Peru’s government is more likely to use deadly violence in marginalized areas of the country as part of its crackdown on recent anti-government protests, a report by rights group Amnesty International has found.
Thursday’s report, “Lethal racism”, says that the government’s actions may amount to extrajudicial killings in some cases. Amnesty has called on Peru’s Attorney General’s Office to investigate the use of excessive force in response to the protests.
“The use of lethal weapons against protesters shows a blatant disregard for human life,” said Agnes Callamard, secretary general of Amnesty, in a press release.
“Despite the government’s efforts to paint them as terrorists or criminals, those killed were demonstrators, observers and spectators. Almost all of them came from poor, Indigenous and campesino backgrounds, suggesting a racial and socioeconomic bias in the use of deadly force.
The report is the latest finding that the Peruvian government has used disproportionate violence and targeted people from poor and indigenous backgrounds during the protests that swept the country after the ouster of the former President Pedro Castillo.
The Office of the Attorney General of Peru must investigate all, up to the highest level, who ordered or allowed the illegitimate use of lethal force by the security forces that resulted in 49 deaths during the protests from in December to February. https://t.co/3pujU9Z7uq
— Amnesty International (@amnesty) May 25, 2023
Boluarte faced criticism
The crisis began on December 7, when Castillo faced his third impeachment hearing.
Instead of facing an opposition-led Congress, Castillo tried to dissolve Peru’s legislature and rule by decree, a move widely considered illegal. He was quickly impeached, removed from office and arrested. Meanwhile, his former vice president, Dina Boluarte, was sworn in as Peru’s first female president.
Castillo’s supporters, many of them from poor and rural areas seen as neglected by the state, took to the streets to protest his imprisonment. Among their demands are calls for a new constitution and elections.
Boluarte’s administration has since been criticized for its heavy-handed response to the protests and failure to address popular discontent. Amnesty’s report found that, between December and February, 49 protesters were killed.
The government’s response has also raised tensions between Peru and other countries in the region, especially those with leaders who are not inclined to be friendly to Castillo.
Peruvian authorities on Thursday declared Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador a persona non grata after months of denouncing Boluarte as a “puppet”. He also offered Castillo and his family asylum in Mexico.
Lopez Obrador became the second major Latin American leader to be slapped with the label after former Bolivian President Evo Morales.
‘Language of terrorism’
The Amnesty report analyzed 52 documented cases of people killed or injured in places such as Ayacucho, Juliaca, Andahuaylas and Chincheros, including 25 deaths.
The organization concluded that 20 out of 25 killings may involve extrajudicial executions. They involved cases where security forces used live fire on people and aimed at vulnerable parts of the body such as the head, neck and abdomen.
When faced with criticism and calls for accountability, Peruvian authorities often frame protesters as agitators seeking to create chaos.
“We are taking a polarized country, a country with conflict, a country with extremist sectors that seek to create chaos and chaos, with their own agenda, to destroy our institutions and democracy,” Boluarte said in a speech in January.
“Are we perhaps returning to the years of terrorist violence, where dogs were hanged from lampposts?”
Will Freeman, a fellow for Latin American studies at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), a United States think tank, told Al Jazeera that such rhetoric taps into collective memories from a period of civil conflict that plagued Peru in the 1980s and 1990s.
During that time, armed groups such as the Maoist Shining Path attempted to overthrow the government and carried out violent campaigns targeting civilians, including Indigenous people.
In response, the government began a brutal counterinsurgency effort that also included widespread abuses.
“Politicians are trying to use that Shining Path history to equate the protesters today, but that’s wrong and insulting,” Freeman said in a phone call. “It’s the weaponization of the language of terrorism to scare people.”
The Amnesty report said authorities were more likely to use lethal violence in regions with large indigenous populations such as Ayacucho, although protest activities were similar in frequency and intensity to other areas.
“The findings of this report are only the tip of the iceberg of a painful history of discrimination and exclusion of indigenous peoples in Peru,” Erika Guevara-Rosas, director of Amnesty America, told Al Jazeera by email.
He added that family members of the victims who spoke to Amnesty described “humiliating treatment” in “hospitals or public offices, with insults referring to their ethnic identity”.
In January, Peru’s Attorney General launched a series of inquiries to identify those responsible for the vast majority of civilian deaths during the unrest, but Guevara-Rose said accountability remains a long way off.
“The authorities have not achieved any significant accountability for the crimes committed by the police and military in recent months,” he said.
“Basic steps must be taken urgently including interviewing police and military officials urgently, carrying out the remaining forensic investigations, as well as ensuring that the investigations take place on the ground and close to the victims. “