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30 April 2019

Killing of human rights defenders strengthens call for public policy for their protection

In the first months of 2019, Peru has seen an increase in the number of killings of human rights defenders. The cases of Cristian Javá Ríos, Paul McAuley, Wilbelder Vegas Torres, and Claudia Vera illustrate the state’s failure to provide integral protection for human rights defenders at risk, as well as an increased need for a human rights based policy addressing this issue.

On 17 April, in Urarinas, located in the Amazon region, indigenous rights defender Cristian Javá Ríos was killed in an ambush reportedly organised by gang members who were trying to expel indigenous communities from their lands by causing leaks from oil pipelines. On 2 April, British missionary and human rights defender Paul McAuley was killed and burned in Iquitos, in the Amazon region. His body was found by students from the Red Ambiental Loretana shelter, established by the defender himself. On 19 January, Wilbelder Vegas Torres, leader of the Frente de Defensa de la comunidad campesina San Sebastián de Suyo, was shot dead while travelling in the Ayabaca region. The environmental human rights defender had been protesting against illegal mining, and had requested protection from the state due to threats received prior to the attack. On 30 March, transgender rights defender and sex worker Claudia Vera was killed in Lima, while working on the street. The human rights defender had founded the human rights organisation Jóvenes Cambiando Vihdas, which brings visibility, education, empowerment and work opportunities to young HIV-positive persons.

At the time of the killings, Peru had no specific laws or policies on the protection of human rights defenders, and the approval of projects promoted by civil society organisations was being obstructed by political actors linked to the extractive industries. On 25 April 2019, the Protocolo para garantizar la protección de personas defensoras de derechos humanos en el Perú (Protocol to guarantee the protection of human rights defenders in Peru) was approved by the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights. The Protocol establishes an official registry of security incidents against human rights defenders.

The Protocol is a welcome and necessary step towards the protection of human rights defenders. Nonetheless, Peruvian human rights defenders and their allies call on the authorities to adopt an integral protection policy that focuses on both reactive as well as preventive measures. The civil society proposals seek to guarantee a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders to perform their legitimate activities and also include broad government consultations with local human rights defenders on any legal and policy reforms that concern them.

Front Line Defenders urges the government of Peru to adopt and implement all necessary measures to ensure the protection of all human rights defenders, including by ratifying the Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Justice in Environmental Matters in Latin America and the Caribbean (Escazú Agreement), which represents a crucial step towards the protection of environmental rights defenders in the region.

Front Line Defenders condemns the killings of human rights defenders in Peru, and calls on the authorities to implement an integral protection policy for human rights defenders, as proposed by Peruvian civil society. Front Line Defenders remains worried about the chilling message sent to those who carry out human rights work in Peru through the patterns of killings of members of the LGBTI+ community and environmental rights defenders, and urges the state to adopt all necessary measures to protect their physical and psychological integrity.