Case History: Máxima Acuña de Chaupe
On 3 May 2017, the Supreme Court of Peru acquitted human rights defender, Maxima Acuña de Chaupe, who had been charged with illegally occupying land.
Máxima Acuña de Chaupe is a member of the Asociación de Mujeres en Defensa de la Vida (Association of Women in Defence of Livelihood) and of the Unión Latinoamericana de Mujeres - ULAM (Latin American Women's Union). The human rights defender has lived on her land in Tragadero Grande, Sorochuco, Cajamarca for 24 years.
On 3 May 2017, the Supreme Court of Peru acquitted human rights defender, Maxima Acuña de Chaupe, who had been charged with illegally occupying land.
On 3 May 2017, the Supreme Court of Peru ruled that the human rights defender did not illegally occupy land. The case was brought by the Yanacocha mining company in 2011 and accused Maxima Acuña de Chaupe of using violence to illegally occupy an area known as the Tragadero Grande. The Supreme Court affirmed that the human rights defender did not commit any crime and that police reports show that the land has been peacefully lived on by the defender for many years.
Máxima Acuña de Chaupe has lived in Tragadero Grande, Sorochuco, Cajamarca for over 20 years, purchasing the property in 1994. The Yanacocha mining company claims to have purchased the land from the community as part of a package deal but the human rights defender maintains that her family has never given their authorisation or consented to the sale of this land. The company has since started a campaign of attacks and judicial harassment against the human rights defender. Based on these experiences, Máxima Acuña de Chaupe became an outspoken opponent of the mining project and a defender of her traditional way of life and of the environment in northern Peru. In 2016, the human rights defender won the Goldman Prize for environmental defenders.
After the decision, the Yanacocha mining company stated that it “respects the ruling of the Supreme Court in this criminal case and it will continue to defend the company’s rights in the civil court cases still pending decision”.
Front Line Defenders has previously reported on several attacks, attempted evictions, demolitions, and intimidation against Máxima Acuña de Chaupe. The human rights defender has faced physical assaults, attacks against her livestock and land, legal harassment, defamation and stigmatisation in her community as a result of her efforts to hold onto her land and advocate for the preservation of the ecosystem in northern Peru, known as the Lagoons region.
Máxima Acuña de Chaupe and her family are beneficiaries of precautionary measures granted by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on 5 May 2014. However, the state has failed to comply with the measures since it has not taken any action to ensure the security and protection of the family.
Front Line Defenders welcomes the decision by the Supreme Court of Peru and urges the authorities in Peru to close civil proceedings pending against Maxima Acuña de Chaupe, since it believes they are related to the ongoing judicial harassment against the defender solely because of her work in defence of the land.
On 16 November 2015, unidentified persons who are believed to work for the Yanacocha Mining Company trespassed onto the land of human rights defender Ms Máxima Acuña de Chaupe.
They broke into her home and destroyed her recently rebuilt kitchen.
The Yanacocha mining company claims to have purchased the land from the community as part of a package deal but the human rights defender maintains that her family has never given their authorisation nor conceded to the sale of this land. Máxima Acuña de Chaupe has become a figurehead of the opposition to the open-pit gold and copper mine, named Conga, and has supported people who have been forcibly evicted as a result of the mining development.
The invasion happened between 7:30am and 4:30pm, while there was no one in the house. The unidentified men,entered the property of the human rights defender without authorisation and destroyed her kitchen.
This incident follows several acts of harassment and threats that the human rights defender was subjected to. Máxima Acuña de Chaupe claims that she is currently being surveyed by security cameras installed by the mining company outside her property. The human rights defender received death threats in February 2014. The following year, on 3 February 2015, she had the preliminary construction of a new home demolished and furthermore, two days later the employees of the Yanacocha attempted to evict Máxima Acuña de Chaupe and her family from Tragadero Grande. More recently, in August 2015, Máxima Acuña de Chaupe reported new death threats and intimidation.
Máxima Acuña de Chaupe and her family are beneficiaries of precautionary measures granted by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on 5 May 2014. However, the State has failed to comply with the measures since it has not taken actions to ensure the security and protection of the family.
On 5 August 2015 Ms Maxima Acuña de Chaupe reported that approximately 30 police officers, an armed member of the Special Operations of the Peruvian National Police (DINOES) wearing a bullet-proof vest, and 50 members of local communities, mainly Chugurmayo, gathered at the perimeter of her land.
Days prior, on 30 July 2015, she received death threats from an employee of the mining company Yanacocha, who said he would “make her disappear”. The mining company has installed a surveillance post in front of the human rights defender's family home, from which the family are constantly monitored by personnel of the company.
The mining company constructed a fence along the border of Maxima Acuña's land and now have alpacas grazing on this neighbouring land. So-called guardians of the alpacas have been permanently appointed to watch the land and these people have a clear view into the home of the human rights defender and her family, who are now subjected to permanent surveillance. It was one of these employees of the mining company who made the recent death threat against Maxima Acuña.
