Peru Refuses to Prosecute
Murders of Indigenous Leaders
The prosecutor of Pucallpa has indicated that he will archive the case of Saweto Massacre for lack of evidence, an action that means that nobody will be prosecuted for the torture and massacre of the indigenous leaders of Saweto. Relatives of the victims, the community of Saweto, and allies are fighting to keep the case alive and obtain justice for: Edwin Chota, Jorge Ríos, Leoncio Quinticima, and Francisco Pinedo.
The international investigative organization Global Witness reports that in 2016, an average of nearly four environmental defenders are killed weekly. These cases are rarely investigated and perpetrators are almost never prosecuted. The Saweto case is emblematic of this regional and global phenomena.
Background: The Saweto Massacre
Saweto filed a complaint about illegal logging of their forests with OSINFOR--the government agency in charge of forest and logging investments.
OSINFOR subsequently visited the forest concessions that overlapped with Saweto's territory in August, 2014.
Illegal loggers, used to acting with impunity, then tortured and killed Saweto's leaders.
Once the murders were reported pressure from the around the world helped Saweto title their lands.
Why isn't there enough evidence?
The prosecutor has refused to look for it and has instead has apparently taken spurious claims, like one lawyer's explanation (with no corroborating evidence) that his client could not have committed the crime because he was too drunk to have acted as reason not investigate further.
The prosecution has also been limited by a lack of resources--very little financing was secured for the investigation of this case. Yet, sources close to the case say, the larger issue is a lack of interest in prosecuting the case. When resources have been available, for example a helicopter to travel to Saweto and the nearby logging camps for interviews, the prosecutors have simply refused to request permission to use it.
What happened in the intervening years?
In spite of the fact that three years have passed since the massacre of the Saweto leaders, the perpetrators and intellectual authors of the crime have not been prosecuted, and remain free, continuing to work in the logging industry and frequently threatening Saweto community members who are vulnerable given the remote location of their territory and lack of State security presence in the Ucayali rainforests near the border of Brazil.
The corruption and mismanagement of this case has made it almost impossible to prosecute. The State has gone through several prosecutors; in fact, the State even created a new office that focuses on organized crime (Fiscalía Provincial Corporativa Especializada contra la Criminalidad Organizada del Distrito Fiscal de Ucayali) to prosecute the Saweto Massacre. Unfortunately, none of the prosecutors have shown either the capacity or impartiality to adequately investigate and prosecute the case.
The regional prosecutor for organized crime in the Ucayali department, Dr. Julio César Reátegui Urresti, has failed to take any proactive actions to investigate the case, and plans to archive it on September 30th, claiming that he has no resources to carry out investigative actions and that there is not sufficient evidence to warrant further actions.
The Peruvian National Council of Ministers (PCM) has also failed to carry out its duties since agreeing to the 'Saweto Agenda" in 2015, where they agreed to ensure justice for Saweto. They are also not complying with the recommendations from the International Labor Organization (ILO) in 2015, which ordered Peru to exhaust all available resources to identify and prosecute the perpetrators of the Saweto massacre.
Rainforest Foundation US has been providing legal support for Saweto since 2014. This is a critical time for the case, which will be archive and likely not investigated without national and international pressure on the regional prosecutor for organized crime. Failure to do so leaves Saweto community members exposed to threats and perpetuates the message that people who kill environmental defenders are immune to prosecution.
If the prosecutor refuses to indite any of the suspects before September 30th, the murderers go free.
This puts all indigenous people and other environmental defenders at further risk.
It's time for Peru to decide if they want to protect indigenous communities or turn their backs on those on the frontlines of forest defense.