By Carlos Marín, Peru Country Specialist for Amnesty USA
Indigenous people protest in Peru © Rupert Haag
It’s cause to celebrate: The indigenous peoples of Peru scored a long-overdue human rights victory earlier this month.
On September 6th, 2011, Peruvian President Humala traveled to Bagua, in the Peruvian Amazon region, to sign the Consultation with Indigenous Peoples Law, that requires government to consult with indigenous peoples before companies can begin projects like digging mines, drilling for oil or building dams. Indigenous peoples must also be consulted before Congress can approve any proposed law that could affect their rights.
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Rio Santiago, Bagua, Peru ©Ronar Espinoza – Vicariato de Jaén
Segundo Alberto Pizango Chota, president of the Peruvian national indigenous federation AIDESEP, has been arrested immediately upon his return to Lima today after several months in exile in Nicaragua. He is facing charges in Peru which seem to be politically motivated and unsubstantiated, and he may not be given a fair trial. Peruvian indigenous and human rights organizations are already mobilizing to pressure the Peruvian government to dismiss all unsubstantiated charges and ensure that he receives a fair trial.
Pizango was granted asylum by the Nicaraguan authorities, after the Peruvian authorities accused him of being responsible for violence which led to the deaths of 33 people in Bagua, Amazonas department, northern Peru, on June 5, 2009. However, at the time of the violence, Alberto Pizango was in Lima, hundreds of kilometers away, and he had made it clear that he was not calling for violence, but rather asking the government to annul a series of laws which were being passed without the free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous people, as a first step to initiating a dialogue as equals. Nearly a year later, Alberto Pizango still hopes to find a way to improve relations between the Peruvian government and the country’s indigenous movement. It seemed like the right time to return to Peru and to his position as leader of AIDESEP.
Yet, the decision to arrest Pizango today appears to be another demonstration of the continued disregard by the Peruvian authorities of their duty to respect, promote and protect the rights of Indigenous Peoples in the Amazon region.
Amnesty International believes that the charges against Alberto Pizango seem to be based purely on the government’s interpretation of events, which is not based on genuine evidence. Consequently, Amnesty International is deeply concerned that Alberto Pizango will not face a fair trial now that he has been arrested upon his return to Peru. Take action now!
UPDATE (5/27/10): We’ve just learned that Alberto Pizango has been released, but his trial is expected to go forward. Please continue to call for a fair trial, and for the unsubstantiated charges to be dropped.
International pressure on the Peruvian authorities has brought some progress for Indigenous Peoples in the Amazon. An Amnesty International delegation will visit the country to assess the situation.
Since the violent incidents which took place in Bagua, in the Peruvian Amazon, on 5-6 June, the authorities have taken some steps to establish a dialogue with Indigenous Peoples and open investigations into the events which led to the death of at least 14 police officers and 10 demonstrators. However, concerns remain about allegations of excessive use of force, torture and ill-treatment of detainees and insufficient legal assistance.
An Amnesty International delegation will visit Peru between 12 and 25 July in order to evaluate recent developments and the current situation. After the mission, new information and strategies for action will be circulated.
Many thanks to those who took action!
Protestors demand Peruvian President Garcia's resignation after deadly clashes between Amazon indigenous groups and security forces © AFP/Getty Images
Peru’s Congress temporarily suspended two Amazon investment laws – dubbed the “Law of the Jungle” – that triggered violent clashes that left at least 30 protesters and 24 people police officers dead last weekend. The controversial laws made oil drilling, mining and logging – including on indigenous land – much more accessible for corporations.
Indigenous protesters say that the laws, being passed in part to comply with a trade agreement with the U.S., weaken their rights to land they have inhabited for hundreds of years. One of the laws removed more than 170,000 square miles of Peruvian jungle from the government’s list of protected lands.
The situation continues to be volatile and the human rights of injured and detained protestors remain under attack. On June 5, the National Police forcibly removed Indigenous protesters who had blocked the approach road to the town of Bagua. At least 30 protesters and 24 police officers were left dead, as well as over 200 people injured, including 31 police officers, as a result of this action. And the number of protesters killed is feared to be higher still.
According to local sources, some of the protesters who have been injured are not receiving adequate medical care since local health centers are not well equipped. And at least 79 demonstrators, including several minors, have been taken into police and army custody. It is unclear how they are being treated, what they have been charged with, and whether they have access to medical care or legal assistance. Amnesty International is demanding protection for protestors.