The Andean country must redouble its efforts and comply with recommendations issued for the protection of environmental human rights defenders, says a human rights rapporteur

Peru: Criminalisation of environmental human rights defenders must stop – UN experts

PHOTO/ PNUD Perú - Those working to protect land, natural resources and indigenous peoples' rights are most at risk of criminalisation for their activities

A UN expert today urged the Government of Peru to end the criminalisation of environmental human rights defenders and ensure the country's judiciary is not used as a means to silence them.

Peru's Supreme Court recently upheld the ten-year prison sentence against César Estrada Chuquilín, while other human rights defenders Jaime Trinidad de la Cruz Gallegos and Jesús Mariano Cornejo Reynoso were sentenced to 12 years and four months and seven years and four months, respectively, in the first instance by the Primer Juzgado Colegiado Supra Provincial Penal de la Corte Superior de Justicia de Arequipa (First Collegiate Supra Provincial Criminal Court of the High Court of Justice of Arequipa).

Estrada, a journalist and human rights defender, had denounced forced evictions, harassment of people and environmental damage caused by an open-pit gold and copper mine known as "Conga" that is owned by Yanacocha S.R.L. He was sentenced for alleged extortion against a contractor of the Yanacocha S.R.L, and his appeal was rejected.

Gallegos and Reynoso were sentenced for "hindering public services" and "rioting" in the context of protests against the "Tía María" mining project of the Southern Peru Copper Corporation, in the district of Cocachacra, in Arequipa.

"It is worrying that criminal offences such as extortion, hindering public services and rioting - which carry sentences of more than 10 years in prison - continue to be used to discredit human rights defenders, especially those who oppose large mining projects and their impact on the environment and the rights of affected communities," said Mary Lawlor, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.

Atalayar_ONU Perú
A serious risk

Estrada's plight had already been noted with concern by the former Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst, during his visit to Peru in 2020, in which he highlighted the serious risk suffered by those working in the protection of land, natural resources and the rights of indigenous peoples.

Lawlor said that despite efforts by the Government to protect human rights defenders, threats, attacks and criminalisation continue in the districts of Cajamarca and Cocachacra.

"Peru must redouble its efforts and abide by the recommendations issued for the protection of environmental human rights defenders," Lawlor said.

"Defenders should not face long-term sentences for exercising their right to defend rights and the environment."

The expert is in contact with Peruvian authorities on the matter.

The expert's call was endorsed by: Mr. Clement Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the right to peaceful assembly and associationand the UN Working Group on human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises (known as the Working Group on Business and Human Rights): Mr. Dante Pesce (Chairperson), Mr. Surya Deva (Vice-Chairperson), Ms. Elżbieta Karska, Mr. Githu Muigai, and Ms. Anita Ramasastry.

Ms Mary Lawlor is the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. Ms. Lawlor is currently Associate Professor of Business and Human Rights at the Centre for Social Innovation (CSI) at Trinity College Dublin Business School. In 2001 she founded Front Line Defenders - the International Foundation for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders to focus on human rights defenders at risk. As Executive Director between 2001 and 2016, Ms. Lawlor represented Front Line Defenders and played a key role in its development. Ms. Lawlor was previously Director of the Irish Office of Amnesty International from 1988 to 2000, became a member of the Board of Directors 1975 and was elected President from 1983 to 1987.

Special Rapporteurs are part of the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights System, is the general name for the independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms established by the Council to address specific country situations or thematic issues around the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent of any government and organisation and act in their individual capacity.

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