Peru’s rural, campesino and indigenous communities remain disproportionately much poorer than the rest of society. Although poverty rates have decreased substantially in the last decade (from 58.7% in 2004 to 20.5% in 2018 according to official figures), the percentage of people living in poverty is still larger in rural areas, particularly where Indigenous communities live and also in some areas where extractive industries operate. 44% of poverty is concentrated in rural areas, which represent nearly a quarter of the total population in Peru. According to INEI, there are 713 districts in Peru (out of 1,874 nationwide) where more than 40% of the population lives below the poverty line, under the 338 soles per capita, per month threshold. Of the 20 poorest districts in the country, 16 are in Cajamarca. Growth projections are vulnerable to uncertain external economic conditions, such as the prices of commodities, as well as natural environmental risks, such as the effects of El Niño on agricultural production and access to basic services.
Social and environmental conflict continues to be prevalent in the country, with reports of use of excessive force by security forces an issue of concern. According to the Ombudsman’s office, 58 civilians died and over 1,000 people were injured in clashes between security forces and protesters between 2012 and 2015. Impunity is the norm in cases where police and security forces are involved in dealing with protests. The authorities have frequently used the declaration of ‘states of emergency’ to deal with social protest. This usually involves the suspension of civil liberties and enables the police and other officials to deal summarily with protesters, even though there is sometimes no evidence of violent behaviour or any need for an increased police presence.
In March 2020, the government published Law 31012, a law that aims to grant discretionary powers to the police and to provide exemptions for the detention or prosecution of police officers that have caused harm to others as a result of the firing of lethal weapons, in the exercise of their functions during emergency situations. The law also violates the principle of proportionality by giving the police the power to decide what use of force is required under a set of circumstances. Although the law was adopted under the health epidemic crisis of Covid-19, many feared that the law will remain in force long after the crisis ends.
Social conflict is also often triggered by the failure of the authorities to effectively involve indigenous communities in prior consultation. Although Peru adopted a law on consultation in 2012, there are still concerns about its implementation: who gets consulted, how agreements or decisions are reached, and how these are implemented in practice. Frustration over lack of adequate consultation and lack of inclusion often precipitates conflict.
Human rights defenders and community leaders often face routine legal harassment, especially when they are perceived to being involved in social protests. Activists that work for the protection of the environment, land and territories, particularly around sites where natural resources are extracted, are most at risk. Local prosecutors routinely accuse demonstrators of breaching the law. They have the authority to order their imprisonment on remand for up to 18 months (extendable for a further 18 months). When the courts finally adjudicate such cases, the evidence is usually found to be unreliable and the accused are acquitted. This, however, can take several years, as with the acquittal of 52 indigenous leaders in 2016 who had been accused of the 2009 killings at Bagua (Amazonas).
There has been a increase in recent years of cases of threats and attacks against indigenous communities and their leaders who are struggling to defend their land against powerful economic interests.
Peru is one of the three most vulnerable countries in the world to the impacts of climate change, with its water supply largely dependent on Andean glaciers. Access to water is frequently an aggravating factor in disputes over extractives.
Lord Brenan QC
Ann Clwyd MP
Linda Fabiani MSP
Reverend Ed O'Connell
Professor William Rowe
Rosemary Thorp CBE
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