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Peru — Murder of two indigenous rights defenders

In the past month, we have received with concern the news of the killing of two human rights defenders in Peru. In both cases, the defenders carried out their peaceful work in favor of the rights of indigenous peoples and their territories, particularly in the face of advances in illegal and harmful economic activities in their communities.

— On 17 May, human rights defender Gonzalo Pío Flores was assassinated in the town of Santa Rosa de Cashingari, located in the Río Tambo district, Satipo province (Junín). Gonzalo Pío Flores, an Asháninka indigenous, defender of indigenous rights and territory, and leader of the Nuevo Amanecer Hawai Community worked for the legal recognition of the communal territories of the Nuevo Amanecer Community, as well as for their protection against the presence of illegal logging activities established in the area. His wife, Maribel Casancho Flores, who was with him at the moment of the attack, was seriously injured. His killing is not an isolated case. It occurs in a context of conflict over land and territory in the district of Puerto Bermúdez characterized by the lack of legal security in the indigenous territories and by the presence of illegal economic activities of deforestation.

— On 12 April, Arbildo Menéndez Grandez, a native of Cacataibo, defender of indigenous rights and of the territory, and head of the Native Community of Unipacuyacu, in the district of Puerto Inca, was killed when hunting with Redy Rabel Ibarra, a resident from outside the community. At first, Mr Ibarra communicated  that Mr Menéndez had shot himself. However, two days later, Mr Ibarra confessed to the police that he had shot Mr Menéndez in confusion. The request for preventive detention was rejected in the first instance by the judge, so he is released. It should be noted that, according to the same information, Mr Ibarra had allegedly been making numerous outings to allegedly coordinate the murder of Mr Menéndez with people from outside the community. Illegal economic activities, such as planting crops for drug trafficking, illegal mining, and the indiscriminate felling of vast extensions of primary forests, have been triggering numerous attacks and threats against the Unipacuyacu Native Community for more than 10 years. Aggression was suffered also by Mrs Zulema Guevara Sandoval – Mr Menendez’s late wife — on 5 March 2020, when a villager attacked the boat in which she was with his two minor children. Her requests for protection have so far been ignored.

Peru currently ranks 90 in the 2020 World Press Freedom Index. Peru’s journalists risk sometimes very harsh reprisals when they cover social or environmental conflicts, expose cases of corruption, or investigate the infiltration of state entities by drug traffickers. The main threat to media freedom in Peru comes from the defamation laws, which often lead to journalists being threatened, intimidated or prosecuted. Journalists are particularly vulnerable if they cover drug trafficking, illegal logging or other kinds of trafficking in the remoter and more rural parts of the country.