In a new report ‘The Value of Dialogue’ published in September 2017, the Human Rights Ombudsman calls upon the government to initiate early dialogue to prevent the escalation of social conflicts which continue to wrack the country.

Since 2004, the Ombudsman has regularly monitored and issued reports on social conflicts throughout the country. In its September 2017 report, the Ombudsman documents 111 active and 57 latent social conflicts, with the majority of conflicts occurring in the region of Áncash and associated with the activities of the mining sector.

According to the latest report, 271 deaths and 4662 injured persons can be attributed to social conflicts turning violent since 2006, including the violence which erupted in Bagua in 2009, claiming the lives of 23 indigenous and nine members of the police.

The report highlights systematic failures by government to respond in a timely manner to the outbreak of social unrest. Dialogue has generally been pursued only once the situation has turned critical (31.1%) or once conflict has escalated into violence (34.8%). In only 18.1% of cases did the government open discussion at an early stage. Importantly, according to the report, 75% of respondents felt that they had no option but to take to the streets, but 79% were opposed to violence.

Reflecting on the findings, Ombudsman Walter Gutiérrez, stated: “too often it is only once social conflict has escalated that the government reacts; appealing to dialogue not as a democratic right, but rather as a remedy of last resort. This approach risks encouraging more violent conflict.”

Up to April of 2017, the report registers 2500 acts and 1000 government agreements which are yet to be honoured. The Ombudsman has called upon the government to ensure that such agreements are met and to put into place a range of mechanisms to seek early conflict resolution.

The government would do well to pay heed to the Ombudsman’s recommendations to avoid further injury and loss of life. However, it remains to be seen whether the current administration will break with the woeful record of its predecessors.