Peru: Awajun leader killed as community resists mining in their territory

Peaceful Assembly

Awajun and Wampis resist mining project

On 10th and 11th February 2020, members of Peru’s Awajun and Wampis communities protested outside the main offices of the Amazonas regional government to denounce alleged action by the government to enable mining in their territories. Hundreds joined the demonstrations, which were convened by six Indigenous people’s organisations. They claim that the regional government granted official recognition to two communities of mineworkers in Awajun territory, in a manoeuvre to reportedly favour Afrodita SAC. The corporation is seeking permission for a mining project in an area designated for the creation of a national park. “They needed a native community to legally implement the mines,” an Indigenous leader told independent media Wayka. “(…) These new communities will have the autonomy and rights of an Indigenous people, even though they camouflage miners who want to advance a consultation to approve the mining activity.”

According to local reports, protesters were repressed by security agents, resulting in at least eight people injured, two with serious wounds. Following the demonstrations, on 12th February 2020 the government withdrew and annulled the controversial recognition. On 27th February 2020, Indigenous communities of the Peruvian Amazon organised another demonstration in defence of their lives and territories following the killing of Awajun member Américo Entsakua Santiak, reported in the “Association” section of this update.


Awajun community leader tortured and killed

On 13th February 2020, Américo Entsakua Santiak, a leader of the Awajun Indigenous community of Pumpshat was found dead with signs of torture in Santa María de Nieva, Condorcanqui, Amazonas department. According to reports, the defender’s tongue and fingers had been cut off by his killers. The murder took place days after Awajun and Wampis communities organised protests in defence of their territories, raising suspicions that the death could be linked to mining interests in the region. Further information on the protests is detailed in the “Peaceful Assembly” section of this update.

The civil society coalition Coordinadora Nacional de Derechos Humanos (National Human Rights Coordination - CNDDHH) also warned that another Awajun leader’s life was threatened following the protests.

Peru’s rights defenders at risk

Michel Forst, the United Nations Special Rapporteur (UNSR) on the situation of human rights defenders, undertook an official mission to Peru between 21st January and 3rd February 2020. In his end of mission statement, Forst said he had met with more than 475 human rights defenders, government and civil society representatives. Based on these testimonies, Forst concluded that a large number of human rights defenders in Peru are not able to operate in a safe and enabling environment. According to the UNSR, Peruvian rights defenders reported often facing threats, harassment, intimidation, criminalisation and physical attacks. Forst also highlighted the judicial harassment of defenders, particularly those fighting for environmental causes.

The statement asserts that land and environmental rights defenders, particularly Indigenous and ethno-territorial communities, are those most at risk in Peru. These communities are subjected to "smear campaigns, exclusion from decision-making fora, criminalisation including with fabricated prosecutions, wrongful detentions, surveillance, threats, violence and murder." Finally, Forst outlined a series of key measures and proposed seven principles to guide the government of Peru when developing policies and strategies to protect human rights defenders. A full report is expected in the first semester of 2020.


Journalists threatened in Huaraz

Two reporters with news website Noticiero Libre from the city of Huaraz, Ancash department, said they faced harassment after reporting on alleged links between a Peruvian member of congress and organised crime. On 30th January 2020, Hugo Gonzáles Henestroza reportedly had his life threatened by a commenter on Facebook defending the congress member. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) sought the contact information of the person who sent the threatening comment but could not locate it. Another journalist with the media outlet, Yldefonso Espinoza, said he spotted a vehicle with an obscured licence plate repeatedly surveilling his home in Huaraz. On 3rd February 2020, both communicators submitted letters to the Interior Ministry requesting police protection. A representative of the Interior Ministry told CPJ that both cases were under evaluation.

Journalist continues to face legal harassment from religious group

Peruvian journalist Paola Ugaz faces five libel lawsuits filed by members of religious group Sodalitium Christianae Vitae (SVC). As reported previously on the Monitor, Ugaz has been harassed by people linked to SVC for several years. In December 2019, she was notified of two more lawsuits against her by SVC members. The journalist also reported facing continuous harassment on social media, and suspicions that her email and telephone communications were being hacked. Ugaz’s reporting exposed the group’s alleged practices of the physical, psychological and sexual abuse of minors. In 2015, she and journalist Pedro Salinas co-authored a book entitled "Mitad Monjes, Mitad Soldados" ("Half Monks, Half Soldiers") based on their journalistic investigation of SVC. In 2017, an internal investigation revealed that the group’s founder, Luis Fernando Figari, and other high-ranking former members had abused at least 36 people, among whom were 19 minors.

The Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) and national press associations have expressed concern over the legal actions against the reporter and condemned the use of lawsuits to intimidate and discourage journalists through systematic legal harassment.