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Freedom House Backs Transparent Investigation into Peruvian Clashes
Freedom House calls for a transparent investigation into deadly clashes last week between police and thousands of indigenous protesters in Peru’s northern Bagua province. To avoid further bloodshed, the two sides should immediately restore dialogue over a series of presidential decrees that would open the Amazon rainforest to new investments, including oil drilling, logging and hydroelectric dams.
At least 40 people were killed as heavily-armed police attempted to remove the protesters who were blocking part of a highway. Human rights advocates say hundreds of people are missing. The protesters, who have attempted to block roads and rivers since April, believe the government of President Alan Garcia is trying to privatize their ancestral land.
"Freedom House is gravely concerned by the sharp escalation in violence in Peru which represents a failure by political actors on both sides," said Jennifer Windsor, Freedom House executive director. "A transparent investigation is needed to determine the true number of casualties, hold accountable those responsible for the violence and lay the groundwork for critical dialogue aimed at resolving the crisis."
The government declared a state of emergency in May and is enforcing a curfew in the affected areas. Authorities should ensure that local human rights advocates can conduct their work freely. Urgent tasks include supplying food and medicine to the injured, assisting the return of protesters to their homes, and coordinating the search for those missing. Freedom House also urges the government to uphold the legal rights of all citizens affected including scores of suspects in police custody.
As a signatory to International Labor Organization Convention 169, the Peruvian government is obligated to consult with indigenous communities when proposed regulations will affect their territories. Such consultation was absent prior to the release of the presidential decrees. Negotiations on how to resolve the situation should resume with assistance, if necessary, from respected interlocutors such as the Ombudsman’s office, the Catholic Church and the Organization of American States.
Peru has witnessed a steady increase in social conflicts in recent years, while the government’s capacity to mediate disputes has stagnated. The Amazonian indigenous community, historically excluded from decision-making in Lima, has become increasingly mistrustful of government intentions.
"Peru’s government cannot afford to continue on its present collision course with indigenous communities," said Windsor.
Peru is ranked Free in the 2009 edition of Freedom in the World, Freedom House’s annual survey of political rights and civil liberties, and Partly Free in the 2009 version of Freedom of the Press.
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Freedom House, an independent nongovernmental organization that supports the expansion of freedom in the world, has been monitoring political rights and civil liberties in Peru since 1972.
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Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.