Planned protests against a copper mining project in southern Peru must be allowed to go ahead peacefully and without police repression, said Amnesty International, amid fears of a recurrence of the fatal violence that marred protests in recent weeks.
Four people – including one police officer – have been killed and hundreds injured since late April during protests against the planned Tía María copper mining project. The Peruvian authorities imposed a state of emergency in the region following the latest killing on 22 May, and the army has now been deployed to the area.
“The world is watching the Peruvian government this week. With more protests planned for the coming days, authorities must do all in their power to allow people to voice their concerns peacefully, without fear of injury or worse,” said Guadalupe Marengo, Deputy Director Americas, Amnesty International.
“The killings we have already witnessed are unacceptable and those responsible must be held to account. The price of protest must not be death.”
The killings we have already witnessed are unacceptable and those responsible must be held to account. The price of protest must not be death.Guadalupe Marengo
On 22 May, Ramón Colque died after being shot. He was working as a street-vendor next to the protestor’s road blockade when he was shot. Three other men, including police officer Alberto Vásquez Durán, have died in clashes since late April.
For several weeks protesters have been gathering in the southern Peruvian province of Islay to protest against the planned Tía María copper mine. The protesters are concerned that the mine would negatively impact the local community, specifically by contaminating local water sources.
Mining company Southern Peru Copper Corporation, which is overseeing the project, called for a 60-day suspension of activity to allow for dialogue with the affected communities. But despite this step, clashes between protesters and police have continued.
“These protests have not occurred in a vacuum, and tensions over the mining project have been bubbling up for a while. The Peruvian authorities should have ensured that at the very first stages of the project the local communities were consulted, provided with insights into the plans and allowed to feed back their concerns,” said Guadalupe Marengo.
Amnesty International is now calling for peaceful protests to be allowed to continue. Violence from some protesters should not be used to quell the right to peaceful assembly and authorities should ensure that those who are protesting peacefully are able to continue to do so.
“Sadly this is far from the first instance of security force violence we have seen in Peru. In the past four years alone, almost 40 people have died in circumstances where it appears the police used excessive force, and the majority of these deaths have not been properly investigated,” said Guadalupe Marengo.
“We will be watching the policing of the coming protests carefully and are calling on Peruvian authorities to do the same. The security forces cannot be allowed to use unnecessary or excessive force for any reason.”
International human rights law and standards state that police or other security forces may use force only when strictly necessary and proportionate to a legitimate purpose. Firearms may only be used as a last resort in defence against an imminent threat of death or serious injury, and intentional lethal use of firearms may only be made when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life.