Environmental Leaders Under Threat in Paraguay and Peru, Amnesty Reports
Authorities in Paraguay and Peru are unjustly criminalizing activists who speak out to protect their environment and land, an Amnesty International report released Thursday revealed.
The report, A Recipe for Criminalization: Defenders of the Environment, Territory and Land in Peru and Paraguay, outlined the three "ingredients" both countries use to undermine the efforts of activists. First, they delegitimize activists through smear campaigns. Second, they apply laws and regulations that allow for forced evictions. And, third, they misuse the criminal justice system to prosecute activists for unfounded reasons.
"Those who bravely stand up to defend their land and the environment are frequently targeted because of their work. These attacks have a devastating impact on their physical, mental and emotional wellbeing, as well as that of their families and communities," Amnesty International Americas director Erika Guevara-Rosas said in a press release.
The report included examples of how these ingredients combine on the ground.
For example, Amnesty International highlighted the case of community activists working to protect their home in Peru's Cajamarca region from the gold and copper Conga mining project. On 26 April 2013, police arrested 16 protesters on trumped up charges of abduction and coercion. The state prosecutor sought 30-year prison sentences. But the evidence presented was secondhand and so spotty and contradictory that a court dismissed the case in 2017.
In Paraguay, the Tekoha Sauce community of the Avá Guaraní People was evicted from their ancestral lands by a court order following a dispute with local businessman German Hultz. The community was forced onto a nature reserve where they struggle to survive because hunting and fishing is not allowed. During the court proceedings leading up to the eviction, their opponents stigmatized the indigenous community by referring to them as a "gang of criminals."
The report recommended that the governments of the two countries "must recognize as legitimate the work of human rights defenders working on issues related to land, territory and the environment." It also concluded that both governments should incorporate a gender- and ethnic-specific perspective to protect activists into legislation, stop abusing the justice system to prosecute environmental defenders, investigate and put a stop to all instances where the justice system is being used to harass protesters, and further investigate and prosecute anyone who is carrying out attacks on activists and land defenders.
To reach their conclusions, the Amnesty International team took two trips to Peru and one to Paraguay, and spoke with representatives of 10 human rights groups in Peru and 14 in Paraguay.