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

OHCHR

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.

The Supreme Court of Peru recently confirmed the judgement against César Estrada Chuquilín (10 years imprisonment). Two human rights defenders were also sentenced to prison, Jaime Trinidad de la Cruz Gallegos (12 years and 4 months) and Jesús Mariano Cornejo Reynoso (7 years and 4 months).

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.

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.

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