This is not the first act of intimidation that the land rights defender has suffered. Máxima Acuña de Chaupe previously received death threats in February 2014, when DINOES officials attempted to forcibly evict the family for a second time, following a previous attempt in 2011. The following year, on 3 February 2015, members of DINOES and the private security firm of the Yanacocha mining company, as well as a number of its engineers, demolished the preliminary construction of a new home that her family were building on their land. Later that same month employees of the Yanacocha mining company attempted to invade Máxima Acuña de Chaupe's property.
The human rights defender has reported all of these incidents to the local authorities and the Inter-American Human Rights Commission granted Máxima and her family protective measures on 5 May 2014. Despite this, the state has taken no action to ensure the family's security and protection.
On 5 February 2015, at approximately 10:00 am, some 200 employees of the mining company Yanacocha attempted to invade the property of land rights defender Ms Maxima Acuña de Chaupe. To date, approximately 80 armed policemen are maintaining a constant watch over the property. The mining company has installed a surveillance post in front of the family's home, from which the family are constantly monitored by personnel of the company.
This latest intimidation comes two days after the demolition of the construction of a new home of land rights defender. The demolition follows the trespass onto the property of Máxima Acuña de Chaupe on 20 January 2015 by 15 police officers carrying arms and shields and accompanied by engineers of the mining company and members of the Swedish security firm SECURITAS. The human rights defender has reported all of these incidents, but reportedly the authorities have taken no action to protect her or her family.
On 17 December 2014, the Court of Justice of Cajamarca ruled in favour of Máxima Acuña de Chaupe and her family, declaring them innocent of charges of trespass brought against them by the mining company Yanacocha. However, the company reportedly maintains that the human rights defender is unlawfully occupying its territory and that the demolition and trespass upon her property were performed “in the defence of its rights and in strict compliance with the law.” In August 2011 and in February 2014, Máxima Acuña de Chaupe and her family were the victims of an attempted forced eviction and they have received death threats on a number of occasions.
On 3 February 2015, approximately 200 people trespassed onto the land of human rights defender Ms Máxima Acuña de Chaupe and demolished the preliminary construction of a new home that her family were building on their land. Allegedly, shots were fired by members of the group, which included employees of the Division of Special Operations of the Peruvian National Police (DINOES) and the private security firm of the Yanacocha mining company, as well as a number of its engineers.
At approximately 9:00 am, the armed group entered the property of the human rights defender without authorisation and demolished the building, which was being constructed a few metres from Máxima Acuña de Chaupe's current residence. No representative of the Public Prosecutor was present during the demolition, and no document authorising the action was presented.
The demolition follows a decision of the Court of Justice of Cajamarca on 17 December 2014, which confirmed that Máxima Acuña de Chaupe was the lawful owner of the property. However, the Yanacocha mining company reportedly maintains that the human rights defender is unlawfully occupying its territory and that the demolition and trespass upon her property were performed “in the defence of its rights and in strict compliance with the law.” Previously, in February 2014, Máxima Acuña de Chaupe and her family were the victims of an attempted forced eviction and death threats.
On 5 August 2014, Ms Máxima Acuña de Chaupe and three members of her family were sentenced on charges of “aggravated usurpation” by the Unipersonal Court of Celendin, to suspended prison term of two years and eight months. Moreover, Máxima Acuña de Chaupe was ordered to pay the costs of proceedings and a civil reparation of 5.500 Soles (€1,500) for damages done to the Mining Company Yanacocha. The judge also ordered that the family must leave the disputed lands. The Acuña Chaupe family's lawyer, Ms Mirtha Vasquez, will file an appeal to the second instance Superior Court Justice in Cajamarca.
Máxima Acuña de Chaupe has become a symbol of the local community's struggle against the Conga project. As a result of her resistance to the mining company and her role in opposing the mining project, Máxima Acuña de Chaupe has been subjected to threats, raids and destruction of her property, as well as physical violence against herself and her family. In February 2014, Front Line Defenders issued an urgent appeal on the death threats against Máxima Acuña de Chaupe. On 5 May 2014, the Chaupe family was granted precautionary measures by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights – IACHR. Earlier in 2014, Máxima Acuña de Chaupe attended a Forum for human rights defenders in Brussels to advocate for the land rights of her community.
Between 21 and 24 July 2014, there was a series of attacks on members of the Chaupe family. Reportedly, Máxima Acuña de Chaupe's husband received death threats from a group of police and civil servants who visited their land.
On 22 May 2014, the deadline for the Peruvian state to respond to the precautionary protection measures granted by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) passed without any public official from the Peruvian state having communicated with the communities, or their representatives, as required by the IACHR's order.
On 19 May 2014, communities in Celendin, Cajamarca and Hualgayoc-Bambamarca and the Rondas Campesinas (Peasant Patrol), which were the subject of the IACHR's order, sent a letter to the Ministry of Justice and to the Special Public Prosecutor for Supranational Issues demanding that the state comply with the IACHR's resolution.
