CIVICUS expresses concern about the use of excessive force by security forces against protesters in Peru following the ouster of former President Pedro Castillo. We call on the country’s authorities to remove undue restrictions on civic space and ensure people can fully exercise their fundamental freedoms in the context of the political crisis.
On Wednesday 7 December, President Castillo was impeached and detained after he attempted to dissolve the Peruvian Congress unconstitutionally and declared a “government of exception” just hours before he was due to face an impeachment vote. The announcement unleashed a wave of resignations among high-ranking officials who denounced these decisions as a coup d'état. Within just a few hours, Congress voted to impeach President Castillo and former vice-president Dina Boluarte was sworn in as president.
Since then, protests and social mobilisations erupted in thirteen departments of Peru, with many expressing support for Castillo and calling for new presidential elections. As thousands take to the streets, civil society organisations have reported on the use of excessive force by security personnel, including the indiscriminate use of tear gas and the alleged use of lethal weapons against protesters. There are dozens of cases of people detained and injured, some with wounds from firearms and blunt objects. According to the Peruvian Human Rights Coordinator (CNDDHH), at least seven people were killed amid state repression of the protests, 3 of whom were teenagers.
Reporters covering the protests have also faced harassment and assaults. By 11 December, the National Journalists’ Association had recorded 21 such cases, with attacks perpetrated by police officers as well as by supporters of the former president. Offices and vehicles of media groups have also been vandalised and attacked.
Following several days of unrest, on 11 December sitting President Dina Boluarte pledged to introduce a bill bringing general elections forward by two years, holding a presidential race in April 2024. However, protests have continued with many expressing their frustration at the country’s antagonistic Congress and a broadly dysfunctional political system.
Castillo had taken office in July 2021, and his short presidency was marked by incessant political instability and paralysation. Working in a background of extreme polarisation, human rights defenders (HRDs), journalists and civil society organisations have been left vulnerable to attacks that are perpetrated with high levels of impunity. This especially affected those defending land rights and resisting extractive projects. In recent years, journalists and human rights defenders were verbally and physically assaulted and harassed by actors across the political spectrum as well as by law enforcement. The Castillo government largely failed to take measures to ensure a safe environment for the press and civil society.
We urge Peru’s authorities to restore trust in democratic institutions, promote spaces for dialogue and for the peaceful exercise of civic freedoms. Authorities must take steps to safeguard the right to protest, including by addressing policies that enable the use of excessive force by law enforcement and by investigating police abuses.
On July 2022, CIVICUS and Asociación Pro Derechos Humanos (APRODEH) submitted Peru’s UN Universal Periodic Review which underlined the pervasive violence against HRDs, civil society groups and protesters, who continue to face attacks harassment stigmatisation and killings. State and non-state actors, despite the newly adopted protection mechanisms, have been able to escalate attacks with impunity. The submission further reports cases of judicial harassment against journalists and the gradual reduction of the space for a free and independent press. These findings were in line with Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR)’s Special Rapporteur’s Office which reported a polarised political and social context, with the persistence of norms and practices that negatively impact the full enjoyment of the right to freedom of expression.