Peru is a constitutional, multiparty republic. President Pedro Castillo assumed the presidency in July, succeeding President Francisco Sagasti, after winning the June 6 presidential runoff, in elections that observers characterized as free and fair. Legislative elections took place concurrently to elect the 130-member, single-chamber parliament.
The Peruvian National Police report to the Ministry of Interior and maintain internal security. The Peruvian Armed Forces, reporting to the Ministry of Defense, are responsible for external security in addition to some domestic security responsibilities in designated emergency areas and in exceptional circumstances. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces. There were credible reports that members of security forces committed some abuses.
Significant human rights issues included credible reports of serious government corruption at all levels, including in the judiciary; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence; and sex and labor trafficking.
The government took steps to investigate and, in some cases, prosecute or otherwise punish public officials accused of abuses and corruption, including high-level officials. Nonetheless, corruption and a perception of impunity remained prevalent and were major public concerns.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person
In contrast with 2020, there were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
On May 23, between three and five unidentified individuals shot and killed 16 persons, including two minors, in the town of San Miguel del Ene, in the Valley of the Apurimac, Ene, and Mantaro Rivers (VRAEM). The Joint Command of the Armed Forces attributed the killings to the self-named Militarized Communist Party of Peru, led by remnants of the Shining Path domestic terrorist group, which was active in the VRAEM and heavily engaged in drug-trafficking activities. Press reported surviving witnesses’ testimonies that cast doubt on that official account, noting that the appearance, modus operandi, and retreat direction of the shooters did not match the usual behavior of the Militarized Communist Party of Peru. The incident, which took place two weeks before the June 6 second round of presidential elections, was under investigation by the Public Ministry as of November.
As of November the Public Ministry was investigating the killings allegedly committed by security forces of Inti Sotelo and Brian Pintado in November 2020, during protests following the congressional impeachment of former president Vizcarra. The Public Ministry was also investigating the December 2020 death of demonstrator Jorge Munoz, allegedly killed by members of the Peruvian National Police (PNP) during an agricultural workers’ strike in Chao, La Libertad.
The prosecution continued of former midlevel PNP officer Raul Prado Ravines, accused of leading an extrajudicial killing squad from 2012 to 2015. The case involved the alleged killing of more than 27 criminal suspects during at least nine separate police operations to cover up police corruption and to generate awards and promotions. As of October there were 14 police officers in preventive detention, eight in prison and six under house arrest, awaiting trial for their alleged roles in the operations. In September 2020 a judge issued a pretrial detention order against Prado Ravines, but as of November his location was unknown.
Human rights and environmental activists expressed concern for their own safety while working in areas with drug trafficking or widespread natural resource extraction, such as illegal logging and mining. Activists accused actors engaging in these activities and local authorities of harassing them, especially in areas where officials faced corruption charges and suspicion of criminal links. As of October at least four environmental rights defenders in the Peruvian Amazon, mostly indigenous leaders, had been killed defending their land. In February criminals who were reportedly engaged in drug trafficking and illegal logging allegedly killed two indigenous Kakataibo environmental activists, Herasmo Garcia and Yenes Rios, in Puerto Nuevo, Ucayali. In March suspected land traffickers killed indigenous Ashaninka leader and environmental activist Estela Casanto in Shankivironi, Junin. In July unidentified individuals shot and killed indigenous leader Mario Lopez in Puerto Bermudez, Pasco. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), fellow activists, the United Nations, and various government actors expressed concern for the increase in killings of environmental activists (four environmental activists were killed during the year and five in 2020, compared with one in 2019). Activists claimed the slow, ineffective justice process supported continued impunity.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The law prohibits such practices, but there were reports that government officials employed them. Local and international NGOs stated the government did not effectively prevent these abuses or punish those who committed them. According to NGO representatives, many victims did not file formal complaints against their alleged abusers, and those who did so purportedly had difficulty obtaining judicial redress and adequate compensation.
Prosecutors continued investigations of widespread allegations that police committed abuses against protesters during the five-day presidency of Manuel Merino in November 2020. In October the attorney general requested Congress to allow a criminal accusation against Merino, his prime minister Antero Florez Araoz, and his minister of interior Gaston Rodriguez as responsible for the abuses, including two confirmed killings. On November 12, Congresswoman Susel Paredes filed a request for Congress to discuss allowing the criminal accusation against Merino, Florez, and Rodriguez.
Impunity remained a significant problem in the security forces. The lack of sanctions regarding the November 2020 alleged abuses by security forces heightened public concern regarding accountability. There is an autonomous legal system that governs the conduct of active-duty PNP and military personnel. Prosecuting high-level officials, including ministers of interior and ministers of defense, requires a formal request from prosecutors to Congress to lift officials’ immunity and congressional approval to proceed.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions were generally harsh due to overcrowding, improper sanitation, inadequate nutrition, poor health care, and corruption among guards, who allegedly smuggled weapons and drugs into the prisons.
