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Police 'fire on Conga protesters' while Xstrata faces questions
30 May 2013
One person is reported to have been injured by police gunfire amid opposition to the mega Conga mine in Cajamarca, northern Peru.
According to community leader Marco Arana, police opened fire without warning as a group of locals attempted to reach the Perol lake on 28 May. Police used rubber bullets and birdshot against approximately 1000 protesters, who, according to a company statement, were on private property and threw stones at police.
Resistance to the majority Canadian-owned project has been reinvigorated by the construction of a reservoir intended to replace local lakes used for the area's water supply, which will be drained to access minerals. The building work ends months of suspension after violent clashes in 2012. Meanwhile, Mar Pérez of the National Human Rights Coordination body warned that flaws in the police investigation into the deaths of four inhabitants of neighbouring Celendín during protests last July could lead to the case being abandoned.
Meanwhile in southern Peru, hundreds of people have participated in a protest demanding accountability for environmental pollution around the Tintaya mine, owned by Anglo-Swiss commodities giant Glencore-Xstrata. The mobilisation comes after a year of inconclusive talks between communities, the company and state representatives, following violent conflict last year in which three people were killed.
Leaders of local women’s and youth organisations were among those who took to the streets of Yauri on 21 May, the capital of Espinar province, in the Cusco region. In mid-April, data collected as part of the dialogue process revealed the presence of high levels of heavy metals in the area around the mine, but did not identify the source of the pollution. Communities are demanding clarity on the cause of the contamination and plans for remedial action.
Lack of progress in updating an agreement on corporate support for local development also remains of concern to civil society groups in Espinar. The 2003 deal promised ‘up to’ 3 per cent of profits from the mine would fund community projects. Limited transparency and the perceived ineffectiveness of the foundation have led to demands for a doubling of this contribution.
The peaceful protest began with a vigil to remember those killed or wounded in past clashes, followed by a mass and the raising of the national flag, and finally a march through the streets.
President of community group Fudie, Herbert Huamán Llave, said he wanted questions about the mine’s impacts answered “at once”: “We’ve been in a process of dialogue for a year without results. People are impatient.”
Calls to strengthen women's reproductive rights in Peru
28 May 2013
Campaigners and UN human rights experts have called for Peru’s abortion laws to be implemented fully and extended in line with international rulings to protect women’s rights.
Flora Tristán Women’s Centre has been campaigning for the decriminalisation of abortion where pregnancy results from rape. On 28 May, international day of action for women’s health, they announced that their Déjala decidir (‘Let her decide’) petition has attracted 60,000 supporters.
The demand echoes recommendations made in March by the UN Human Rights Committee. “Abortion should be allowed in cases [of rape and incest], because it will be practised anyway, but in a clandestine, illegal and unsafe way,” said spokesperson Gerald Neuman. Two UN rulings have condemned the Peruvian government's failure to uphold access to legal abortion.
Meanwhile, women’s rights group Manuela Ramos is leading demands for a policy to put into practice the right to abortion where pregnancy jeopardises the woman’s life or health. Abortions have been permitted under these circumstances in Peru since 1924, but the law is not properly implemented. “The lack of such a policy is a threat to women’s right to take autonomous and informed decisions, and to the need for a swift response when their right to life and health is at risk,” according to the campaigners. Some 400,000 Peruvian women have unsafe abortions each year, according to Manuela Ramos.
The UN Human Rights Committee also urged the government to ensure effective education and awareness campaigns around sexual and reproductive rights, as well as adequate provision of health services offering oral contraception. In addition, the experts recommended strengthening legislation against domestic violence and called for justice for sexual crimes committed during the 1980s and 1990s. Last October the public prosecutor reopened investigations into the 200,000 forced sterilisations carried out under President Fujimori in the 1990s.
Reproductive rights remain a divisive issue in Peru. In March, an anti-abortion rally in Lima in was attended by several thousand people, including the ultra-conservative Archbishop Cipriani who has repeatedly denounced the practice.
Amid economic boom, majority of rural Peruvians face poverty
26 May 2013
President Humala's promise to halve poverty has a mountain to climb, with more than a quarter of Peruvians impoverished, according to new official figures. Nationally 7.8 million people live in poverty. 1.8 million of these face extreme poverty, with monthly expenditure of under £40, and are unable to afford basic food purchases.
