Peruvian security forces carried out widespread attacks against protestors with “extrajudicial executions “and “widespread use of lethal ammunition” earlier this year, while trying to contain mass protests that started in December 2022, according to Amnesty International.
The rights group researched the deaths of 25 people killed in the regions of Ayacucho, Apurimac and Puno between December 7, 2022 and February 9, 2023. In total, 49 civilians were killed during the protests.
Amnesty International’s report found that many of the victims were younger than 21 years old, with six children among the cases documented.
The Andean country’s weeks-long protest movement was sparked by the impeachment and arrest of former President Pedro Castillo in December and fueled by deep dissatisfaction over living conditions and inequality in the country.
While protests occurred throughout the nation, the worst violence was in the rural and indigenous south, which saw Castillo’s ouster as another attempt by Peru’s coastal elites to discount them.
According to Amnesty, the country’s armed forces and national police used lethal force such as bullets and weapons prohibited in law enforcement tasks such as pellets in “an unlawful manner” during the documented period.
Less lethal force such as tear gas was also used in an “excessive, disproportionate and, sometimes, unnecessary manner,” the report states.
Peruvian authorities have said that the country’s security forces acted in self-defense. However, according to evidence gathered by Amnesty International, the injuries that caused the 25 deaths “were sustained on parts of the body where they are most likely to prove fatal, which would indicate that they were not random shots, but intentional.”
“In none of the cases was evidence found that the deceased person posed a risk to the life or integrity of the officials,” the report says.
“In several cases those who were killed, as well as those injured, were mere bystanders or passers-by” the report concludes.”
Extrajudicial executions and young victims
Of the 25 deaths documented by Amnesty International, at least 20 were considered extrajudicial executions. Fifteen of those victims were younger than 21.
The first known casualty during the protests was a 15-year-old boy, David Atequipe, who was shot in the back while observing protests outside Andahuaylas airport in the Apurimac region on December 11, according to the autopsy report documented by Amnesty.
Another 15-year-old, Christopher Ramos Aime, was shot a few days later as he crossed the road in Ayacucho on December 15. Ramos worked in the local cemetery near the airport cleaning tombs and gravestones as well as helping visitors with flowers.
According to the autopsy seen by Amnesty International and the evidence the group gathered, Ramos was killed by a “firearm projectile” that caused chest trauma. Ramos was not armed and posed no threat to security forces, the organization concludes.
“They have killed innocent people, my son was innocent, he was crossing the road when they shot him,” Hilaria Aime, Christopher’s mother, told CNN in tears on Wednesday.
Aime hopes her family can find justice after the release of the report, adding that protesters and their communities have often been unfairly demonized by Peruvian authorities.
“We hope justice is made and people respect us, they are calling us terrorists, vandals and that is not the truth of what happened in Ayacucho.”
CNN has not verified the circumstances of these two deaths as described by Amnesty.
Amnesty also mentions the death Beckhan Quispe, an 18-year-old football coach who was shot in the head in Andahuaylas, Apurimac region in December. His case was previously reported by CNN.
As previously reported by CNN, Amnesty has also said that attacks against protesters were carried out “with a marked racist bias” in southern Peru, where protesters faced a more violent response by the security forces, leaving dozens dead.
Similar protests took place in Peru’s capital Lima but left only one death.
Amnesty’s preliminary findings were previously reported by CNN.
Peru’s government response and narrative
In this final report, Amnesty International points out that Peruvian authorities – including Peru’s President Dina Boluarte and the Presidency of the Council of Ministers (PCM) – praised the country’s security forces during the protests and “consistently supported and justified the actions of law enforcement agencies, despite increasingly clear evidence of their unlawful actions.”
“In addition, the state narrative stigmatized protesters as terrorists and violent, contributing to the escalation of violence and encouraging law enforcement to continue to act in the same way,” the report highlights.
Authorities at the highest level did not demand accountability from the armed forces and police, despite “considerable evidence” pointing at the security forces’ responsibility in the dozens of deaths that occurred, Amnesty also says.
In a recent interview with local media and facing criticism for the way her government has handled the protests, President Boluarte said she and her ministers do not decide protocols for the Armed Forces or the Police.
“They have their own law and protocols. Who do they comply with? Their commanders. We don’t have any power over them. I can be the Supreme Chief of the Armed Forces, but I have no command (over them) and the protocols are decided by them”, Boluarte said.
CNN has reached out to the President’s office who declined to comment on the report’s findings. Peru’s Defense and Interior ministries have been also contacted. Both ministries told CNN in February they could not comment until an ongoing investigation carried out by the Prosecutor’s office is finished.
Peru’s Prosecutor’s office opened a preliminary investigation on January 10 against President Boluarte, Peru’s Prime Minister, Alberto Otarola, and other ministers for alleged genocide, homicide and serious injuries committed in during the protests.
On Wednesday, Boluarte’s office told CNN en Espanol the President has been invited to give her testimony at the Prosecutor’s office on May 31.
Peru’s Public Prosecutor’s office was also criticized in this final report for failing to carry out criminal investigations related to the protest deaths “promptly, thoroughly and impartially”. CNN has reached to the Prosecutor’s office for comment.