GENEVA (6 May 2022) – Peru failed to protect the rights to life and peaceful assembly of two fleeing demonstrators who were shot dead when police opened fire on a non-violent march in 2008. The State party also failed to investigate and prosecute those responsible, the UN Human Rights Committee has found.
In a decision published today, the Human Rights Committee said that, in the context of peaceful demonstration, the use of potentially lethal force by law enforcement officers must be an extreme measure that can only be used when strictly necessary to protect life or prevent serious injury from an imminent threat. It also emphasized that States parties are responsible for taking all measures needed to prevent arbitrary deprivation of life by their law enforcement officials.
“Any use of force must be in line with the fundamental principles of legality, necessity, and proportionality,” said Committee member Carlos Gómez Martínez. “Firearms should never be used for the sole purpose of dispersing an assembly,” he added.
The Committee issued its findings after reviewing a petition case filed by relatives of Emiliano García Mendoza and Rubén Pariona Camposano.
García Mendoza and Pariona Camposano, along with around 700 others, took part in an agrarian demonstration in the city of Huamanga in the Ayacucho Region of south-central Peru in February 2008. When the demonstrators walked to a street manned by 12 police officers, the police officer-in-charge suddenly threw a tear-gas canister into the crowd. As the demonstrators dispersed, two shots were heard before García Mendoza and Pariona Camposano fell to the ground bleeding profusely from their head wounds. Both died instantly.
The provincial prosecutor filed criminal charges against a police officer, who admitted having used his weapon, for aggravated homicide, seeking a sentence of 30 years in prison.
The Congress also set up a Commission of Inquiry, which issued a report in 2009 that found the two deaths “amount to extrajudicial executions”, and that the officials in charge had failed in their duties to safeguard the lives of citizens and to supervise their subordinates during a police operation.
The judicial investigations into the two homicides, however, were not carried out properly. In the most significant incident, the defendant police officer turned in his gun to the police armoury, rather than the forensics department, and the subsequent test conducted on the weapon indicated that it bore no signs of having been fired. As a result, the High Court acquitted the defendant in 2013 and the Supreme Court of Justice upheld the acquittal in 2016.
The victims’ families thereafter submitted their petition to the Committee in 2017.
The Committee found that Peru violated the two deceased’s rights to life and to peaceful assembly, along with their relatives’ right to an effective remedy.
“According to the findings of the forensic report by the Institute of Forensic Medicine, the shots were fired from a distance of approximately 25 metres when Mr. García Mendoza and Mr. Pariona Camposano had their backs turned, meaning that the victims did not represent a danger to the police officers,” Gómez Martínez said. “There was therefore no legitimate grounds for opening fire on the two victims,” he added.
“The arbitrary deprivation of life by the authorities is a matter of utmost gravity. The obligation to protect the right to life also requires States parties to investigate and prosecute potential cases of unlawful deprivation of life, punish perpetrators and provide full reparation,” he said.
The Committee requested Peru to conduct a thorough and effective investigation into the events leading to the deaths, impose criminal and administrative penalties on all officers responsible, and provide adequate compensation for the harm suffered by the families.
The Human Rights Committee monitors States parties' adherence to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which to date has been ratified by 173 States parties. The Committee is made up of 18 members who are independent human rights experts drawn from around the world, who serve in their personal capacity and not as representatives of States parties. The Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights allows individuals to file complaints against the 117 States parties to the Optional Protocol for violations of their rights enshrined in the Covenant. The Optional Protocol imposes on States parties the international legal obligation to comply in good faith with the Committee’s views. More information on the Complaints Procedures is available online.
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