Americas: Activists in Peru and Paraguay criminalized for defending the environment

Authorities in Peru and Paraguay are using vicious smear campaigns, forced evictions and unfounded criminal charges against land and environmental activists who dare to speak out about human rights issues, Amnesty International said in a new report released today.

“Those who bravely stand up to defend their land and the environment are frequently targeted because of their work. These attacks have a devastating impact on their physical, mental and emotional wellbeing, as well as that of their families and communities,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.

Those who bravely stand up to defend their land and the environment are frequently targeted because of their work. These attacks have a devastating impact on their physical, mental and emotional wellbeing, as well as that of their families and communities
Erika Guevara Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International

“The authorities in Peru and Paraguay must immediately stop misusing their criminal justice systems to persecute human rights defenders, obstruct their work and scare them into staying silent. Instead of criminalizing people for defending their land and natural resources, both States must take timely and effective measures to protect them.”

A Recipe for Criminalization: Defenders of the Environment, Territory and Land in Peru and Paraguay documents how authorities use harassment, stigmatization and intimidation tactics to undermine and obstruct community efforts to protect their land or water resources.

Lakes near Sorochuco and the Conga mining project; Cajamarca, Peru

The majority of the threats and attacks that Amnesty International has documented against human rights defenders in the Americas in recent years have been directed against communities or organizations dedicated to defending rights related to land, territory and the environment.

The report reveals how authorities in Paraguay subject community leaders to smear campaigns, forced evictions and unfounded judicial processes, to block them from carrying out their peaceful human rights work and to dissuade others from speaking against injustices. It also documents how Peruvian authorities stigmatize human rights defenders, as well as several alleged instances of the police using unnecessary and excessive force against people demonstrating against mining projects.

The report highlights emblematic cases, including that of Raúl Marín, a Paraguayan human rights lawyer who faces frequent harassment and stigmatization because of his work. Police arrested Raúl on 13 January 2016, while he was providing legal assistance to people forcefully evicted from the urban community of San Lorenzo. He was arbitrarily detained for a month and has since spent more than two years under house arrest for alleged “obstruction of justice”.

Portrait of Raul Marín

Raúl, who also faces two charges for “trespassing” from 2015, has denounced several obstructions of his right to an adequate defence, including being denied access to his case file for months. Having examined the case against Raúl, Amnesty International did not find any evidence that supports the charges against him. The organization is concerned that Paraguayan authorities are misusing the law to obstruct Raúl’s work on behalf of families and communities whose human rights have been violated.

The report documents another emblematic case in Peru, where police arrested 16 community leaders who were campaigning to protect their land and water resources from the Conga mining project in the northern Cajamarca region on 26 April 2013. The public prosecutor’s office charged them with abduction and coercion, and sought prison sentences of more than 30 years.

Amnesty International found that the prosecutors based their case on contradictory and second-hand testimony and failed to present any evidence of the alleged crimes during the public hearings that the organization attended. On 28 March 2017, a court dismissed the case due to lack of evidence.

Representatives of the Inter-Institucional Platform from Celendin demonstrating against the Conga mining project in Cajamarca

Amnesty International calls on the authorities in Peru and Paraguay to publicly recognize the legitimacy of the work of human rights defenders working on issues related to land, territory and the environment; stop misusing the justice system to harass and discredit them; identify and drop any unfounded criminal proceedings against them; and investigate and bring to justice all those responsible for threatening and attacking them.

Both States should also incorporate gender and ethnicity considerations into public policies to protect human rights defenders; and take measures to combat the structural causes of the violence against them, including impunity, stigmatization and discrimination.

The authorities in Peru and Paraguay must immediately stop misusing their criminal justice systems to persecute human rights defenders, obstruct their work and scare them into staying silent.
Erika Guevara Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International
View of crops in Caaguazú, Paraguay