The COVID-19 pandemic exposed shortcomings regarding access to the right to health in Peru. Inequality in access to a fragmented and underfunded health system, coupled with a lack of protection for health workers, contributed to Peru remaining among the 10 countries with the highest per capita death rate in the world. People and communities exposed to toxic metals and other toxic substances continued to demand public policies to ensure medical care. The state failed to respond effectively to continuing high rates of violence against women and girls. The lives of human rights defenders remained at serious risk due to lack of effective protection by the state and of successful criminal investigations into attacks and threats against them. Peru experienced a political, social and human rights crisis following the impeachment of the then President, Martín Vizcarra, in November.
A new Congress was elected in January. The country reported its first cases of COVID-19 in March and the President declared a state of emergency. Supreme decrees and subsequent laws established mandatory stay-at-home orders, among other economic and social measures to deal with the pandemic. As of 31 December, the Ministry of Health had reported 1,017,199 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 37,724 related deaths.
According to the National Statistics Institute, the informal employment rate in Peru was 72.6%. In this context, the mandatory measures implemented to deal with the pandemic had a particularly strong impact on livelihoods.
On 9 November, Congress voted to remove Martín Vizcarra from the Presidency due to allegations of corruption. A series of demonstrations protested against the actions of Congress. These intensified on 10 November during the inauguration of Manuel Merino as President and continued until his resignation on 15 November. On 17 November, Congressman Francisco Sagasti was sworn in as President.
Excessive use of force
In March, Congress passed the Police Protection Law which, among other provisions, establishes a presumption in favour of the police about the reasonableness of the use of lethal force. There were calls for the President to repeal the law as it violates international human rights law and could pave the way for impunity and excessive use of force by the National Police,1 particularly after the November protests.
The National Police responded to the protests in November against the impeachment of President Vizcarra using excessive and unnecessary force, which resulted in the death of two young men, Jack Bryan Pintado Sánchez and Jordan Inti Sotelo Camargo, on 14 November and the injury of more than 200 others. Human rights organizations reported that police fired ammunition and tear gas at peaceful demonstrators and beat or otherwise violently subdued people. Plainclothes police officers who refused to identify themselves arbitrarily arrested people, including a human rights defender. There were also reports of ill-treatment by the security forces, including of people who were reported missing. Criminal investigations into the deaths and injuries were continuing at the end of the year.
Freedoms of expression and assembly
During December, workers from the agro-export sector held protests calling for better salaries, benefits and working conditions. Protesters blocked major highways, demanding that the government repeal the Law for the Promotion of Agriculture and issue a new regulation. The Office of the Ombudsperson reported incidents of violence during the protests. Human rights organizations indicated that police repression of the protests resulted in three deaths and several injuries. The Minister of the Interior announced an internal investigation into the incidents and affirmed his willingness to cooperate with criminal investigations.
Human rights defenders
The lives and physical integrity of human rights defenders remained at serious risk. Despite a protection protocol, protection measures remained insufficient and human rights defenders continued to be attacked and killed.
The Office of the Ombudsperson reported in September that five defenders of the land, territory and environment had been killed in the first nine months of the year.
On 11 September, human rights defender Roberto Carlos Pacheco was shot dead by unidentified attackers. He had received death threats since 2012 linked to his activism against illegal mining in the Tambopata Reserve, Madre de Dios region, in the Amazon. By the end of the year, no one had been brought to justice for the killing and measures to protect the Pacheco family remained inadequate.2
Peru had yet to ratify the Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Justice in Environmental Matters in Latin America and the Caribbean (the Escazú Agreement).
Right to health
By the end of the year, the Peruvian Medical Association had reported 11,856 confirmed cases of doctors with COVID-19 and 256 deaths related to the virus. In December, the Peruvian Nurses Association reported 87 deaths related to the virus. Health workers’ unions believed that many infections were due to a lack of personal protective equipment.
Although significant progress had been made in developing a Special Multisectoral Plan for those exposed to toxic metals, the National Platform of Persons Affected by Toxic Metals continued to demand public policies to ensure medical care for those affected.
Indigenous Peoples’ rights
The virus quickly reached the territories of Indigenous Peoples and the state response was inadequate; health policies were introduced very late, lacked an intercultural approach and did not involve Indigenous Peoples in their design or implementation. On 31 December, the Ministry of Health reported 28,592 confirmed cases and 159 deaths related to COVID-19 among Indigenous Peoples.
In July, Law 31030, which guarantees parity and gender alternation on lists of candidates for general elections, was approved. The law stipulates that at least 50% of each party’s candidates for election to Congress must be women.
Violence against women and girls
According to the Ministry of the Interior Registry of Disappeared Persons, 10,685 women were reported missing between January and November. According to the Ministry of Women and Vulnerable Populations, between January and November gender-based violence hotlines received 171,631 calls from women, compared to 88,399 during the same period in 2019, and 121 women were victims of femicide.
In June, the Ombudsperson’s Office stated that there were cases in which emergency kits, containing emergency medication and tests, approved by the Ministry of Health for victims of sexual violence were not being provided to girls and women during the pandemic.
Rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people
More than two years after it was presented in Congress, a bill to recognize same-sex marriage had yet to be approved.
Transgender people continued to be denied social and legal recognition of their gender identity, affecting their rights to work, housing, freedom of movement, education and health, among others.
The Ministry of Justice issued a resolution recognizing same-sex couples for the purpose of granting economic benefits to those whose partners were health workers who died due to COVID-19.
Rights of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants
The closure of borders to curb the spread of COVID-19 meant migrants and asylum-seekers resorted to using irregular routes, putting them at risk of violence and trafficking, particularly women and children. For several months it was not possible to apply for asylum because the government office responsible was closed and on-line applications were suspended.
During the pandemic, migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees, mainly Venezuelans, did not receive any financial support to enable them to comply with stay-at-home measures. Some were evicted from their homes in circumstances that denied them their rights to health and housing.