On 5 May 2014, 46 human rights defenders and leaders of the farming communities and the Rondas Campesinas of Cajamarca were granted precautionary protection measures by the Inter-American Commission on Human rights (IACHR) in light of the pattern of threats, harassment and acts of violence that they experienced in their work to protect human rights. In addition, the Commission found that there was no clear evidence of measures having been taken by Peru to date to ensure their protection. The IACHR also stated that, in light of the controversy over the potential human rights violations linked to local mining projects, the communities' ancestral lands were also to be the subject of a protection order.
The decision was in response to an application for precautionary measures submitted by the Asociación Interétnica de la Selva Peruana – AIDESEP (the Inter-Ethnic Association of the Peruvian Forests), Confederación Campesina del Perú – CCP (Peasant Confederation of Peru), Confederación Nacional Agraria – CNA (Agrarian National Confederation), Confederación Nacional de Comunidades del Perú Afectadas por la Minería – CONACAMI (National Confederation of Communities of Peru affected by Mining) and Organización Nacional de Mujeres Indígenas, Andinas y Amazónicas del Perú – ONAMIAP (National Organisation of Indigenous, Andean and Amazonian Women of Peru).
The human rights defenders work to protect the rights of the inhabitants of the region in the context of the development of a mining project, which they believe will have severe environmental and social impacts. The members of the groups have been victims of defamation, harassment, threats, attacks, thefts, arbitrary detention, judicial harassment, and killings as a result of their peaceful and legitimate human rights work. Some of them have faced over 40 court proceedings, most of them dismissed or closed with an acquittal, on charges ranging from obstruction or resistance of authority, to usurpation, trespassing, damage, disturbance or terrorism.
The Commission highlighted the importance of the work of human rights defenders and the need to protect them. In accordance with Article 25 of the Rules of the IACHR, the Commission ordered Peru to adopt the measures necessary to guarantee the life and personal integrity of the human rights defenders mentioned in the application. In addition, the state was required to consult with the persons at issue in deciding what measures to adopt, and report within 15 days on what steps have been taken. Finally, the state was ordered to report on the investigation into the acts that caused the need for precautionary measures, in order to avoid the need for similar protective measures in the future.
The IACHR specifically cited the claims regarding violence putting at risk the personal integrity of communities during a number of protests, the attempted displacement of the Chaupe family, and threats and violence against journalist and human rights defender Mr César Estrada Chuquilín. The acts were claimed to have been principally committed by members of the state security forces and members of the private security of the mining company. Ms Máxima Acuña de Chaupe is involved in a land dispute with a mining company, which claimed to have acquired the land in Cajamarca. Because of the dispute, her resistance and her role in the movement opposing the mining project, the human rights defender has been subjected to threats, raids on and destruction of her property, and physical violence both against herself and her family. César Estrada Chuquilín is a journalist who has reported on the land dispute in which the Chaupe family is involved. The journalist has been assaulted and had property confiscated multiple times, as well as being the victim of defamation. On 21 February 2014, he was notified of charges against him for alleged theft and financial irregularities, and his father received death threats on account of his son's work in the same month.
On the morning of 4 February 2014, 18 agents of the Division of Special Operations of the Peruvian National Police (DINOES) entered the property of human rights defender Ms Máxima Acuña de Chaupe in Tragadero Grande, with the aim of putting a stop to her agricultural activities and evicting those present. On 30 January 2014, the human rights defender had received a threatening phone call.
On 4 February 2014, 18 DINOES agents arrived in three trucks in an attempt to stop Máxima Acuña de Chaupe and her family from carrying out work on their land. The attempted forced eviction follows on from an incident on 30 January 2014; at 10:30am on that day, the human rights defender received a threatening phone call in which she was told “Leave your property, if not you will die”. Two hours later, as she and her daughter were surveying their crops, two DINOES agents came onto her land and told her she should not be growing there as it was not her property. Two more agents were standing on the perimeter of her land, and four more were sitting in two trucks outside the house. At 12pm, a policeman and an armed DINOES agent entered the house and ordered that everybody inside leave immediately. Eventually, upon seeing Máxima Acuña de Chaupe calling the local radio station “Radio Lider”, the officials left.
On 19 January 2014, the Bolañios family were forcibly evicted from their home by DINOES agents in Tragadero Grande. On 26 January 2014, Máxima Acuña de Chaupe was threatened by a neighbour of hers who is a known supporter of the Conga plan. It is reported that this neighbour's husband is president of the local community, and had been spreading information that the human rights defender would be evicted very soon.
Máxima Acuña de Chaupe and her family have been subjected to monitoring and even video-recording of their activities by persons claiming to be engineers from the Yanacocha mining company. In May 2011 and again in August 2011, her homestead was destroyed twice. On 10 August 2011, she and her daughter were beaten unconscious by police. On 22 May 2012, officials attempted to evict her from the land and in the days that followed, Yanacocha initiated legal proceedings against the family. On 30 January 2013, sixty DINOES agents destroyed the campsite of local supporters, “Ronderos”, and killed several of the family's animals. On 29 October 2012, the family were given a three-year suspended sentence and ordered to pay a fine to the company, a verdict which was found null and void in an appeal heard on 2 August 2013 due to errors of law and fact as well as ignoring evidence favourable to the family. However, the case remains open.