Criminal Charges Against Indigenous Leaders
Government Urged to Drop Criminal Charges Against Indigenous Leaders and Allow Independent Investigation into Violent Incidents in Bagua
Lima, Peru – The Peruvian Congress voted today 82 – 12 to repeal two of nine contested laws in an attempt to end widespread indigenous protests that have been paralyzing transportation and commerce in the Peruvian Amazon for 70 days. In a complete shift of discourse, President Garcia admitted that “there were a series errors” in the government’s handling of this conflict and asked Congress to repeal decrees 1090 and 1064, which were passed in 2008 as part of a package of new laws to facilitate the implementation of the Free Trade Agreement with the United States.
Having witnessed the vote in the Peruvian Congress, Daysi Zapata, acting President of AIDESEP, Peru’s national Amazonian indigenous organization, speaking to Reuters declared: “This is a historic day for all indigenous people in Peru. There are still seven legislative decrees left,” she said suggesting that today’s action addresses only part of indigenous peoples’ demands.
Primer Minister Simon, who has been a lead negotiator to the indigenous communities, said Tuesday that he would resign after bringing the current conflict closer to resolution. The Peruvian Government has been heavily criticized for the June 5 attack to quell nonviolent protests by Amazonian indigenous communities, which resulted in dozens of deaths of both protesters and police and left 150 of indigenous demonstrators injured.
In addition to decrees 1090 and 1064, indigenous organizations point to at least seven other laws that continue to pose a threat to their constitutionally guaranteed rights. In addition to the repeal of all these controversial laws, indigenous people are demanding that the Peruvian Government lift the State of Emergency, in effect since May 9 in several regions throughout the Amazon. AIDESEP is also calling for the Government to drop criminal charges against indigenous leaders such as Alberto Pizango. Pizango was given safe passage to leave the country and is now exiled in Nicaragua.
In the United States, fifteen human rights and environmental organizations recently sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other top Administration officials urging the United States to address the political crisis in Peru. Representatives from this coalition met with the U.S. Trade Representative’s office on Wednesday to again urge the U.S. Government to publicly clarify if Peru would be penalized for revoking the package of “free trade laws.”
The dramatic shift in the Garcia Administration’s discourse is likely due to the unprecedented international and domestic condemnation of the attacks on peaceful demonstrations on June 5 in Bagua. Tens of thousands protested in cities throughout Peru on June 11 in support of Peru’s indigenous peoples. Peruvian consulates and embassies worldwide have been the site of repeated vigils and protests. Tens of thousands have sent letters to Peruvian and U.S. government officials. Celebrities including Q’orianka Kilcher and Benjamin Bratt, both part Peruvian, as well as Nobel Prize Laureate Rigoberta Menchu, have publicly condemned the violence in Peru while calling for a peaceful solution. Leading international human rights bodies including the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, and the International Labor Organization have pressed the Garcia Administration to end repression and uphold the rights of indigenous peoples. Yesterday, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of Indigenous People arrived in Peru for a 3-day visit to gather information about the violent incident in Bagua.
Amazon Watch’s Executive Director, Atossa Soltani, reacted to the news with the following statement: “The Peruvian Congress’s repeal of the two decrees is a welcome first step in bringing indigenous rights in Peru back to where they were before the decrees were promulgated in 2008. The conflict has become a watershed moment for Peru’s policies in the Amazon and has invigorated national debate about historic violations of indigenous peoples rights. Today’s good news notwithstanding, indigenous peoples are likely to continue to be at risk by Garcia’s policies to open up the Amazon to extractive industries.”
Since 2006, the government has authorized oil and gas concessions covering over 70 percent of the Peruvian Amazon, much of it on indigenous lands (see Perupetro map at http://mirror.perupetro.com.pe/exploracion01-e.asp).
For more information, see http://www.amazonwatch.org/peru-protests.php