Peru: no justice five years after Bagua massacre

Amnesty International called on Peru's authorities to ensure that all those suspected of criminal responsibility in the Bagua violence are brought to justice, in a statement issued June 5, the fifth anniversary of the incident that left 33 people dead. Demonstrators and police were killed when troops fired on a road blockade launched to protest against a series of laws allowing for the exploitation of natural resources on indigenous lands. During the violence, 23 National Police officers were killed, along with 10 civilians. Hundreds more were injured. So far only protesters have been brought to trial. "If the Peruvian authorities are truly committed to bringing to justice those suspected of criminal responsibility for these deaths, it is not enough to punish the protesters and ignore possible abuses by the police," said Guadalupe Marengo, Amnesty's Americas deputy program director.

Violence broke out on 5 June 2009 when police moved in to break up a roadblock on a stretch of road known as the Curva del Diablo (Devil's Curve) near Bagua, Amazonas department. In the ensuing clash, 12 police officers were killed along with five local townsfolk and five indigenous protesters. Another police officer is presumed dead, as his whereabouts remain unknown. A further 200 people were injured in the violence, 80 with bullet wounds. The following day, 11 more police officers were killed while they were held hostage by indigenous protesters at a PetroPerú pumping station near the town of Imacita, Bagua province.

The trial of 53 people, the majority of them from the Awajun and Wampís indigenous peoples, for their alleged responsibility for acts of violence and the killing of the 12 police officers on the first day of conflict, opened May 14. This is one of several judicial processes launched after the violence. Three of the judicial processes involving protesters have concluded, but so far little progress has been made to determine the responsibility of the security forces. Likewise, no progress has been made to investigate the political authorities who gave the orders to launch the police operation.

The protesters on trial face possible sentences ranging from six years to life imprisonment. However, human rights lawyers have signalled that there is no strong evidence to link any of the accused to the crimes they are being prosecuted for. "Amnesty International will be watching the trial of these people closely," said Guadalupe Marengo. "Those responsible for the tragic events in Bagua must be brought to justice, but above all the trial process must be fair. If the prosecutorial authorities cannot produce solid and admissible evidence against those accused then they must be freed, otherwise justice will not be done."

In 2009 the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples called for an independent special committee to conduct a thorough investigation into the events at Bagua. Special Rapporteur James Anaya added that: "The prosecution of indigenous people for protests should not be used as a method to suppress freedom of expression, and should be done only in cases where there is clear evidence of criminality."

The Inter-Ethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Rainforest (AIDESEP), which led the protest campaign in 2009, issued a statement calling on Peru's government to resume dialogue with indigenous peoples and civil society around the outstanding issues behind the protests. (Amnesty International, AIDESEP, June 5; Servindi, May 23)

  1. Wikileaks cables reveal US role in Bagua massacre

    Public Citizen on June 9 noted 2009 US diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks that point to a Washington role in the Bagua massacre. Four days before the killings, a cable written by US Ambassador Michael McKinley addressed the growing indigenous protests, stating, "Should Congress and [Peruvian] President [Alan] Garcia give in to the pressure, there would be implications for the recently implemented Peru-US Free Trade Agreement… The government’s reluctance to use force to clear roads and blockades is contributing to the impression that the communities have broader support than they actually do." This mirrored public comment by Peruvian government officials who argued that acceding to indigenous demands to annul controversial new laws would doom the entire FTA.

    On the day of the killings, the US embassy in Lima sought to justify the government’s actions, stating in another cable that the security forces in Bagua had "reluctantly chosen to enforce the rule of law."