Peru: IACHR and its Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression Condemn Violent Crowd Dispersions Within National University of San Marcos

January 27, 2023

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Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and its Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression condemn violence in efforts to disperse demonstrators from the facilities of the National University of San Marcos, in Lima. The IACHR and its Special Rapporteurship remind the State of Peru of its obligations concerning the exceptional use of force by law enforcement agencies, based on the principles of legality, absolute necessity, and proportionality. They also note the State's obligation to ensure the inviolability of academic facilities. 

On January 21, officers of Peru's National Police conducted a raid to clear the gates of the National University of San Marcos. They used armored multipurpose vehicles to tear down the gates. The raid led to mass arrests and 193 people were detained, including one pregnant woman, several children, indigenous persons, older persons, students, and four journalists. According to information provided to the IACHR by the State, all individuals arrested during the raid have since been released.  

The State said that, according to Peruvian legislation regarding universities, the National Police and the Public Prosecutor's Office may enter a university campus with a court warrant or at the university chancellor's request, except in cases where a crime is being committed or where there is an imminent danger of a crime. The State noted that the Interior Ministry and the National Police had said that crimes were being committed within university facilities when the raid happened, as reported by the university in the context of a state of emergency.  

The State further told the Commission that the raid had been conducted ex officio. The university's legal representative had previously filed a complaint for assault and theft against the university's security staff, and the University Council had agreed to demand that demonstrators leave the campus. The State also noted that the National Police had tried to negotiate with protesters within the campus before the raid.  

Civil society organizations reported an excessive use of force by law enforcement officers. There were also complaints of arbitrary arrests and raids on the bedrooms of student leaders, amid allegations of terrorism; complaints of verbal attacks including the use of intimidating, derogatory, racist, and humiliating language; and allegations that some of the women who were arrested were forced to take off their clothes and do squats. Several lawyers representing individuals who were arrested complained that they had had difficulty to access their clients. The State told the IACHR that these events were under investigation. 

The IACHR condemns the arbitrary use of force by law enforcement officers and all forms of violence and discrimination against women, children, and adolescents. The IACHR stresses that the inter-American system has categorically condemned sexual violence against women in demonstration contexts and the use of practices involving sexual violence by officers of the State as a tool to exercise control, dominance, and power and to deliver a repressive, disapproving message. These acts are a form of gender-based violence amounting to discrimination, and potentially also to torture. 

The IACHR further reminds Peru that all individuals who are deprived of liberty and held in State custody have the right to a humane treatment that fully respects their dignity and personal integrity, their access to judicial guarantees, and other fundamental rights. The Commission stresses that, while States may enter the facilities of academic institutions in extremely exceptional cases, the relevant decisions need to be made in compliance with regulations aimed at preserving public security and human rights.  

No dispersion procedures may be conducted without appropriate and legitimate legal justification and without clearly communicating the dispersion warrant in a way that ensures it is understood by demonstrators (to enable compliance) and gives them time to disperse without the use of police force. This is particularly relevant given reports that some demonstrators did not speak the language the National Police used to deliver the message.  

These events took place in the context of a social and political crisis that started on December 7 and has been closely monitored by the IACHR. Monitoring efforts have included an observation visit to the country in January 2023 and a preparation visit in December 2022, and the IACHR is currently drafting the relevant report. In this context, the IACHR and its Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression stress their urgent call to the State to focus all its efforts on solving the crisis through broad, honest, and inclusive dialogue that rebuilds trust among Peruvians and ensures the utmost respect for human rights. 

The Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression is an office created by the IACHR to promote the defense of the right to freedom of thought and expression in the Americas, considering the fundamental role that right plays in the consolidation and development of all democratic systems. 

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 and to defend 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. 010/23

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