NGOs condemn criminalisation of protest in Cajamarca

11 March 2017

A strongly-worded open letter, signed by seven Peruvian and three international NGOs, hit the press on 6 March, the day of the re-opening of the interminable trial of the 16 human rights defenders (HRDs) involved in the Conga protest dating from 2012.

The letter condemns the whole process of denunciations and penal measures as an invasion of human rights and the criminalisation of legitimate social protest. "We are profoundly preoccupied that, faced with legitimate social mobilization, the response of the state is the use of force and the use of criminal law (derecho penal) against defenders of human rights, in relation to land and to the environment".

In particular, it condemns the unreasonable penalties being sought (in this case up to 36 months in prison for those charged). This is more severe than the penalties sought for “highly dangerous delinquents”.

The original event was the protest over the environmental consequences of the proposed Conga mining project in Cajamarca. Police repression in Celendín and Bambamarca was severe and five deaths resulted, including a 16-year-old boy. See PSG article.

Those cited in the case include Milton Sánchez Cubas, Ramón Abanto Bernal, César Tomás Bolaños Ayala, José Percy Zamora Díaz, Segundo Sare Ortiz, Jeremías Chávez Rodríguez, Maritza Emperatriz Bolaños Ayala, Fabio Rodríguez Rojas, María Bilda Silva Rodríguez, Alberto Izquierdo Vargas, Segundo Manuel Bolaños Ayala, Justiniano Montoya García, Jeni Cojal Rojas, Arístides Arévalo Ortiz, Andrea Rodríguez Chávez and Elsa Elvira Bolaños Atalaya.

Of these, the letter mentions specifically Milton Sánchez Cubas who is supposedly under the protection of the 'precautionary measures' put in place by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. It also mentions Jeni Cojal, who only learnt that she was being indicted after the process was under way, a situation which she claims denied her the right to self-defence.

Both Sánchez and Cojal are members of the Celendín HRD group 'Guardians of the Lake', while the former is general secretary of the Plataforma Interinstitucional Celendina. According to the Latin America Solidarity Centre, Sánchez has faced some 50 court proceedings but has never been convicted. The total of those supposedly protected by IACHR precautionary measures is 46 in the Cajamarca region.

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