Peru’s government is more likely to use deadly violence in marginalized areas of the country as part of its crackdown on recent anti-government protests, according to a report by rights group Amnesty International.
Thursday’s report, Deadly Racism, said the government’s actions could amount to extrajudicial executions in some cases. Amnesty is calling on Peru’s Attorney General to investigate the excessive use of force in response to the protests.
“The use of lethal firearms against protesters shows a blatant disregard for human life,” Amnesty Secretary-General Agnes Callamard said in a press release.
“Despite the government’s efforts to portray them as terrorists or criminals, those killed were protesters, observers and bystanders. Almost all are of poor, indigenous, and campesino origin, indicating a racial and socioeconomic bias in the use of lethal force.”
The report is the latest to find that Peru’s government has used disproportionate violence and targeted poor and indigenous people in protests that have engulfed the country since the ouster of former President Pedro Castillo.
Peru’s attorney general’s office is to investigate anyone, up to the highest level, who ordered or tolerated the illegal use of lethal force by security forces that led to 49 deaths during protests from December to February. https://t.co/3pujU9Z7uq
— Amnesty International (@amnesty) May 25, 2023
Bolwarte is under fire
The crisis began on December 7, when Castillo faced his third impeachment hearing.
Instead of confronting an opposition-led Congress, Castillo attempted to dissolve Peru’s legislature and rule by decree, a move widely considered illegal. He was quickly impeached, dismissed and arrested. Meanwhile, his former vice president, Dina Boluarte, was sworn in as Peru’s first female president.
Castillo’s supporters, many of them from poor and rural areas considered neglected by the state, took to the streets to protest his detention. Among their demands were calls for a new constitution and elections.
Since then, the Boluarte administration has been criticized for its heavy-handed response to the protests and failure to address popular discontent. Amnesty’s report showed that 49 protesters were killed between December and February.
The government’s response also heightened tensions between Peru and other countries in the region, particularly with leftist leaders who were friendly to Castillo.
Peruvian authorities on Thursday declared Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador persona non grata after he spent months criticizing Bolluarte as a “puppet.” He also offered Castillo and his family asylum in Mexico.
López Obrador became the second major Latin American leader to be slapped with the label, after former Bolivian President Evo Morales.
“The language of terrorism”.
Amnesty’s report analyzed 52 documented cases of people being killed or injured in regions such as Ayacucho, Juliaca, Andahuaylas and Chincheros, including 25 deaths.
The organization concluded that 20 of those 25 murders may have been extrajudicial executions. These included instances of security forces using live fire on crowds and targeting vulnerable body parts such as the head, neck and abdomen.
When faced with criticism and calls for accountability, Peruvian authorities have often labeled the protesters as agitators seeking to create unrest.
“We took over a polarized country, a country in conflict, a country where there are extremist sections that seek to cause unrest and chaos with their own agenda, to destroy our institutions and democracy,” Bolwart said in a January address.
“Are we going back to the years of terrorist violence where dogs were hung from lampposts?”
Will Freeman, Latin America fellow at the US think tank Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), told Al Jazeera that such rhetoric taps into collective memories of the period of civil strife that rocked Peru in the 1980s and 1990s.
Meanwhile, armed groups such as the Maoist Shining Path attempted to overthrow the government and carried out violent campaigns targeting civilians, including indigenous people.
In response, the government launched a brutal counterinsurgency effort that included widespread abuses.
“Politicians are trying to invoke the Shining Path story to draw parallels with today’s protesters, but that’s wrong and offensive,” Freeman said in a phone interview. “It’s using the language of terror as a weapon to scare people.”
The Amnesty report said authorities were more likely to use lethal violence in areas with large populations such as Ayacucho, even if protests were similar in frequency and intensity to other areas.
“The findings of this report are only the tip of the iceberg in the painful history of discrimination and exclusion of indigenous peoples in Peru,” Erica Guevara-Rosas, Amnesty’s Americas director, told Al Jazeera via email.
He added that family members of victims who spoke to Amnesty described “humiliating treatment” “in hospitals or government offices with insults that hint at their ethnic identity”.
In January, Peru’s attorney general launched a series of investigations to identify those responsible for the deaths of mostly civilians during the unrest, but Guevara-Rose said accountability was far from over.
“The authorities have not achieved any meaningful accountability for the crimes committed by the police and military in recent months,” he said.
“Key steps need to be taken urgently, including urgent police and military interviews, the completion of the remaining forensic investigations, and ensuring that investigations take place at the scene and with the victims.”