On 7 July 2014, the Peruvian government approved a new National Plan for Human Rights 2014-2016. Hailed by José Avila, the deputy minister for justice and human rights, as evidence of the government’s commitment to guaranteeing respect for fundamental rights, the plan focuses on four principal objectives: encouraging a culture of fundamental rights, ensuring public policies are designed through a human rights lens, aligning domestic law with international human rights standards, and developing policies to protect vulnerable groups.
The publication of the plan follows two years of consultation with a wide range of stakeholders, including domestic and international human rights organisations and the Peruvian human rights ombudsman. However, few non-governmental observers appear to be satisfied with the results.
The plan has been criticised as lacking in vision, with human rights public policy reduced to a tick-box exercise focused on achieving a series of objectives many believe were already due to be delivered by 2016. Objectives include reducing road deaths by 10-15%, reducing the number of people contracting tuberculosis by 5%, and reducing deaths among individuals with HIV/AIDS by 18%.
Particularly troubling for human rights observers are the discrepancies between the draft plan, as agreed in the multi-stakeholder consultation process, and the resulting document. The human rights ombudsman has strongly criticised the absence of any pledge to enhance the protection afforded to the LGBT community. Similarly, there is no mention of domestic workers in private households – often the victims of rights violations and discrimination. Both groups had featured in working drafts of the plan.
In another surprise development, a policy recommendation that the morning-after pill be made more readily available to the public has been diluted in the final plan to a commitment by government to request an international agency to conduct a study on the efficacy of the pill. Many suspect that this policy shift is the consequence of pressure from the Catholic Church, including some religious social organisations involved in the consultation process.
Human rights advocacy in Peru confronts a new context, one which is no longer defined by serious armed conflict or authoritarian government. However, the legacy of severe and massive human rights violations continues to cast a long shadow. The legacy of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission remains highly contested, with implementation of recommendations surrounding reparations and criminal prosecution increasingly subject to delay or outright obstruction.
In turn, latent social protest, especially in relation to extractive mining operations and illegal logging in the Amazon (see below), and the militarisation of the state response, present a constant and serious risk of human rights violations, as witnessed in Bagua in 2009. The national plan does little to address or alleviate the increasingly powerful drivers of social unrest throughout the country. There is also little mention of one of the most serious hot spots for human rights violations in Peru today: prisons, estimated to be overpopulated by at least 70%.
National human rights plans provide human rights advocates with a potentially useful tool to hold governments to account for their performance. However, the new plan does little to assuage serious concerns over the lack of political will to tackle human rights violation seriously. Statements by signatories to the National Plan, such as that of Interior Minister Daniel Urresti, to “crush crime by smashing skulls”, reveal an alarming (but popular) counterpoint to public commitments to protect and promote human rights.