Despite rapid economic growth and a fall in the poverty rate last year, most (53 per cent) of Peru's rural citizens remain poor. Almost all extreme poverty is concentrated in rural regions. One in five of the rural population is affected by extreme poverty, compared to only 1.4 per cent in cities. The overall poverty rate is three times higher in rural areas than in cities, although it is now decreasing more quickly outside urban areas.
The national poverty rate decreased by 2 percentage points to 25.8 per cent last year, down from 30 per cent when Humala took office in 2011.
Rural areas are benefiting slowly from improved transport and communications infrastructure, as well as social assistance programmes. However critics say that an economy dominated by large-scale commodity exports, alleviated by welfare, will not generate inclusion and end poverty.
Obituary: Javier Diez Canseco
05 May 2013
It is with profound grief that we learn of the death of Javier Diez Canseco. As many will know, Javier has been battling against a virulent cancer for the last three months.
Few in Peruvian public life have been so consistent in their support for human rights and democratic values as Javier. He has pursued such issues with a dogged determination that is not common among politicians. He combined strong political convictions with a spirit of genuine personal humanity.
Not only was he one of the most important leaders of the Peruvian left for more than 30 years, but also a major figure on the Latin American left more broadly.
He was first elected to public office in 1978 as a member of the Constituent Assembly, having risen to prominence as a student leader in the 1960s and 1970s. He was a member of Congress, albeit with short gaps, ever since then.
In the 1980s he was one of the main pillars of the Izquierda Unida (United Left) as leader of the Partido Unificado Mariateguista (PUM). In the 1990s, he was one of the most prominent and persistent critics of the Fujimori regime from its earliest days. When Peru returned to democracy in 2001, he was one of those who sought to investigate the corruption and other criminal activity that characterised the cronyism of the Fujimori era. As leader of the Socialist Party (PS), he struggled to ensure that democracy actually led to improvements in the lives of ordinary Peruvians.
He was re-elected as a member of Congress in the 2011 elections, supporting the presidential candidacy of Ollanta Humala. However, he withdrew his support for Humala in late 2011 after the latter tilted away from the pro-poor platform on which he had been elected. Partly as a consequence, members of Humala’s PNP supported Javier’s suspension last year on trumped-up charges of conflicts of interest. This suspension hit Javier hard.
Javier was an enthusiastic supporter of internationalism, and a key participant in the Foro de Sao Paulo. He was deeply involved in human rights advocacy at the global level, not least with respect to human rights violations in Peru itself. In particular he took up issues, such as improving conditions for those with physical handicaps, which others ignored but which he (as a polio sufferer) had experienced himself.
He was a good friend of the Peru Support Group. He spoke on PSG platforms on several occasions, including at the PSG Annual Conference in Kingston-on-Thames in 2010 and at the Institute for the Study of the Americas in 2011. Javier Diez Canseco will be profoundly missed by his family and friends, as well as by Peru and the wider human rights community globally.
Warning on 'police privatisation' in Peru
28 March 2013
Relations between the police and private companies are putting human rights at risk, according to leading civil society figures.
Agreements signed between the police and extractive companies are effectively “privatising the police”, said Rocío Silva Santisteban of the Coordinadora Nacional de Derechos Humanos, at a session of the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights on 11 March. Such an emphasis on protecting the investments of multinational corporations is linked to Peru’s development model, which relies on exporting raw materials, she said.
Her colleague Mar Pérez also criticised the government's excessive declarations of a state of emergency, as in the Conga and Espinar mine conflicts. This has seen “arbitrary detention, torture of activists and journalists, as well as systematic abuse of the use of force,” she said.
Meanwhile, the government has faced intense pressure for failing to deal with citizens’ lack of safety, with national police chief Raúl Salazar Salazar driven to resign in early March. According to figures published by the Instituto de Defensa Legal, only 4.2 per cent of Peru's adult population say they are satisfied with the security services in their community and crime is considered the top problem facing the country.
In early March, the government submitted proposed changes to the penal code to Congress. The measures aim to improve the efficiency of cooperation between the police and Ministerio Público during investigations. Proposed changes include accepting confessions without the presence of a defendant’s lawyer.
