(CNN Spanish) — Peruvian security forces carried out widespread attacks on protesters with “extrajudicial killings” and “widespread use of lethal ammunition” earlier this year as they tried to contain mass protests that began in December 2022, according to Amnesty International.
The human rights group investigated the deaths of 25 people who lost their lives in the regions of Ayacucho, Apurímac and Puno between December 7, 2022 and February 9, 2023. In total, 49 civilians died during the protests.
According to Amnesty International’s report, many of the victims were under the age of 21, and among the documented cases were six children.
The weeks-long protest movement in the Andean country was sparked by the ouster and detention of former president Pedro Castillo in December and fueled by deep discontent with living conditions and inequality in the country.
Though protests have taken place across the country, the greatest violence has been seen in the rural and indigenous south, which saw Castillo’s removal as another attempt by Peru’s coastal elites to demean them.
According to Amnesty, the country’s military and national police have used lethal force, such as bullets, and prohibited weapons in police duties, such as pellets, “illegitimately” during the documented period.
Less lethal force, such as tear gas, was also used “excessively, disproportionately and sometimes unnecessary,” according to the report.
Peruvian authorities said the country’s security forces were acting in self-defense. However, according to evidence gathered by Amnesty International, the injuries that caused the 25 deaths “occurred in parts of the body where they are most likely to be lethal, which would indicate that they were not accidental but intentional blows”.
“In none of the cases was there any evidence that the deceased person posed a risk to the life or integrity of officials,” the report said.
“In several cases, the deceased, as well as the wounded, were mere observers or bystanders,” the report concludes.
Extrajudicial executions and young victims
Of the 25 deaths documented by Amnesty International, at least 20 are considered extrajudicial executions. Fifteen of those victims were under the age of 21, according to the report.
The first known victim during the protests was a 15-year-old boy, David Atequipe, who was shot in the back while observing the protests in front of the Andahuaylas airport in the Apurímac region on December 11, according to the autopsy report. documented by Amnesty.
Another 15-year-old boy, Christopher Ramos Aime, was killed a few days later as he crossed the street in Ayacucho on 15 December. Ramos worked at the local cemetery, near the airport, cleaning graves and headstones and helping visitors with flowers.
According to the autopsy seen by Amnesty International and the evidence gathered by the group, Ramos died of a “gunshot” that resulted in chest trauma. Ramos was not armed and posed no threat to the security forces, the organization concludes.
“They killed innocent people, my son was innocent, he was crossing the street when he was shot,” Hilaria Aime, Christopher’s mother, tearfully told CNN.
Aime hopes her family can find justice after the report is released, adding that protesters and their communities have often been unjustly demonized by Peruvian authorities.
“Let’s hope that justice is done and that people respect us, they call us terrorists, vandals and this is not the truth of what happened in Ayacucho”.
CNN did not verify the circumstances of these deaths as described in the Amnesty report.
Amnesty also mentions the death of Beckhan Romario Quispe Garfias, an 18-year-old football coach who was shot in the head in Andahuaylas, in the Apurímac region, in December. CNN had previously covered his case.
As CNN previously reported, Amnesty also claims that the attacks on protesters were carried out “with a marked racist bias” in southern Peru, where protesters faced a more violent response from security forces, resulting in dozens of dead.
Similar protests were held in Lima, the capital of Peru, but there was only one death.
Response and story from the Government of Peru
In this final report, Amnesty International notes that Peruvian authorities, including Peruvian President Dina Boluarte and the presidency of the Council of Ministers (PCM), have praised the country’s security forces during the protests and “systematically supported and justified the actions of law enforcement, despite the increasingly evident evidence of their illegal action”.
“Furthermore, the state narrative has stigmatized protesters as terrorists and violent, contributing to the escalation of violence and encouraging law enforcement agencies to continue to do the same,” the report notes.
Authorities at the highest level have failed to hold the military and police accountable, despite “considerable evidence” pointing to the security forces being responsible for the dozens of deaths, Amnesty also said.
In a recent interview with a local media And in the face of criticism for the way her government has handled the protests, President Boluarte said she and her ministers do not decide the protocols of the armed forces or the police.
“They have their law, but also their protocols. Whom do they obey? Their commands. We don’t have a command. I can be the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, but I don’t have a command, the protocols are decided by them”, Boluarte said.
CNN reached out to the president’s office, which declined to comment on the report’s findings. He also contacted the Peruvian defense and interior ministries. Both ministries told CNN in February they could not comment until the prosecutor’s office completed ongoing investigations.
Peru’s prosecutor’s office opened a preliminary investigation on January 10 against President Boluarte, Peruvian Prime Minister Alberto Otarola and other ministers for alleged genocide, murder and grievous bodily harm committed during the protests.
On Wednesday, Boluarte’s office told CNN en Español that the president was asked to testify before the prosecutor’s office on May 31.
The Peruvian prosecutor’s office was also criticized in this final report for failing to carry out criminal investigations related to the deaths during the protests in a “prompt, thorough and impartial” manner. CNN has contacted the attorney’s office for comment.