by David Hill
29 June 2014
Law exempts soldiers and police
from criminal responsibility
if they cause injuries or deaths
forces arrest a protester in June 2009
during conflict that led to
more than 30 people dying and over 200 injured.
Some of the recent media coverage about the fact that more than 50 people in
Peru - the vast majority of them indigenous - are on trial following
protests and fatal conflict in the Amazon over five years ago missed a
Yes, the hearings are finally going ahead and
the charges are widely held to be trumped-up, but what about the government
functionaries who apparently gave the riot police the order to attack the
protestors, the police themselves, and - following
Wikileaks' revelations of
cables in which the U.S. ambassador in Lima criticized the Peruvian
government's, "reluctance to use force" and wrote there could be
"implications for the recently implemented Peru-U.S. FTA" if the protests
continued - the role of the U.S. government?
The conflict broke out in northern Peru after mainly indigenous
Awajúns and Wampis had been peacefully
protesting a series of new laws which were supposedly emitted to comply with
a trade agreement between Peru and the U.S. and which made it easier, among
other things, for extractive industries to exploit natural resources in
AMAZONIA FOR SALE
The Awajun people (also
known as the Aguaruna) have inhabited the Amazon
rainforest since time immemorial, living in harmony with
- and respectful of - nature.
This ecological balance is
now being threatened by a growing interest on the part
of the Peruvian government and national and
international companies in indiscriminately exploiting
the area’s mineral, timber and oil resources.
As a result of this plan, promoted by the state in the
name of progress and economic development, the original
inhabitants of these lands are now threatened by
pollution, illness and desertification.
This documentary tells the story of the Awajun people’s
resistance and struggle for their dignity and territory,
both now and in the future, seeking to avoid the tragic
experience to which many of Latin America’s native
peoples have already succumbed.
"Amazonia for Sale" was
produced by Ore Media, the International Work Group for
Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA) and the Organization for the
Development of Border Communities of the Cenepa River (ODECOFROC),
a group made up of 56 Awajun and Wampis communities.
Following a blockade of a highway near a town
called Bagua - and an agreement that the protestors would break up and go
home, reached the day before - early on 5 June the police moved to clear it
and started shooting.
In the ensuing conflict, 10 police officers,
five indigenous people and five non-indigenous civilians were killed, more
than 200 injured - at least 80 of whom were shot - and, elsewhere in the
Bagua region, a further 11 police officers were killed after being taken
"So far only protesters have been brought to
trial," said Amnesty International in a statement marking five years
since the conflict and pointing out that human rights lawyers have said
there is no serious evidence linking the accused to the crimes they are
being prosecuted for - which include homicide and rebellion.
"[S]o far little progress has been made to
determine the responsibility of the security forces. Likewise, no
progress has been made to investigate the political authorities who gave
the orders to launch the police operation."
Does this desperate failure of justice not
effectively constitute a "licence to kill" for the police?
Maybe, maybe not, but whatever the answer Peru
has now formalized that licence by emitting a law that, as the Dublin-based
NGO Front Line Defenders (FLD) puts it, grants:
...members of the armed forces and the
national police exemption from criminal responsibility if they cause
injury or death, including through the use of guns or other weapons,
while on duty.
Human rights groups, both nationally and internationally,
the Human Rights Ombudsman (Defensoria del Pueblo) as well as the UN
High Commissioner for Human Rights all expressed deep concern about the
In the words of the [Lima-based] Instituto Libertad y Democracia [IDL],
the law equates, in practice, to a "licence to kill."
law, no. 30151, was promulgated in January
this year and is, according to the IDL's Juan José Quispe, a
modification of existing legislation passed by the previous government.
The modification consists of replacing three
words - "en forma reglamentaria" - with another five - "u otro medio de
defensa" - which Quispe says means that any soldier or police officer can
now kill or injure a civilian without needing to use his or her weapon
"according to regulations", or by using something other than his or her
"We continue considering this law as one
that grants the armed forces as well as the national police a licence to
kill," Quispe told the Guardian.
"It permits a high degree of impunity.
During the repression of social protests, police officers and soldiers
who cause injuries or deaths will now be exempt from criminal
Quispe says that the exemption will also apply
to police or soldiers who, in the fight against narco-terrorism in
particular, accidentally kill civilians.
"It's a dangerous law and constitutes a
threat to everyone," he says.
"It permits the use of weapons by
contravening existing law and international parameters such as the
United Nations' Principles. It gives soldiers and police officers a
carte blanche to commit crimes with impunity."
The controversial law was highlighted by the FLD
in a report published this month titled "Environmental Rights Defenders at
Risk in Peru."
What that report makes clear is that if you're
Peruvian and you publicly express concern about the environmental and social
impacts of mining operations you can expect the following:
death threats, rape threats, physical and
electronic surveillance, smears and stigmatization by national
mainstream media, police acting as, "private security" for mining
companies, confiscation or theft of equipment, "excessive use of force
by police" during protests, arrest, or detention, and prosecution on
charges of, "rebellion, terrorism, violence, usurpation, trespassing,
disobedience or resistance to an official order, obstructing public
officers, abduction, outrage to national symbols, criminal damage,
causing injury, coercion, disturbance or other public order offences."
While the FLD's report acknowledges that the
"vast majority" of court proceedings have ended in acquittals or with the
charges dropped, it argues that the "extraordinary use" of lawsuits
"abusive use of the judicial system" and
impedes "the work of the [accused], affecting their reputation and
furthering the view - often upheld by national media - that they are
violent extremists. This is especially the case when accusations of
terrorism, rebellion or violence are levied."
It states that almost 400 people currently face
court proceedings, and cites one man as an example, Milton Sanchez Cubas,
who has faced roughly 50 but never been convicted.
The FLD's report ends with a serious of recommendations to Peru's
government, including that the "licence to kill" law is repealed.
"All documented instances of intimidation,
death threats, physical attacks, surveillance, stigmatization, smear
campaigns, and judicial harassment appear to be directly related to
legitimate and peaceful work," it states, "in particular in supporting... local communities opposed to mining projects and their impact on
their environment, territory and livelihood."