At Least 32 Confirmed Dead
June 10, 2009

Ms. Gladys Margot Echaíz Ramos
Attorney General of Perú
Ministerio Público-Fiscalía De La Nación
Av. Abancay Cdra 5
Lima

Dear Ms. Echaíz,

I am writing to express our deep concern regarding the violent confrontation on June 5 in the province of Bagua that led to the death of at least 32 people, including several police officers and civilian demonstrators.  To date, conflicting accounts of the events are being offered by the government and indigenous groups in the media. Given the seriousness of what occurred last week, it is urgent that your office conduct a prompt, thorough, and impartial investigation that is capable of identifying and holding to account those responsible for the commission of crimes.

We have received credible reports that police forces violently attempted to end a demonstration by indigenous groups in the province of Bagua on Friday, June 5. The demonstration came at the end of several weeks of protests demanding that the García administration abandon a series of legislative decrees that would facilitate economic activities in the Peruvian Amazon.  According to some press accounts, police helicopters opened fire indiscriminately against a crowd of demonstrators, injuring several of them, including a well-known indigenous leader and activist.  This apparently fueled the demonstrators' anger, which led to a violent confrontation between police officers and demonstrators that ended with the death of dozens of police officers and civilians.  Demonstrators are also alleged to have violently assaulted and killed several police officers whom they had kidnapped in a nearby location.  

There are conflicting accounts of the number of police officers and civilians who died during the events in Bagua.  According to official figures, 23 police officers died and 24 police officers were injured, while 9 indigenous protesters died and 155 were injured.  Yet the number of civilian deaths is still uncertain. Other sources report that more than 25 civilians were killed, and Human Rights Watch has learned that some witnesses allege law enforcement agents threw bodies of several protesters into the river. 

Given the gravity of these allegations, to ensure proper accountability, it is critical that your office carries out a prompt, thorough, and impartial investigation into all the alleged crimes, including violence by civilians against security forces as well as crimes committed by the police.  Immediate steps that should be taken to facilitate these investigations are:

  • Ensure that appropriate measures are adopted so that police and military officers do not take advantage of the access they have to certain locations during the state of emergency to hide or destroy incriminating evidence;
  • Compile and make public a list of civilians who participated in the demonstrations and are still missing, which should subsequently be used to investigate their whereabouts and determine the exact number of civilian deaths; and
  • Coordinate with the Public Defender's Office to ensure that witnesses, both civilians and law enforcement agents, feel they have the necessary protection to provide their testimonies in a safe environment.

We are deeply concerned about reports that we have received from human rights defenders that suggest these measures have yet to be adopted.

In addition to the above, to strengthen the work that is being carried out by prosecutors in the area, we respectfully urge you to appoint a high level delegation of prosecutors with the appropriate background and professional experience to conduct such a critical investigation.  They should have the necessary powers and resources to establish key issues of responsibility and liability, including the scope of any official state involvement.  

Thank you in advance for taking this letter into consideration. We look forward to hearing about the progress of the investigation.

Best regards,

José Miguel Vivanco

CC: President Alan García