarifying the situation of the 96 defendants, including Cahuasa and López.

“There is no evidence against Cahuasa and López, just as there is none against the other defendants,” Quispe, with the non-governmental Human Rights Commission (COMISEDH), told IPS.

“Of course the murderers of the police should be punished, but these people weren’t the ones who killed them,” he said.

“The entire case is plagued with irregularities,” said the lawyer, who pointed out, for example, that “the testimony of key eyewitnesses, which showed that the defendants are innocent, was not even gathered.

“The people who are on trial were arbitrarily arrested by the police on the day of the events in question. They weren’t arrested as the result of any investigation,” said Quispe.

Héctor Requejo, the mayor of the province of Condorcanqui and leader of the Aguaruna indigenous community, and Merino Trigoso, another native leader, have been accused of planning the killing of police at the Curva del Diablo.

Requejo and Trigoso were allegedly identified by two teenagers arrested by members of the army during the “Baguazo”. However, the two young men’s statements are not included in the case file.

“The legal authorities themselves confirmed that the adolescents’ statements do not appear in the case file; nevertheless, the persecution of Requejo and Trigoso continues,” said Gustavo Campos of the non-governmental Legal Defence Institute (IDL).

“What’s more, the adolescents have said that they did not accuse either one of them,” he added.

Campos said “we have recommended to the courts that the case be declared complex, in order to continue with the investigations ahead of the oral phase of the trial, to establish that there is no evidence against the 96 defendants who are facing prosecution.”

But the request was turned down, “so we have appealed,” said Campos, who added that “we are very concerned about the series of irregularities that have undermined due process.”

Prosecutors in the province of Utcubamba, which has jurisdiction over the events in Bagua, accused two generals of being ultimately responsible for the killings of four indigenous protesters, and two police officers of being the actual perpetrators.

The generals are the former head of special operations (DIROES), Gen. Luis Muguruza, and former Bagua police chief Gen. Javier Uribe.

But the attorneys representing the indigenous defendants said the prosecutors’ case contained serious flaws, such as considering the two generals ultimately responsible for the demonstrators’ murders. The lawyers pointed out that the generals were actually following orders.

“Muguruza and Uribe formed part of a chain of command that stretched all the way up to the then director of the National Police, Lieutenant General José Sánchez Farfán, and his immediate boss, then Interior Minister Mercedes Cabanillas, who at the same time was under the orders of Prime Minister Yehude Simon,” said Quispe.

However, “statements have not even been taken from Cabanillas and Simon, which would be very important in establishing where the order originated to crack down on the demonstrators at Curva del Diablo and Estación 6, where massacres were committed on both sides,” he said.

In the lawyer’s view, “these charges by the prosecutors were designed to guarantee impunity for the executive branch officials.”

But there has also been another attempt to keep government officials who gave the order for a violent break-up of the roadblock out of the hands of justice.

The president of the Supreme Council of Military Justice, retired vice admiral Carlos Mesa, announced that he would attempt to have the two generals tried by the military, rather than civilian, courts.

Mesa argued that the military justice system has jurisdiction over cases in which police have allegedly committed crimes in the line of duty.

But “the police generals have been charged with the common crimes of homicide and severe bodily injuries, which are not crimes in the line of duty here or anywhere else,” argued the head of the non-governmental APRODEH human rights association, Miguel Jugo.

APRODEH is one of the human rights groups, along with COMISEDH, the IDL and the Catholic Episcopal Commission for Social Action (CEAS), representing the 96 defendants accused of the violence in Bagua.

“This is a maneuver by the military justice system to ensure impunity for the police generals in exchange for their agreement not to testify that they carried out the operation in Bagua on direct orders from former Prime Minister Yehude Simon and former Interior Minister Mercedes Cabanillas,” said Jugo.

He said the military establishment and the generals who are facing charges are well aware that the penalties for crimes in the line of duty are much lighter than the sentences for homicide in the ordinary courts, which can be as long as 35 years.

The Regional Organisation of Indigenous Peoples of the Northern Amazon (ORPIAN) has called a demonstration for Monday Feb. 22, to protest the irregularities in the case against the 96 indigenous demonstrators.

ORPIAN will also protest the failure to repeal all of the decrees that opened up the Amazon jungle to investment by mining, oil and timber companies.

The multi-party congressional committee in charge of the process of revoking the controversial decrees that triggered last year’s indigenous protests that led to the “Baguazo” informed IPS that four of the 10 so-called “jungle laws” have already been overturned.

The committee had issued a report which concluded that the 10 decrees violated International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 169, which requires that indigenous groups be previously consulted with respect to any investment projects in their territory.

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