Physical Conditions: As of May the National Penitentiary Institute (INPE) reported the prison system held 86,812 prisoners in 69 facilities designed for a total of 40,137 prisoners. Of inmates, 36 percent were in pretrial detention. The population at the largest prison in the country, the Lurigancho penitentiary, was 3.7 times its prescribed capacity.
Assaults on inmates by prison guards and fellow inmates occurred. Many inmates had only intermittent access to potable water. Bathing facilities were often inadequate, kitchen facilities were unhygienic, and prisoners often slept in hallways and common areas due to a lack of cell space.
Prisoners with money, influence, or other resources had access to privileges including cell phones, illegal drugs, and better meals prepared outside the prison. In June leaked audio recordings revealed that inmate Vladimiro Montesinos, an advisor to former president Alberto Fujimori serving a sentence for human right abuses and corruption, engaged in political activities during the 2021 presidential campaign by telephone from inside a high-security prison run by the navy. In August the government transferred Montesinos to another high-security prison.
Most prisons provided limited access to medical care, which resulted in delayed diagnoses of illnesses. The COVID-19 pandemic aggravated this situation. Visitation restrictions due to COVID-19 further limited inmate access to resources, since visits by relatives were previously a frequent source of food, medicine, and clothing. Inmates complained of having to pay for medical care. A study by researchers from Pedro Ruiz Gallo University found tuberculosis, HIV, and AIDS remained at levels high enough to constitute a potential threat to the broader public health. The Ombudsman’s Office continued to report insufficient accessibility and inadequate facilities for prisoners with disabilities. Prisoners with mental disabilities usually lacked access to adequate psychological care.
Administration: Independent and government authorities investigated credible allegations of mistreatment.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring visits by independent human rights and international humanitarian law observers. COVID-19 distancing restrictions halted unannounced visits to inmates by International Committee of the Red Cross officials and representatives of the Ombudsman’s Office, but the government coordinated with and received written feedback from them. The Ministry of Women and Vulnerable Populations and UNICEF monitored and advised on policies for juvenile detention centers.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge in court the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention. The government constitutionally suspended the right to freedom from arrest without warrant in designated emergency zones and nationwide during the continued national state of emergency for COVID-19. As of November lesser restrictions to avoid the spread of COVID-19 remained in force.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
The law requires a written judicial warrant based on sufficient evidence for an arrest unless authorities apprehended the alleged perpetrator in the actual conduct of a crime. In all other circumstances, only judges may authorize detentions. Authorities are required to arraign arrested persons within 24 hours, except in cases of suspected terrorism, drug trafficking, or espionage, for which arraignment must take place within 15 days. In remote areas, arraignment must take place as soon as practicable. Military authorities must turn over persons they detain to police within 24 hours. Police must file a report with the Public Ministry within 24 hours of an arrest. The Public Ministry, in turn, must issue its own assessment of the legality of the police action in the arrest.
The law permits detainees to have access to family members and a lawyer of their choice. Police may detain suspected terrorists incommunicado for 10 days.
Arbitrary Arrest: Prosecutors continued to investigate allegations of unlawful detentions by police forces, including plainclothes officers, that reportedly occurred during the November 2020 protests.
Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention remained a problem. According to a May report by INPE, 36 percent of prisoners were being held under pretrial detention provisions. The length of pretrial detention occasionally equaled but did not exceed the maximum sentence of an alleged crime. Delays were due mainly to judicial inefficiency, corruption, and staff shortages, and the COVID-19 pandemic. In accordance with the law, courts released prisoners held more than nine months (up to 36 months in complex cases) whom the justice system had not yet tried, convicted, and sentenced. The courts factored pretrial detention into final sentences.
Official guidelines stipulate an accused individual must meet three conditions to receive pretrial detention: there should be reasonable evidence that the subject committed the crime; the penalty for the crime must be greater than a four-year prison sentence; and the subject is a flight risk or could obstruct the justice process through undue influence over key actors, including through coercion, corruption, or intimidation. The Constitutional Tribunal may consider the guidelines for current cases of pretrial detention as they deliberate habeas corpus requests. In 2020 Congress approved legislation preventing the use of pretrial detention of police officers who kill or injure “while complying with their duties,” overriding executive opposition.
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary. Some NGO representatives alleged the judiciary did not always operate independently, was not consistently impartial, and was sometimes subject to political influence and corruption.
The law prohibits such actions, and there were no reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions. The government’s continued declaration of emergency zones in the VRAEM and La Pampa – due to drug trafficking and terrorist activity, and illegal mining, respectively – suspended the right to home inviolability in those regions.