Peru Update: Steps Taken Toward Dialogue After Clashes

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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!

Protests in Peru Over "Oil Laws" Leave Dozens Dead

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Protestors demand Peruvian President Garcia's resignation following deadly clashes between Amazon indigenous groups and security forces in Bagua © AFP/Getty Images

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.

"A victory for the whole world"

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A few years ago, thanks to a grant from the former JEHT Foundation, I began working with the great Skylight Pictures on a short documentary film for Amnesty members.  The film was envisioned as a tool to help our members better understand international justice through the stories of the survivors and human rights defenders who are pursuing such cases.

Thanks to their work on the internationally acclaimed State of Fear, Skylight had developed strong relationships with families and activists in Peru involved in the case against former President Alberto Fujimori, and so suggested that we feature the campaign to bring Fujimori to justice as one of the film’s three story segments.

I was hesitant at first: I wanted “hot”, current stories, and Fujimori’s then still-alleged crimes were well over a decade old.  His wasn’t “technically” an international justice case because Peru wanted to prosecute.  And the case didn’t appear to be making much headway, with Fujimori traveling from one country to the other apparently unfazed by the warrant Interpol issued for his arrest.  But director Pam and editor Peter prevailed, and when I saw the rough cut of the segment they created on Fujimori, I knew why.

The segment follows Gisela Ortiz and Raída Condór, whose brother and son, respectively, were among the students disappeared from La Cantuta University in 1992 and later killed by a paramilitary group operating under Fujimori’s effective command.  Gisela and Raida, still devastated and still so angry after some fifteen years, never stopped demanding answers about what happened to their loved ones.  They were relentless about exposing Fujimori as a murderer who had masqueraded as a head of state.  When he moved to Chile from where he had been living in exile in Japan, Gisela traveled to Chile and demonstrated outside his house, demanding to know why the police where hassling the protesters instead of the suspect inside.

When Chile’s Supreme Court decided that Fujimori could be extradited back to Peru for trial, Gisela sent a note that read “I believe that this is a victory for the whole world, recognizing that human rights abusers have little room to hide, and wherever they are, justice much reach them to restore dignity to the victims.”

Today is Gisela’s and Raida’s day, because, in the end, justice is not about the perpetrators of abuses, but about the victims and the survivors.  It’s such an important lesson that we need to keep learning over and over again, and so relevant today.

When, for example, we hear Sudan’s indicted president al-Bashir and his allies accuse the International Criminal Court of being anti-African, as though he is somehow more African or more important an African than the millions of Darfuris who have suffered because of his actions.  In Darfur, as in Peru, as in so many other places where grave abuses have been committed, we sometimes have to work to hear the voices of the victims above the spin of the perpetrators and the powerful and compilict allies who would like nothing better than to wait us out until we move on to the next story and let them off the hook.  We need to wait them out instead, just as Gisela and Raida did.

You can watch Gisela and Raida tell their story in our Justice Without Borders documentary.

Ex-President Fujimori Convicted of Human Rights Violations

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Today, in a landmark decision, former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori was convicted for torture, kidnapping and forced disappearances committed during the early 1990s.

This is a crucial victory in the struggle against impunity for human rights violations in Peru and a triumph for justice worldwide.

Javier Zúñiga, an Amnesty International delegate who observed the trial noted:

“Justice has been done in Peru. This is historic. Now it is vital that all of those responsible for human rights violations committed in Peru, including those perpetrated prior to the government of Alberto Fujimori, be brought before the courts.”

Former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori speaks during the hearing in Lima on April 1, 2009.

Former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori speaks during the hearing in Lima on April 1, 2009. (c) Getty Images

Peru’s Supreme Court ruled in the cases of Barrios Altos (in which 15 men, women and children were executed in 1991), La Cantuta (in which nine students and a university lecturer were kidnapped and later killed in 1992 by members of the Colina Group, a paramilitary force within the Peruvian Army) and the SIE basements (where two kidnap victims were held). The decision, which was unanimously adopted by the three presiding judges, concluded that Fujimori bore individual criminal responsibility in all three cases because he had effective military command over those who committed the crimes.

Amnesty International has been closely following the trial of Alberto Fujimori.  We have incontrovertible evidence documenting serious human rights violations and crimes against international law – such as torture, killings and enforced disappearance – were committed. Given their widespread and systematic nature, these constituted crimes against humanity.

The trial of Fujimori was highlighted in Amnesty’s short documentary, Justice without Borders.