(New York) - Peru’s government should immediately investigate the reported use of lethal force by the security forces to quell protests taking place throughout the country, Human Rights Watch said today. On May 29, twenty-two-year-old Eddy Quilca Cruz died after soldiers fired on students marching at Puno’s University of the Altiplano. Dozens of others were reported injured, some with gunshot wounds.

A day earlier, eighteen protesters were wounded in Barranca, a city north of Lima, Peru’s capital. According to a local government official, some protestors suffered gunshot wounds after police and soldiers fired at them. Human Rights Watch has also received reports of protestors hurt in clashes with troops in Huancayo, Trujillo, Chiclayo, and Arequipa.

“To prevent further civilian deaths, President Alejandro Toledo should order an immediate inquiry into the reported use of lethal force by the army and police, particularly the incidents in Puno and Barranca,” said José Miguel Vivanco, executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Americas Division. “Non-violent methods must be used as much as possible during protests to minimize harm to human life.”

Defense Minister Aurelio Loret de Mola said that the troops involved in the Puno incident opened fire in self-defense, after giving warnings and finding themselves surrounded by a hostile crowd armed with sharp objects, stones, and Molotov cocktails. The press reported that troops were clearing debris left by striking farmers to block the Pan American highway, and that protestors hurled stones and other objects at them and vandalized buildings. Student leaders and local authorities, however, said that soldiers overreacted and were not under threat.

The United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials provides that law enforcement officials, in carrying out their duty, shall, as far as possible, apply non-violent means before resorting to the use of force and firearms. Whenever the lawful use of force and firearms is unavoidable, law enforcement officials shall use restraint and act in proportion to the seriousness of the offence. The legitimate objective should be achieved with minimal damage and injury, and preservation of human life respected.

On May 27, President Toledo declared a nationwide state of emergency for thirty days in response to a wave of strikes by teachers, health workers, farmers, and court personnel. The strikers were protesting the government’s failure to improve living conditions. The government decree suspended rights of assembly and authorized police and troops to raid properties and make arrests without a legal warrant. Human Rights Watch called on Peruvian authorities to restore due process guarantees that ensure that the authorities do not carry out arbitrary or unreported detentions.