Amnesty report finds racial bias in crackdown on protests in Peru | protest news
The Peruvian government previously used deadly force in marginalized areas of the country as part of its crackdown on recent anti-government protests, according to a report by human rights group Amnesty International.
Thursday report, “Deadly Racism,” claims that the government’s actions could lead to extrajudicial killings in some cases. Amnesty is calling on the Peruvian Attorney General to investigate the use of excessive force in response to the protests.
“The use of deadly firearms against demonstrators shows a blatant disregard for human life,” said Agnes Callamard, Amnesty’s secretary general. press release.
“Despite government efforts to portray them as terrorists or criminals, the dead were protesters, observers and bystanders. Nearly all were from poor, indigenous and campesino backgrounds, indicating a racial and socioeconomic bias in the use of lethal force.”
The report is the latest to find that the Peruvian government used disproportionate force and targeted people from poor and indigenous backgrounds during the protests that plagued the country following the ousting of former President Pedro Castillo.
The Office of the Attorney General of Peru should investigate all those, up to the highest level, who ordered or tolerated the unlawful use of deadly force by security forces, which left 49 dead during the December to February protests. https://t.co/3pujU9Z7uq
— Amnesty International (@amnesty) May 25, 2023
Boluarte is criticized
The crisis began on December 7, when Castillo underwent his third impeachment hearing.
Instead of facing an opposition-led congress, Castillo sought to dissolve Peru’s legislature and rule by decree, a move widely considered illegal. He was quickly impeached, removed from office and arrested. Meanwhile, his former vice president, Dina Boluarte, was sworn in as Peru’s first female president.
Castillo’s supporters, many of them from poor and rural areas considered neglected by the state, took to the streets to protest his detention. Among their demands were calls for a new constitution and elections.
Boluarte’s government has since been criticized for its heavy-handed response to protests and failure to address popular discontent. Amnesty’s report shows that 49 protesters were killed between December and February.
The government’s response has also increased tensions between Peru and other countries in the region, especially those with leftist leaders who were friends with Castillo.
Peruvian authorities on Thursday declared Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador persona non grata after months of criticizing Boluarte as a “puppet”. He had also offered Castillo and his family asylum in Mexico.
Lopez Obrador became the second major Latin American leader to be slapped with the label, after former Bolivian president Evo Morales.
‘Language of Terrorism’
Amnesty’s report analyzed 52 documented cases of deaths or injuries in areas such as Ayacucho, Juliaca, Andahuaylas and Chincheros, including 25 deaths.
The organization concluded that 20 of those 25 murders could have been extrajudicial killings. It concerned cases where security forces fired live fire into crowds, targeting vulnerable parts of the body, such as the head, neck and abdomen.
Faced with criticism and calls for accountability, Peruvian authorities have often portrayed protesters as troublemakers seeking to create disorder.
“We have taken over a polarized country, a country in conflict, a country with extremist sectors that want to create disorder and chaos, with their own agenda, to destroy our institutions and democracy,” Boluarte said in a January speech.
“Are we perhaps going back to the years of terrorist violence, when dogs were hung from lampposts?”
Will Freeman, a Latin American studies fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), a US think tank, told Al Jazeera that such rhetoric taps into collective memories from a period of civil strife that rocked Peru in the 1980s and 1990s.
During that time, armed groups such as the Maoist Shining Path sought to overthrow the government and waged violent campaigns against civilians, including indigenous peoples.
In response, the government embarked on a relentless attempt to counter the insurgency, including widespread abuses.
“Politicians are trying to invoke that Shining Path history to draw parallels with today’s protesters, but that’s wrong and offensive,” Freeman said in a phone call. “It’s weaponizing the language of terrorism to scare people.”
Amnesty’s report says authorities were more likely to use lethal force in regions with large indigenous populations, such as Ayacucho, even when protest activities were similar in frequency and intensity to those in other areas.
“The findings of this report are just the tip of the iceberg in a painful history of discrimination and exclusion against Peru’s indigenous people,” Erika Guevara-Rosas, Amnesty’s Americas director, told Al Jazeera via email.
She added that relatives of victims who spoke to Amnesty described “degrading treatment” in “hospitals or public offices, with insults referring to their ethnic identity”.
In January, Peru’s attorney general launched a series of investigations to identify those responsible for dozens of civilian deaths during the unrest, but Guevara-Rose said accountability remains a long way off.
“The authorities have made no significant account for the crimes committed by the police and military in recent months,” she said.
“Basic steps need to be taken urgently, including urgently interviewing police and military officers, conducting the remaining forensic investigations and ensuring that investigations are conducted at the scene and close to the victims.”