July 9, 2014
Peru’s Law 30151 – A License To Kill?
Conflict between environmentalists on one side and governments, developers and industry on the other, are happening all over the world. From seemingly minor skirmishes like the anti-fracking disruption here in the UK, to deadly conflicts elsewhere, the battles continue. I wrote here recently about the mortal danger that many people are placed in when they attempt to protect their environment. That article looked in particular at the situation in Brazil, but now another South American country has raised the bar in its attempts to suppress protests from environmental groups and individuals. The Guardian newspaper reports that Peru has introduced a new law — number 30151 — that is being interpreted as effectively giving the police and military a “license to kill.”
Peru is a country of massive mineral wealth, most of it still untapped. It is already one of the world’s biggest producers of gold, silver, and copper. Of course, getting to these vast reserves means ravaging the land and inevitably brings conflict with local communities and indigenous groups. Land has been lost with whole communities driven off traditional homelands and the pollution produced by mining activity has caused even more problems, as poisoned or dried up rivers mean that access to good, clean drinking water is denied. Peaceful demonstrations and violent confrontations have ensued. Five years ago, police broke up a road blockade near the town of Bagua. The blockade was part of a campaign against new legislation that would ease the way for developers to extract natural resources on indigenous land. A bloody fight followed. Hundreds were injured and there were at least 20 deaths, several of them police officers. There were many arrests and the trials of those accused are finally going ahead with charges including murder and rebellion, but no action has been taken against any of the police involved. Protesters claim that the legal system ignores any wrong doing by government officials. This is the background to law 30151 with which Peru appears to be enshrining in its legislation the principle that, according to the Irish NGO Front Line Defenders (FLD), gives police and the armed forces impunity from prosecution if they injure or kill anyone while on active duty. This looks exactly like a license to kill. Its implications are enormous and human rights groups have lined up to condemn it. Even the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights has expressed concern about the changes which are in breach of the United Nations Principles.
There is always, in these situations, a valid debate to be had about the often opposing views of those involved. Whose rights should prevail — those of the country at large that needs to grow and develop its economy, or those of the people at the bottom with their livelihoods and very existence at stake? That debate should be open and fair with due regard to international law. Peru may seem a long way from the daily lives of people in the rest of the world, but we all benefit in some way from the natural resources that are being extracted there and in other countries all over the planet. Can we just reap those rewards and simply ignore what happens in these places?
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