LIMA (3 February 2020) – The increasing criminalization and stigmatization of human rights defenders and local communities across Peru by State and non-State actors needs to be addressed urgently, a UN human rights expert said today.
Despite commendable efforts by the Government to protect defenders, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst, said he had observed repeated patterns of threats and attacks against them in Cajamarca, Piura, Cuzco, Ucayali and Madre de Dios. “They suffer from criminalization, judicial harassment, stigmatization, intimidation and excessive use of police force during social protests,” he said at the end of a 14-day visit.
“I welcome the adoption of the Protocol for the protection of human rights defenders, steps undertaken to adopt the Escazú agreement and the National plan on human rights. These are very positive initiatives and I encourage the Government to ensure adequate human and financial resources, as well as the full involvement of State and regional institutions in its implementation.”
However, human rights defenders are still at risk – especially those protecting land, natural resources and indigenous peoples’ rights. “The increasing pressure on natural resources puts human rights defenders at great risk of harm by non-State actors such as companies and criminal networks. Women human rights defenders, those who advocate for sexual and reproductive rights and LGBTI rights also face attacks from conservative and religious groups. Journalists who unveil corruption scandals are targeted too,” the expert said.
Forst met with some 450 human rights defenders from various regions - 40 percent of whom were women.
Defenders in Peru are depicted by different sectors of society as being “terrorists,” “feminazis,” “criminal” or “antidevelopment”. “I am concerned by the lack of understanding by State officials, private companies and media of who human rights defenders are. The vital role of human rights defenders and their contribution to society must be recognized,” Forst said.
“In rural areas, social and environmental conflicts are intrinsically linked to systemic patterns of discrimination and unsustainable natural resources exploitation models, at the cost of the rights of affected communities and the environment,” the expert added. “The lack of meaningful consultation, corruption and the role of informal and criminal actors are a breeding ground for social conflicts and environmental destruction.”
On the final day of his visit, the Special Rapporteur delivered an end of mission statement with a series of recommendations to Peruvian authorities and other actors to improve the protection of human rights defenders.
Mr. Michel Forst (France) was appointed by the Human Rights Council as the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders in 2014. Mr. Forst has extensive experience of human rights issues and specifically of the situation of human rights defenders. He was the Director General of Amnesty International (France) and Secretary General of the first World Summit on Human Rights Defenders in 1998. He is a former UN Independent Expert on the human rights situation in Haiti.
The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as 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 of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of 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 from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
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