The Peruvian authorities should carry out a prompt, thorough, and impartial investigation into the killing of five civilians during violent protests against mining activities in the Cajamarca region, Human Rights Watch said today. The authorities should also investigate the circumstances surrounding the arrest of an environmental activist, Marco Arana, and his treatment in detention.
Three civilians died from gunshot wounds on July 3, 2012, in the city of Celendín during a confrontation between protesters and police and army units outside the city hall. More than 30 other civilians were injured, several of them reportedly with bullet wounds, according to local hospital officials. The government declared a state of emergency in three of Cajamarca department’s provinces.
“The state has a responsibility to protect people from violence and to prosecute any protesters who used it,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “But even if law enforcement was responding to violence, any use of lethal force needs to be thoroughly investigated to determine whether police or soldiers acted lawfully.”
For several months there have been strikes and protests in Cajamarca against a large open-cast gold mine. The media reported that the violence on July 3 began when a group of construction workers were protesting non-payment of wages for a school building project. Those who died on July 3 – Faustino Silva Sánchez, José Eleuterio García Rojas, and César Medina Aguilar, a 17-year-old high school student – appear to have been shot after army units moved in to help the police. Another civilian, José Antonio Sánchez, who was gravely injured by a bullet wound in the throat, died in a hospital on July 5.
Joselito Vásquez Jambo was killed on July 4 during a clash between demonstrators and police in the town of Bambamarca in circumstances that remain unclear.
The Interior Ministry said in a public statement that two policemen guarding the town hall in Celendín had been hit in the legs with bullets fired by demonstrators trying to force their way into the building, and blamed leaders of the protests for the violence. Three soldiers were also seriously injured, the ministry said.
The United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials require law enforcement officials, in carrying out their duty, as far as possible, to apply non-lethal force before resorting to firearms in violent protests. Whenever the use of firearms is unavoidable, law enforcement officials should use restraint and act in proportion to the seriousness of the risk faced. The legitimate objective should be achieved with minimal damage and injury, and preservation of human life respected.
Arana, whom politicians accuse of leading the mining protests, was arrested on July 4 by about 40 police carrying riot shields and batons as he was sitting on a bench in the central square in the city of Cajamarca. They did not show a warrant or give a reason for the arrest, his lawyer told the media. He said that police had hit him repeatedly both during his arrest and in the police station. He was released early in the morning of July 5, after an official of the attorney general’s office found there was no legal reason to hold him.
“Even under a state of emergency there must be lawful grounds for an arrest and the prohibition on the ill-treatment of detainees remains absolute,” Vivanco said.