Risk of rights violations during Peru water protests

Protesters opposing an irrigation project in southern Peru are thought to be at risk of grave human rights violations after the President approved a new law allowing the use of the military during civil unrest, Amnesty International said.Residents in the town of Espinar and the nearby city of Cusco have been protesting against the Majes Siguas II irrigation project which they believe will restrict their water supply.On 11 September, in anticipation of the protests, the Peruvian government authorized the deployment of the military to support the police in Espinar under the new law.According to media reports, violent clashes between protesters and the security forces in Espinar last week left one man dead and 44 injured.”Using the military during these protests could put the protesters at a real risk of acts of excessive force committed against them with impunity” said Guadalupe Marengo, Deputy Americas Director at Amnesty International.”This new law is a regressive step. Past use of the military for law enforcement purposes in Peru has resulted in grave human rights abuses, which to this day remain in impunity. It should be seriously reconsidered.”The new law, issued on 1 September, allows the use of the military during civil unrest, including demonstrations.It also specifies that, should the military commit any illegal acts during its deployment in such situations, these will be dealt with in military courts which have been accused of being neither impartial nor independent.International human rights law states that perpetrators of human rights violations must be tried in civilian courts.”This law contravenes human rights standards and if put into practice may result in the use of excessive force in the protests in Cusco and in other situations of legitimate social protest,” said Guadalupe Marengo.”This must not be allowed to happen. Instead, the authorities must undertake a genuine and open consultation with the affected communities and commission a comprehensive environmental and human rights impact assessment of the project.”According to media reports the “Majes Siguas II” project will include a dam and water system to irrigate 95,000 acres of agricultural land in the region of Arequipa.The dam is part of a Peruvian government plan to boost agriculture and diversify the economy away from mining.Despite two judicial rulings suspending the tender process for the project and ordering an environmental impact assessment, the government has gone ahead with the tender process.