IACHR discusses two complaints by Peruvian CSOs
11 June 2017
During the 162nd hearings of the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, held in Buenos Aires from 22–26 May, Peru’s civil society organizations (CSOs) had the opportunity to express a series of concerns about what they perceive are worrying human rights trends in Peru. There were two open hearing sessions: the first on human rights and extractive industries, the second on the rights to truth, justice and reparation.
In both sessions, civil society and state representatives presented their arguments, followed by questions and comments by the Commission, and then answers and follow-up comments by the state and civil society representatives.
The session covering human rights abuses in the context of extractive activities had been requested by the Coordinadora Nacional de Derechos Humanos (CNDH), the Instituto de Defensa Legal (IDL), Demus, the Plataforma Interinstitucional de Celendin and Earth Rights International. During this session, CSO representatives focused on two key concerns: (i) the prevalence of contracts between the police and private companies in extractive industries that effectively allow for the privatisation of public security without any proper scrutiny or accountability; and (ii) the use of states of emergency and the criminalisation of community leaders and human rights defenders by state authorities to deal with social protest.
Human rights organisations have repeatedly reported on serious human rights abuses committed by armed state security forces (often in the pay of companies), particularly in confronting social protest. At the hearing, while there was a discrepancy over the number of such contracts (CSOs claimed that police records suggested there were 112, but state representatives cited only ten), CSOs expressed concern about the lack of any transparency in such agreements. They claim they had experienced great difficulty in gaining access to their content despite repeated requests to the state to make such agreements public. In November 2016, the Cuzco-based Derechos Humanos Sin Fronteras managed to view four agreements as a result of a freedom of information action initiated two years earlier, and argued that the terms of these agreements made the police respond to the interests of the company rather than serving the public good.
CSOs also highlighted the situation of human rights defenders, in particular the way in which the Peruvian state responds to social protests by declaring states of emergency and criminalising both community leaders and human rights defenders. They cited the conflicts in Espinar and Conga as examples where community leaders continue to face criminal charges for alleged acts committed during social protests dating back to 2012. Investigations into alleged human rights violations committed by the police and security forces have yet to yield any results.
A further concern for the CSOs was what they described as “preventative states of emergency”, that is the declaration of states of emergency before conflict even erupts. By way of example, they cited a state of emergency declared in Cuzco as a result of social conflict in Las Bambas in a neighbouring province in Apurímac region.
At the end of the session, the commissioners recommended the Peruvian state revise the current contracts between the police and private companies and to ensure that human rights are not put at risk because of them. Commissioner Margarette May Macaulay said that “these agreements are likely to cause conflict, because the police is working for a company and has to protect the interest of this company against the interests of the citizens. For this reason, they need to be re-examined”. She also recommended the Peruvian authorities develop a framework or mechanism for the protection of human rights defenders, given the obstacles and threats these face in carrying out their work.
The second session on the right to truth, justice and reparation was requested by the CNDH, as well as FEDEPAZ, IDL and Demus. David Velazco, director of FEDEPAZ, mentioned the lack of progress in the investigations into human rights violations committed during the internal armed conflict, pointing to a prevailing impunity, arguing that this is also evidence by the lack of progress in, or results of investigations into human rights violations committed by the state in responding to social protest. Velazco highlighted as a matter of particular concern the recent amendment to Art. 2 of the constitution with respect to personal security and freedom. In May this year, Art 2 was changed by adding ‘criminal association’ to the list of reasons for the police to detain a person, or a group of persons, for a longer period of time without charges. In addition to people suspected of terrorism, espionage or drug trafficking, people can now be held for up to 15 days if they are suspected of ‘criminal association’.
Human rights organisations have said that this could potentially be used to hold people in custody for taking part in social protests if they are suspected of having committed offences linked to the crime of ‘asociacion ilicita para delinquir’. Velazco claimed that this could be construed as a modality of ‘criminal organization’. Fifteen days would put those detained in a situation of vulnerability as police authorities would be able to hold them without formal charges and with no intervention by a prosecutor or judge.
The commissioners shared the concern that this change to Art. 2 exposed human rights defenders to the risk of being held without charge for 15 days, further exacerbating the trend towards criminalisation of protest.