The Congress justice committee is now reviewing 40 legislative proposals to improve security, mainly concerning law enforcement. The committee’s president, Marisol Pérez Tello, said they would not change the underlying problem but would offer “tools that could help”. A plenary session is expected to address the issue in mid-April.
Human Rights Watch flags impunity and new curbs on rights
15 March 2013
New legislation could undermine international human rights standards, according to Human Rights Watch, which also criticised widespread impunity for abuses.
The NGO’s review of Peru in its World Report 2013 warned that some draft legislation put rights at risk. In the context of confrontations between authorities and protesters against mining projects, the report said that proposals being considered by Congress risk undercutting international standards on the use of lethal force. President Humala has lodged objections to the legislative proposals. An ‘anti-terror’ bill also risks criminalising legitimate criticism of judicial decisions, the report said.
The report highlighted problems of impunity. Efforts to prosecute those responsible for abuses committed during the internal armed conflict in the 1980s and 1990s have been “mixed”, with “very limited” progress on cases from before the Fujimori era. Hundreds of cases are pending or have been closed, “partly due to the Ministry of Defense and the army failing to cooperate in providing information essential to identify perpetrators,” the review said.
Journalists have continued to be subject to threats and attacks for criticising provincial authorities, according to the report. A police investigation found that the mayor of Casma, Ancash, had ordered the murder of the critical local TV news director Pedro Alonso Flores. No charges have been brought.
The report also cited two instances of arbitrary detention or mistreatment of human rights workers. In May 2012, police arrested two workers at the Vicariate of Solidarity of Sicuani, a church-based human rights group, as they waited in a car outside a mining camp in Espinar, Cuszo, while lawyer colleagues checked on detainees reportedly held there. A judge found that the arrests were illegal. In June, Defensoría lawyer Genoveva Gómez reported that a large group of police assaulted her when she was trying to access detainees in a police station in Cajamarca.
Human Rights Watch cited figures from the NGO COMISEDH, showing that a third of the 144 victims they were monitoring in 2012 died or suffered permanent physical disabilities as a result of torture.
The report also called for Peru to adopt UN bodies’ recommendations that abortion be legalised in cases of rape, and to clarify the circumstances under which medical abortion is legal.
Minas Conga referendum plans disputed
08 March 2013
Authorities have rejected attempts to mount a referendum on the Conga gold and copper mine in Cajamarca, northern Peru.
Locals in Cajamarca, northern Peru, are concerned about the mine’s potential impacts on water sources. Opposition led to the mine’s suspension in 2011 but in January developer Newmont Mining announced in January that it would spend US$150 million on the Conga project this year. Community groups plan to hold a popular vote in July and have called on the office of the human rights ombudsperson, the Defensoría del Pueblo, to oversee it.
However in a statement, the Defensor Eduardo Vega Luna said that such a role would fall outside his institution’s mandate and would fail to promote dialogue. He also noted that a consultation on Conga had already taken place, although said that the Defensoría “has pointed out that mechanisms for participation in mining projects must be substantially improved.” The public prosecutor also said that a regionally organised referendum would be illegal, as consultation on large-scale projects falls within the remit of the mining ministry.
Delegations from Cajamarca and Cañaris, the scene of recent violent clashes over the planned Cañariaco mine, travelled to Lima on 13 February to ask President Humala and his cabinet to cancel the projects. Cristobal Barrios, president of the San Juan de Cañaris community, demanded the government respect last September’s community vote in which 97 per cent rejected the Cañariaco project. Conga’s opponents hope to gain a similar popular mandate through their planned referendum.
The Cañariaco Norte mine is in the early stages of development by Candente. The Defensor has stated that the new prior consultation law must be enforced for this mine. In a letter to the government, Vega has asked that an investigation be made into whether Candente is properly complying with the law.
Further south, discussion continues on the contributions Xstrata’s Espinar Tintaya-Antapaccay mine should make to the local community.
Legal bid to protect isolated indigenous groups
08 February 2013
Indigenous organisations have announced legal action aimed at halting the expansion of the Camisea gas project in the Peruvian Amazon.
The project would affect the Kugapakori-Nahua-Nanti Reserve, which was established for indigenous peoples living in voluntary isolation from the outside world. Campaigners warn that the project puts communities’ livelihoods, culture and health at risk.
