- As the world marked International Human Rights Day on December 10, the murders of 32 Indigenous leaders and Amazon land defenders stood as a stark reminder of the persistent and systematic human rights violations faced by Indigenous communities, and the urgent need for systemic change to ensure their individual and collective rights.
- The recent murder of Quinto Inuma Alvarado, Indigenous Kichwa leader and chief of the Santa Rosillo de Yanayacu community, is just the latest crime in a list of dozens in the Peruvian Amazon along the border with Brazil.
- “We urgently demand that the state, through its institutions, effectively commits to protecting those who defend their ancestral territories, implementing intersectoral mechanisms that go beyond declarations on paper and translate into concrete and effective actions,” a new op-ed states.
- This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily of Mongabay.
On the afternoon of November 29, Quinto Inuma Alvarado, Indigenous Kichwa leader and chief of the Santa Rosillo de Yanayacu community, was murdered in front of his family with three gunshots. Nine years ago, on September 1, 2014, four Ashéninka leaders of the community Alto Tamaya-Saweto, Edwin Chota Valera, Jorge Ríos Pérez, Leoncio Quintisima Meléndez, and Francisco Pinedo Ramírez, were brutally murdered on the Amazon border between Peru and Brazil.
Inuma, Chota, and their colleagues shared a common struggle against timber trafficking in their territories. These murders are part of an alarming pattern in the Amazon: 32 Indigenous leaders have been assassinated in the last decade, 19 in the last four years alone, according to my organization, Early Alert and Attention System of the Interethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Rainforest (AIDESEP). Most of the victims had denounced crimes and mafias involved in illegal land grabbing, illegal logging, and drug trafficking.
These crimes have gone unpunished, exposing the inefficiency of the justice and protection systems despite existing incipient advances. As a painful example, justice has not been served for the families of the Saweto community in nearly 10 years, raising a crucial question: Will the families of Quinto Inuma and all the other murdered defenders see justice?
Quinto Inuma was registered in the Intersectoral Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders of the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights (MINJUS) and had a formal resolution recognizing him as a defender in danger. However, in this and other cases, we find Peruvian state institutions to be highly ineffective. They have not implemented effective protection mechanisms that guarantee in practice the lives of Indigenous defenders. The state’s inaction was also a decisive factor amid the multiple complaints since 2008 presented against the timber traffickers by the Ashéninka leaders.
This December as we celebrated International Human Rights Day (December 10), the murders of 32 Indigenous leaders and defenders of the Amazon stand as a stark reminder of the persistent and systematic human rights violations faced by Indigenous communities, and the urgent need for systemic change to ensure their individual and collective rights.
The Saweto case resonates far beyond Peru’s borders, exposing deep inequities and structural failures in fulfilling the State’s primary reason for existing: to guarantee human dignity and the exercise of human rights. In this regard, the recent decision of the Peruvian courts to overturn the 28-year sentences for the accused murderers in the Saweto case contravenes various international human rights principles.
This case also raises serious criticisms about the state’s role in protecting Indigenous defenders. The lack of effective protective measures for the widows of the slain leaders, despite their recognition as Indigenous defenders, exemplifies deficiencies in responding to the serious threats and violence against Indigenous communities. Similarly, the Ministry of the Interior’s late provision of personal guarantees to the widows reveals not only these deficiencies but also the ongoing struggle for security and justice against daily and serious threats.
Saweto is a powerful reminder of the challenges of the Peruvian State in the urgent task of defending Indigenous communities in their struggle to protect their rights to territory, and natural resources, among other things.
We urgently demand that the state, through its institutions, effectively commits to protecting those who defend their ancestral territories, implementing intersectoral mechanisms that go beyond declarations on paper and translate into concrete and effective actions. The demonstrated inability to address and prosecute attacks against these defenders fairly and in a timely manner underscores the critical need for immediate change.
In this sense, it is imperative that the Ministry of the Interior, the Public Ministry, and the judiciary act without delay to ensure security and justice. It is urgent for the Ministry of the Interior to approve the protocols and allocate the necessary budget to act effectively and timely through the National Police of Peru in the protection of Indigenous defenders.
Similarly, it is very important that the public authorities involved not only respect the Indigenous jurisdictional authorities but also the self-protection mechanisms that Indigenous peoples implement daily to defend themselves. This requires promoting their active participation and permanent coordination in the implementation of any protection mechanism that is carried out.
Finally, along with effective protection, the need for justice and non-impunity, collective reparations, and special attention from the state to the families of the murdered victims are required. Only then can we begin to close the gap between the promise of state protection and the reality of defenders on the ground, who continue to face daily threats and violence from their aggressors.
Jorge Pérez Rubio is the president of the Interethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Rainforest, (AIDESEP).
Related listening from Mongabay’s podcast: How the Shuar Indigenous community in Ecuador won a major victory to protect its ancestral territory of Tiwi Nunka Forest from cattle ranchers, loggers and miners. Listen here:
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