The suppression of protests in Peru against the dismissal of the country’s president risks creating a human rights crisis in the country gripped by political upheaval and a raging coronavirus outbreak, NGOs have warned.
Rights groups have cautioned an excessive use of force by armed officers and the alleged deployment of unaccountable plain clothes police to arrest activists was curtailing the rights of Peruvians to protest peacefully, after Lima’s powerful legislature voted to remove Martin Vizcarra from office.
Peru’s congress had complained Mr Vizcarra – a politically unaffiliated centrist with popular support – had failed to contain the nation’s coronavirus pandemic and accused him of corruption before voting for his impeachment on Monday.
However critics say some of those who voted for his removal had been under investigation by the president’s administration on corruption charges of their own – with the ouster triggering several nights of youth-led protest across the country.
And reports of excessive force have drawn concern from world governments, with the British embassy in Lima telling the nation’s government peaceful protest was “a democratic right and must be protected”.
So far at least 27 people are said to have been injured in the direct action according to rights groups and police, including three protesters who were seriously injured by firearms, and a number of officers.
Peruvian police have not specified how many people have been arrested, but said a number had been apprehended for “disturbances, aggression and resistance to authority”.
The chief of Amnesty’s Peruvian branch, Marina Navarro, said: “This political crisis is generating a human rights crisis due to the violent repression of the protests. The authorities must prioritise the protection of the population over any political interest”.
“Peruvians have a right to protest,” added José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director for Human Rights Watch. “Police and other authorities should protect peaceful demonstrations and in all situations refrain from using excessive force.”
Manuel Merino, the nation’s new interim president, is a member of the centre-right Popular Action party who had served as head of Peru’s congress. He called for calm after naming his cabinet on Thursday.
Meanwhile interior minister Gaston Rodriguez denied reports that the police had used lethal weapons and said that they had only fired tear gas and rubber bullets when a protest had got out of hand.
“The reaction of the police occurs when there is an attack on public property or when there is a direct attack”, he told reporters.
Additional reporting by agencies