The legal proceedings against the government and Argentinian company Pluspetrol were announced in December. They follow an appeal to the United Nations by a coalition of indigenous organisations, AIDESEP, FENAMAD, ORAU and COMARU.
In a letter to President Humala, civil society groups led by the UK-based Forest Peoples Programme said that, if the project goes ahead, the government would be breaching domestic and international legal obligations and “presiding over a development project whose consequences for some of Peru’s most vulnerable citizens could be lethal”.
Proposals include seismic testing, the construction of 21 new wells and a new concession known as Lot Fitzcarrald.
In January, the Environment Ministry fined Pluspetrol 30 million sol for failing to carry out measures to reverse environmental damage from oil pollution in the Lot 8 concession in Parinari, Loreto, where the Pacaya Samiria reserve is located.
Trade agreement 'risks human rights'
07 February 2013
Free trade agreements signed in December between the European Union and Peru, Colombia and six Central American nations have drawn criticism from human rights advocates.
Peruvian trade minister Carlos Posada described the deal as the country’s most important trade agreement and said it could add up to 0.7 per cent to economic growth in the long term.
But 40 NGOs including the Inter-American Human Rights Platform, Enlazando Alternativas and Friends of the Earth issued a joint statement criticising the agreement. Though it includes some references to human rights, social and environmental standards, unlike other provisions, these are not binding. The groups warned the agreement condones human rights violations and environmental destruction caused by European agro-fuel exports, mining and energy companies.
Chair of Friends of the Earth International, Jagoda Munic, said, “European corporations should comply with the standards set up by the European Union, including human rights laws when they operate outside Europe. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.”
Commentators also raised concerns that the agreements with Peru and Colombia, two of the world’s largest cocaine producers, would allow money from drug-trafficking to enter the EU.
Dutch NGO SOMO stated that, “The power of authorities to apply controls to capital flows is being restricted by the FTA. However, there are no particular articles in the agreement that ensure that instruments and regulations are in place that effectively prevent and halt illicit flows. This contrasts with other trade agreements the EU has signed, which have stronger commitments of cooperation and implementation of actions against money laundering, crime and tax evasion or avoidance.” Up to US$7billion is laundered in Peru each year, according to UN estimates.
The agreement will supersede an existing preferential tariff arrangement. Trade between Andean nations and the EU was worth US$27 billion in 2011.
Canaris: clashes as rejected mine considered
04 February 2013
In what was dubbed the first conflict of 2013, police broke up a blockade of the proposed Cañariaco mining project in Cañaris, Lambayeque, northern Peru.
The community had rejected the project when consulted last September, concerned about its impacts on water, forests and agriculture, their principal source of income.
Protests began on 20 January when the government’s National Dialogue Office set up a forum to discuss the development, behind closed doors. The proposed project by Canadian company Candente Copper would be worth US$1.5 billion. Two days into the blockade, police used tear gas against 400 protesters from San Juan de Cañaris. Local councillor Hilario Rodríguez said the demonstration had been peaceful up to that point. Further clashes left 31 people injured, 3 seriously, according to NGO Red Muqui.
Rocío Silva Santisteban, president of the National Human Rights Coordination group, said that the establishment of the dialogue form “is ignoring the community consultation undertaken on 30 September 2012, in which more than 2,000 registered community members participated … In that consultation, 97 per cent of residents voted not to give social license to the Cañariaco Mining Project.”
The human rights ombudsman, the Defensoría del Pueblo, has asked the government to verify whether the community meets the definition of ‘indigenous’ under new legislation, which would qualify it for consultation on the project.
Meanwhile, interior minister Wilfredo Pederaza announced in late January that new police units will be created in mining zones to deal with what he said would be permanent conflict. They will guarantee “citizens, mining investment and also peaceful protest,” he said.
NGO CooperAcción said the move “follows the same logic of prioritising police repression to deal with social conflicts that we've seen in recent years.” The organisation warned that this approach had proved ineffective, harmed human rights, and contradicts the government’s stated commitment to dialogue.
The Defensoría del Pueblo reported that 24 people, all civilians, were killed and 649 injured in social conflicts in 2012.
For information on social conflicts involving British mining companies, see the PSG’s Minewatch.