Police impunity for deaths extended

13 June 2013

Legal reforms have widened state forces’ exemption from criminal responsibility for deaths and injuries. Commentators have warned that the moves are contrary to the Peruvian constitution and the American Convention on Human Rights.

In early June, Congress near-unanimously approved an amendment to the penal code. It is one of a number of measures officially aiming to improve public safety. The change extends the circumstances under which members of the police and armed forces will be exempted fromfacing trial. Since 2007, state security forces have been exempt from responsibility for deaths or injuries they cause in the course of their duties by the ‘proper’ use (uso reglamentario) of their weapons. The new wording does not require ‘proper’ use and extends to harm caused by means other than official firearms.

Human rights defenders have warned that the measures jeopardise suspects’ and protesters’ rights to life and a fair trial. César Bazán Seminario of the Instituto de Defensa Legal said that the change could “encourage the forces of order to use their weapons to repress protesters more violently, causing more deaths and injuries”. He described the reform as particularly worrying in the context of Peru’s high levels of social conflict and protest.

The 2007 reforms have been used to close investigations into killings by alleged police and military ‘death squads’. A 2010 legal challenge to the provisions was unsuccessful, but did lead the Constitutional Court to issue more detailed guidance on the rules’ interpretation to avoid impunity. However civil society groups warn that the guidance is not widely known among the judiciary and scope for excessive application remains.

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