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Events of 2023

A demonstrator stands in front of the police during a protest as President Dina Boluarte delivers her annual Message to the Nation on Independence Day at the Congress of the Republic in Lima, Peru, on July 28, 2023.

© 2023 Klebher Vasquez/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Years of political instability worsened in December 2022 when then-President Pedro Castillo attempted to close Congress, take over the judiciary, and rule by decree in what amounted to a failed coup. Congress removed him, and Vice President Dina Boluarte became president. Protests erupted throughout the country, mainly calling for early elections. Security forces responded with disproportionate force. From December 2022 through March 2023, 50 protesters and bystanders were killed and more than 1,300 people were injured, including hundreds of police officers.

Human Rights Watch identified serious flaws in the initial investigations of the killings. The Boluarte administration has failed to take measures to reform law enforcement so that abuses do not happen again.

Members of Congress eliminated checks on Congress’ power, undermining independent institutions and rights protections. Congress arbitrarily removed a top prosecutor from office and initiated a “summary” process to replace the National Board of Justice. It named an ombudsperson without human rights expertise and sought to erode the independence of the National Electoral Tribunal.

Groups involved in illegal mining, logging, land grabbing, and drug trafficking continue to destroy Peru’s Amazon and to threaten and attack its defenders.

Protest-Related Violence and Abuses

After Castillo’s failed coup, thousands of people took to the streets, mostly rural workers and Indigenous people in the south. While most protests were peaceful, there were incidents of grave violence. Roadblocks set up by protesters contributed to the deaths of 11 people, including 2 children, who could not reach hospitals or who had car accidents, the Ombudsperson’s Office reported.

The response by the military and police was indiscriminate, disproportionate, and brutal. Security forces fired assault rifles and handguns at unarmed protesters and bystanders. Fifty people, including eight children, were killed, the vast majority by gunshot wounds. One police officer was killed in unclear circumstances.

Government officials insinuated the protesters were “terrorists” and dismissed or denied the abuses, failing to take action to prevent them.

Prosecutors failed to collect key initial evidence of human rights violations. In March, the attorney general created a special group of prosecutors to investigate the cases based in the capital, Lima.

In June, the minister of defense said that 32 military officers had been disciplined for their actions in Ayacucho, where 10 people were killed in the December protests, but he did not disclose the measures taken. In July, the Interior Ministry told Human Rights Watch that police had been disciplined in just one case, for violence against Indigenous women in Lima.

As of October, the investigation into the killing of two protesters during protests in Lima in 2020, in which police also used excessive force, appeared stalled.

Threats to Democratic Institutions

Congress has repeatedly taken actions to undermine other democratic institutions and to limit lawmakers’ accountability.

In 2022, Congress appointed six of the seven members of the Constitutional Tribunal in a process that lacked transparency and clear criteria. In February 2023, the tribunal issued a ruling shielding Congress from almost any judicial oversight.

The tribunal allowed the selection of a new ombudsperson to go forward despite procedural concerns. In May, Congress elected Josué Gutiérrez, a former congressman without any human rights expertise who had made homophobic statements during the selection process.

The Constitutional Tribunal also opened the door for Congress, many of whose members had falsely claimed that the 2021 elections were fraudulent, to coopt the National Elections Tribunal by asking lawmakers to approve a constitutional amendment to grant them the power to impeach members of the elections tribunal. As of September, there were four proceedings in Congress to try to remove Jorge Luis Salas Arenas, president of the National Elections Tribunal. In September, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights granted Salas Arenas provisional measures, citing risks to his life and personal integrity, and ordered the government to strengthen measures taken to protect Salas and investigate the threats against him.

In a serious blow to judicial independence, in June, Congress removed Zoraida Ávalos, a former attorney general, from her job as a prosecutor for five years for not charging former President Castillo with corruption. Ávalos had opened the first corruption investigations against sitting presidents ever—Martín Vizcarra and Castillo—but did not charge them because she concluded a constitutional provision barred it. The National Board of Justice, the body in charge of appointing and removing prosecutors and judges, said Ávalos’ decision was based on her legal analysis of the case as part of her autonomy as a prosecutor.

In September, Congress approved a “summary” process to investigate and remove the members of the National Board of Justice, claiming that the board’s statement in defense of judicial independence in the Ávalos case interfered with Congress’ powers, among other accusations. If members of Congress take control of the board, they can appoint new heads of the agencies that manage elections and the electoral registry in early 2024.

The board also came under attack from the attorney general, Patricia Benavides, who obtained judicial injunctions to block the board from investigating her for allegedly shielding her sister, a judge, in a corruption investigation; irregularities in transfers of prosecutors; and failure to produce her Ph.D. and master’s theses.


Corruption is a major factor in the deterioration of public institutions, deficient public services, and environmental destruction in Peru. Five former presidents have been charged with corruption. President Boluarte is under investigation for having allegedly received illicit contributions to her political campaign. As of March 2023, at least 37 of the 130 members of Congress were under criminal investigation for corruption and other offenses.

In October, the authority in charge of prosecutors’ disciplinary matters suspended a top anti-corruption prosecutor for eight months for statements he had made to the press.

Economic and Social Rights

As of 2022, 27 percent of the population lived in poverty, a sharp increase from 20 percent in 2019 (pre-pandemic), official data showed. People living in extreme poverty—unable to afford their most basic food needs—amounted to 5 percent of the population in 2022, compared to 3 percent in 2019. Children, people living in rural areas, and those who self-report as Black or Indigenous are disproportionately affected.

One out of five rural children between 12 and 16 years old did not attend school as of 2022, official data showed. In urban areas, the ratio falls to one out of seven.

