Peru Human Rights: Militarisation of Protest Policing

Militarisation of Protest Policing

Another worrying development in recent years has been the increased use of military and special operations forces (such as DINOES) to police civil unrest. This has been a recurring issue under successive governments. Protests over plans to privatise the local electricity company in Arequipa in 2002 prompted then President Alejandro Toledo (2001 – 2006) to declare a state of emergency and send troops to the region. Alan García (2006 – 2011) employed similar tactics in the Cusco, Ucayali, Loreto and Amazonas regions in May 2009. Despite hopes that Ollanta Humala (2011 - ) would adopt a less confrontational stance, in December 2011 he also deployed troops to police protests in Cajamarca.

Though military and special operations forces do not implement wholesale crackdowns on protest activity, their presence at demonstrations nonetheless remains problematic. Military officials are trained primarily for combat situations, not policing, and may therefore be more predisposed to the use of force than regular police units. Human rights groups argue that a 2007 legislative decree, granting immunity to police and military officials who cause death or injury during the course of their duties, has further encouraged the use of heavy-handed tactics. They cite as examples instances where state officials have dropped tear-gas canisters on demonstrators from helicopters (for example, in Islay in April 2011) or have allegedly fired live rounds into crowds (for example, in Cajamarca in December 2011).

Clashes between protestors and police/military forces over recent years have exacted a high toll. All in all, 191 people were killed during social conflicts under the García government. Thirty three of these (including a number of policemen) died in clashes in Bagua in June 2009 when troops attempted to forcibly disperse locals protesting against plans for compulsory purchases of indigenous lands for extractive projects. In 2005, following protests against the Rio Blanco mine near Piura 28 people were detained for three days and allegedly tortured by Peruvian Special Forces and members of private security firm FORZA. Those involved also implicate the mine’s then owner, Monterrico Metals, in the abuses, but this is denied by the firm.