Amnesty International has accused Peruvian authorities of acting with “a marked racist bias” in its crackdown on protests that have roiled the country since December, saying “populations that have historically been discriminated against” are being targeted, according to a report released on Thursday.
Drawing on data from the Peruvian Ombudsman’s Office, Amnesty says it “found that the number of possible arbitrary deaths due to state repression” were “disproportionately concentrated in regions with largely Indigenous populations.”
Amnesty also says that areas with majority indigenous populations have accounted for the majority of deaths since the protests began. “While the regions with majority Indigenous populations represent only 13% of Peru’s total population, they account for 80% of the total deaths registered since the crisis began,” Amnesty wrote.
The Ministry of Defense declined to comment on the report, telling CNN that there is an ongoing investigation being carried out by the country’s public prosecutor office, with which they are collaborating.
“Not only have we delivered all the requested information, but we have supported the transfer of (the public prosecutor’s) personnel (experts and prosecutors) to the area so that they can carry out their work. The Ministry of Defense is awaiting the results of the investigations,” the ministry’s spokesperson added.
CNN also reached out to the Interior Ministry, which oversees the police, for comment.
The Andean country’s weeks-long protest movement, which seeks a complete reset of the government, was sparked by the impeachment and arrest of former President Pedro Castillo in December and fueled by deep dissatisfaction over living conditions and inequality in the country.
While protests have occurred throughout the nation, the worst violence has been in the rural and indigenous south, which saw Castillo’s ouster as another attempt by Peru’s coastal elites to discount them.
“In a context of great political uncertainty, the first expressions of social unrest emerged from several of Peru’s most marginalized regions, such as Apurímac, Ayacucho and Puno, whose mostly Indigenous populations have historically suffered from discrimination, unequal access to political participation and an ongoing struggle to access basic rights to health, housing and education,” Amnesty wrote.
Protests have spread to other parts of the country and demonstrators’ fury has also grown with the rising death toll: As of Tuesday, at least 60 people have died in the violence, according to Peru’s Ombudsman’s Office, including one police officer.
Castillo’s successor, President Dina Boluarte, has so far refused to resign, while Peru’s Congress has rejected motions for early elections this year – one of the protesters’ main demands.
The human rights group accuses security forces of using firearms with lethal ammunition “as one of their primary methods of dispersing demonstrations, even when there was no apparent risk to the lives of others” – a violation of international human rights standards.
Amnesty says it documented 12 fatalities in which “all the victims appeared to have been shot in the chest, torso or head, which could indicate, in some cases, the intentional use of lethal force.”
There have also been instances of violence by some demonstrators, with the use of stones, fireworks and homemade slingshots. CNN has previously reported on the death of a policeman who was burned to death by protesters. Citing Health Ministry figures, Amnesty found that “more than 1,200 people have been injured in the context of protests and 580 police officers have been wounded.”
But overall, police and army have responded disproportionately, firing “bullets indiscriminately and in some cases at specific targets, killing or injuring bystanders, protesters and those providing first aid to injured people,” Amnesty said.
It cites the death of 18-year-old student John Erik Enciso Arias, who died in December 12 in the town of Andahuaylas, in the Apurímac region, where citizens had gathered to observe and film the protests. Erik’s death has been confirmed by the Peruvian ombudsman.
According to Amnesty, “videos and eyewitness accounts suggest that several police officers fired bullets from the rooftop of a building in front of the hill that day. State officials confirmed to Amnesty International the presence of police on the rooftop and the organization has verified footage showing that John Erik was not using violence against the police when he was killed.”
In another incident, as CNN has previously reported, Leonardo Hancco, 32, died after being shot in the abdomen near Ayacucho’s airport, where protesters had gathered with some trying to take control of the runway.
“Witnesses indicated that the armed forces fired live rounds for at least seven hours in and around the airport, at times chasing demonstrators or shooting in the direction of those helping the wounded,” Amnesty said of its investigation into the December 15 incident.
CNN has not verified the circumstances of each death as described by Amnesty.
The report also cites the death of 17 civilians, who were killed during a protest in the southeastern Puno region on January 9 “where a high percentage of the Indigenous population is concentrated,” it writes.
The city’s head of legal medicine told CNN en Español that autopsies of the 17 dead civilians found wounds caused by firearm projectiles.
“The Attorney General’s office itself declared that the deaths were caused by firearm projectiles, provoking one of the most tragic and disturbing events in the whole country,” Amnesty wrote.
“The grave human rights crisis facing Peru has been fueled by stigmatization, criminalization and racism against Indigenous peoples and campesino (rural farmworkers) communities who today take to the streets exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and in response have been violently punished,” Erika Guevara-Rosas, Amnesty International’s Americas Director, said in a statement.
“The widespread attacks against the population have implications regarding the individual criminal responsibility of the authorities, including those at the highest level, for their action and omission to stop the repression.”