Press Release

IACHR Condemns Killing of Four Asháninka Indigenous Leaders in the Department of Ucayali, Peru

September 18, 2014

Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemns the killing of four Asháninka indigenous leaders in Ucayali, Peru.

According to publicly known information, on September 1, 2014, a group of loggers allegedly ambushed, bound, shot, and dismembered the indigenous Asháninkas Edwin Chota Valera, Jorge Ríos Pérez, Leoncio Quinticima Meléndez, and Francisco Pinedo in the community of Alto Tamaya-Saweto (forest region of Peru bordering Brazil). Information shows that the indigenous leaders were on their way to the town of Apiwtxa in the border area with Brazil to take part in a binational coordination meeting against indiscriminate logging in their territories. Violence in the region had supposedly been on the increase since the indigenous had started to demand property titles to their lands. According to available information, the indigenous leaders, who allegedly opposed illegal, indiscriminate logging, had expressed their concerns over the frequent death threats issued by loggers, who for years had presumably attempted to drive them out of their Amazonian lands.

The Commission urges the Peruvian State to investigate these acts of violence with due diligence, to conduct a judicial inquiry, and to punish those responsible. Likewise, the IACHR urges the State to adopt measures without delay to protect the lives and integrity of the indigenous peoples, respecting their cultural identity, their perspective, and their concept of rights. When taking these measures, the State must take into account its obligation to refrain from discrimination and to apply the principle of equality in every effort it makes to observe and guarantee all rights of the indigenous peoples. The State’s response to these incidents must include a comprehensive prevention strategy, designed with the participation of the indigenous peoples affected, with a view to avoiding the recurrence of such acts.

In addition, the IACHR recalls that the effective enjoyment by the indigenous peoples of the right to property involves not only protection of an economic unit but also of the human rights of a community that bases its economic, social, and cultural development on its relationship with the land and its natural resources. The Commission recognizes that, despite the efforts of numerous States in the region to legally recognize the traditional territories of the indigenous peoples, there continue to be considerable gaps in the protection of these rights. This leaves the indigenous peoples in a vulnerable situation vis-à-vis third parties, especially parties interested in using and developing the resources of indigenous territories. The States must be especially mindful of these risks in the measures it takes to guarantee observance of the rights of indigenous peoples and to protect in particular the integrity and the lives of defenders working to further these rights.

The States, in view of their obligation to guarantee human rights, have the duty to take reasonable action to prevent threats, attacks, and harassment against human rights defenders; to seriously investigate facts; and, as appropriate, to punish those responsible and provide adequate compensation to victims, irrespective of whether these acts are committed by agents of the State or by individuals. The defense of human rights can only be carried out freely when the persons protecting them are not victims of murder, threats, or acts of harassment. Killings, acts of aggression, attacks, and acts of harassment directed at leaders of ancestral and indigenous peoples are harmful to their communities from various viewpoints, since these leaders represent more. They are political and spiritual leaders, sources of traditional wisdom, and essential for the spiritual and cultural development of their communities.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 102/14