As of March, official data showed that 68 percent of workers in cities and 95 percent in rural areas worked in the informal labor market, where they lacked formal labor and social protections, such as employer-based social insurance including for unemployment, disability, and pension.

Women’s and Girls’ Rights

Gender-based violence is a significant problem. The Ombudsperson’s Office reported 112 femicides—defined as the killing of a woman or girl in certain contexts, including domestic violence—from January through August 2023. There were 137 femicides in 2022 and 146 in 2021.

Women, girls, and other pregnant people can legally access abortions only when a pregnancy threatens their life or health; even then, many face barriers. In June, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child found Peru responsible for violating the rights of an Indigenous girl who had become forcibly pregnant at 13, after years of sexual abuse by her father. Authorities denied her an abortion and, after she miscarried, filed abortion charges against her.

In March, the Constitutional Tribunal ordered the free distribution of emergency contraception pills after a yearslong fight by women’s rights groups.

Environment and Indigenous Peoples’ Rights

Peru lost 161,000 hectares of primary forest in 2022, according to the latest data available and compiled by Global Forest Watch. Illegal logging and mining, land grabbing, and coca cultivation for drug trafficking are driving the destruction of the Amazon. Illegal use of mercury for gold mining, often smuggled in across the border from Bolivia, is contaminating waterways, likely impacting human health, and making it harder for children to learn at school, officials told Human Rights Watch.

Groups involved in those illegal activities routinely threaten and attack forest defenders. In April, Indigenous leader Santiago Contoricón Antúnez was murdered in Junín department. His community attributed the killing to his opposition to drug cartels that move cocaine through their territory. In May, Percy García Serpa was shot in the back and killed in a rural community near Lima. He opposed land grabbing and had received death threats, his relatives and colleagues said.

In 2021, the government created an inter-ministerial mechanism for the protection of human rights defenders, but as of August 2023, it was only staffed by six people. The mechanism has no funding of its own; ministries have to cover the cost of protection measures within their purview. As of August, the Interior Ministry, which is in charge of police, had yet to develop a protocol for coordination with the mechanism. Environmental defenders told Human Rights Watch that protection measures were very insufficient.

Lawmakers have voted twice—in 2020 and 2022—not to ratify the Escazú Agreement, a Latin American treaty promoting access to information, justice, and public participation in environmental matters and the protection of environmental defenders.

Attacks on Journalists

The right-wing group La Resistencia publicized addresses and met outside the homes of journalists and the offices of human rights defenders. The group’s members have insulted, harassed, and physically attacked journalists.

Charges of defamation have repeatedly been used to stifle reporting in the public interest in Peru, the Committee to Protect Journalists said. For instance, since late 2018, journalists Paola Ugaz and Pedro Salinas have faced prosecution on charges of defamation and other offenses in cases connected to their reporting on sexual abuse scandals involving a Catholic lay organization.

Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

In a ruling published in April, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights found Peru responsible for violating a gay man’s rights after he faced discrimination by a commercial establishment and Peruvian authorities. The court ordered Peru to create a guide on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights in the provision of services and to use it to train authorities and to monitor companies’ compliance with principles of equality and nondiscrimination.

There is no simple administrative process for legal gender recognition for transgender people in Peru.

Refugees, Asylum Seekers, and Migrants

In January, Congress modified Peru’s immigration law, making it easier for authorities to deny migrants entry and transit; adding vague obligations for foreigners, such as to “respect Peru’s historic and cultural legacy”; and erecting obstacles to migrants’ access to housing. The Ombudsperson’s Office filed a lawsuit opposing the changes, as they “criminalize migration, validate discrimination, and affect foreigners’ fundamental rights.”

In January, roadblocks set up by protesters contributed to the deaths, from respiratory ailments, of six Haitian adults and a child, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said. The roadblocks forced the Haitians to stay in a high-altitude border town with low nighttime temperatures and a scarcity of food.

In April, hundreds of migrants from Venezuela and other countries were stuck at the border between Chile and Peru, after Peruvian guards blocked them from entering, allegedly due to their lack of proper documentation. Problems continued in August and September.

As of May, more than 1.52 million Venezuelan refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants were staying in Peru, according to UN agencies and the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights. From 2016 to July 2023, Peru received 608,816 asylum requests from Venezuelans and had granted asylum to 4,903 people—fewer than 1 percent of asylum seekers—according to data the Ministry of Foreign Affairs provided to Human Rights Watch.

Confronting Past Abuses

After the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 2003 final report, which estimated that almost 70,000 people were killed or disappeared during the conflict, the Attorney General’s Office opened 53 cases concerning human rights abuses during the armed conflict between the government and armed groups, including Shining Path, from 1980 through 2000. In August, the Ombudsperson’s Office said that 23 cases ended with at least one conviction, 8 with acquittals, and 22 remained in process.

Disability Rights

In June, Congress passed a law—without consulting organizations of people with disabilities—that recognizes the need to regulate personal assistance services for people with disabilities. The law does not create a clear obligation on the part of the state to ensure personal assistant services and conflates support for independent living with care.

Key International Actors

International responses to former President Castillo’s failed coup were inconsistent. Chile, Ecuador, the United States, the European Union, Canada, and others spoke up for the rule of law. But Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, and Mexico issued a joint statement defending the former president and made no reference to his illegal attempt to dissolve Congress and take over the judiciary.

The EU and Chile publicly condemned abuses by security forces during the protests. It was not until March that the US, in its annual country report, included a reference to “arbitrary or unlawful killings” by security forces.