Peru: Authorities are criminalizing human rights defenders by overturning judgement of acquittal
Peruvian authorities must stop misusing the criminal justice system to harass human rights defenders, Amnesty International reiterated today, following the decision of the Ica High Court of Justice to overturn a judgement of acquittal and initiate new proceedings against three environmental defenders from the southern province of Espinar, Peru.
“The decision of the High Court of Justice represents a harsh blow to those who work to defend human rights in Peru and is yet another example of how the authorities continue to use criminal law to harass and silence environmental defenders. Rather than criminalizing them, the Peruvian authorities should take effective and timely measures to protect them,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.
On 8 May, the First Criminal Appeals Chamber of the Ica High Court of Justice overturned the first instance judgement of acquittal and ordered the initiation once again of the trial against the environmental defenders Oscar Mollohuanca Cruz, Herbert Huamán and Sergio Huamaní for the crimes of endangering public safety, obstructing public services and causing civil unrest.
The Public Prosecutor’s charges against the three human rights defenders are based solely on their role as community leaders, thus automatically considering them the organizers of the protests and responsible for all criminal activity or damage caused. These accusations constitute a violation of international human rights standards. The three defenders were acquitted on 17 July 2017, but the Public Prosecutor’s Office appealed the decision.
The charges against them are in connection with their participation in several social protests organized in May 2012, when large numbers of people from Espinar took to the streets to declare a strike in front of the Tintaya Mine Antapaccay extension, with the aim of amending the conditions of the agreements between the mining company and the authorities on environmental issues and community services, among other things.
A number of injuries and deaths occurred during these protests which were, according to witnesses, caused by police intervention to disperse the protestors. Following several days of protests the President of the Republic declared a 30-day state of emergency, banning any new protests. A number of demonstrators were arrested and accused of being responsible for the violence.
Oscar Mollohuanca Cruz was detained on 30 May at City Hall, without an arrest warrant and without being informed of the reasons for his arrest. He was taken to Ica, a region in the north of the country that is two days’ travel by land from Espinar, where the oral hearing was held. Five years later, along with Herbert Huamán y Sergio Huamaní, he was acquitted due to lack of evidence.
“The case of the Espinar defenders is a clear example of how the recipe for criminalization is used against human rights defenders working to protect the land and environment in Peru. These legal proceedings illustrate the misuse of the criminal justice system to file unfounded charges as a form of harassment which seeks to silence their work,” said Marina Navarro, Executive Director of Amnesty International Peru.
In the report A recipe for criminalization: Defenders of the environment, territory and land in Peru and Paraguay, Amnesty International expressed its concern over the misuse of the justice system to harass and silence environmental rights defenders in Peru.
The organization reiterates its call to the Peruvian authorities to refrain from using criminal law against human rights defenders as a way of obstructing their work; identify any baseless criminal proceedings against them; and drop the charges in those cases where there are no grounds to continue the criminal proceedings.
In addition, the organization urges the state to adopt a comprehensive public policy of protection of human rights defenders, in accordance with international commitments adopted by the state and established in the National Human Rights Plan 2018-2021.