Peru is a constitutional, multiparty republic. President Martin Vizcarra assumed the presidency in 2018 following the resignation of then president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, under whom Vizcarra was vice president, on corruption allegations. Kuczynski had won the 2016 national elections in a vote widely considered free and fair. Using a provision of the constitution, President Vizcarra dissolved Congress in September 2019 and called for new legislative elections. Free and fair legislative elections took place on January 26 to complete the 2016-21 legislative term, as mandated by the constitution. On November 9, Congress impeached President Vizcarra for alleged corruption, under the “permanent moral incapacity” clause of the constitution. President of Congress Manuel Merino assumed the presidency on November 10 due to the lack of vice presidents but resigned on November 15 following a week of widespread protests. Congress then elected Francisco Sagasti as its new president on November 16, and he consequently became president of the republic.
The Peruvian National Police, who report to the Ministry of Interior, maintain internal security. The armed forces, reporting to the Ministry of Defense, are responsible for external security but also have some domestic security responsibilities in exceptional circumstances, such as the COVID-19 national state of emergency declared in March, and in designated emergency areas. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces were accused of committing abuses during protests this year, particularly during November 10-15 protests following the impeachment of former president Vizcarra.
Significant human rights issues included: arbitrary detentions (including of minors); serious government corruption at all levels, including in the judiciary; and sex and labor trafficking.
The government took steps to investigate and in some cases prosecute or otherwise punish public officials accused of abuses, including high-level officials. Nonetheless, corruption and perception of impunity remained prevalent and were a major concern in public opinion. President Sagasti publicly committed to support the investigation and prosecution of those responsible for abuses during the November 10-15 protests. The Public Ministry, which is the autonomous public prosecutor’s office, and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights are also assessing the events of November 10-15.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were widespread allegations that Peruvian National Police (PNP) members committed arbitrary or unlawful killings during demonstrations following the impeachment of former president Vizcarra. Confirmed victims during the November 14 protest were Inti Sotelo and Brian Pintado. As of December the Public Ministry was investigating the two deaths.
In February courts confirmed a 2019 order for 36 months of pretrial detention for former PNP commander Raul Prado Ravines, accused of leading a killing squad. The case involved the alleged killing of more than 27 criminal suspects during at least nine separate police operations from 2012 to 2015 to cover up police corruption and to generate awards and promotions. For their roles in the operations, 14 police officers were in preventive detention (eight in prison and six under house arrest) awaiting trial. As of September Prado Ravines’s location was unknown.
The Shining Path domestic terrorist group conducted five separate terrorist attacks against military patrols that killed five security force members and two civilians and wounded 12 soldiers in the Valley of the Apurimac, Mantaro, and Ene Rivers (VRAEM).
Human rights and environmental activists expressed concern for their own safety while working in areas with widespread natural resource extraction, which often included illegal logging and mining. Activists alleged local authorities and other actors engaging in these activities harassed the activists, especially in areas where officials faced corruption charges and suspicion of criminal links. In April criminals who illegally sell land they do not own, often in nature reserves or indigenous areas, allegedly killed an indigenous environmental activist in Puerto Inca, Huanuco. In September an environmental activist was killed in the Madre de Dios region, where illegal mining is prevalent. Activists claimed the slow, ineffective process for punishing harassers effectively supported 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 widespread reports the police employed them, particularly against protesters during then president Merino’s November 10-15 presidency. National and international organizations, members of Congress, the press, and citizens alleged that these acts included: injury of more than 200 persons, including three journalists; the mistreatment of detainees, including degrading and sexually abusive practices; and the deployment of covert police agents who used violence against peaceful demonstrators. In December an Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) mission to the country expressed concern regarding widespread reports of disproportionate violence and intimidating tactics by police against protesters, journalists, ombudsman staffers, and volunteer health workers.
Local and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and the Office of the Ombudsman reported that police used cruel and degrading treatment and 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 about their alleged abusers, and those who did so purportedly had difficulty obtaining judicial redress and adequate compensation.
Impunity was a significant problem in the security forces. Following the November protests, the Sagasti government committed the government to launch internal investigations and to support the Public Ministry to investigate and sanction those responsible for police abuses during the protests. As of December the cases were under investigation. The Sagasti administration’s first attempts at police reform shortly after the protests faced strong political resistance in Congress and within the police force itself.
Prison conditions were generally harsh due to overcrowding, improper sanitation, inadequate nutrition, poor health care, and corruption among guards, which included guards smuggling weapons and drugs into the prisons. Guards received little to no training or supervision.
Physical Conditions: As of August the National Penitentiary Institute (INPE) reported the prison system had 89,760 prisoners in 69 facilities designed for a total of 40,137 prisoners. Of inmates, 37 percent were in pretrial detention. The population at the Lurigancho penitentiary, the largest prison in the country, was 3.7 times its prescribed capacity.
Assaults on inmates by prison guards and fellow inmates occurred. An April riot at the Castro-Castro prison resulted in the deaths of 11 inmates.
Inmates had only intermittent access to potable water. Bathing facilities were inadequate, kitchen facilities were unhygienic, and prisoners often slept in hallways and common areas due to the lack of cell space. INPE established medical isolation areas at each facility, but it was unclear if these spaces were sufficient to house affected inmates and reduce COVID-19 exposure for the rest of the general population in each facility. Prisoners with money or other resources had access to cell phones, illegal drugs, and better meals prepared outside the prison; prisoners who lacked funds experienced more difficult conditions.
Most prisons provided limited access to medical care, which resulted in delayed diagnoses of illnesses. The COVID-19 pandemic aggravated this situation. Inmates lacked access to required daily medications for chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease, leading to subsequent complications such as blindness and limb amputation. Restrictions on visitations due to COVID-19 further limited inmate access to resources, since visits by relatives were a frequent source of food, medicine, and clothing for inmates.
Inmates complained of having to pay for medical attention. Tuberculosis, HIV, and AIDS reportedly remained at near-epidemic levels. The Ombudsman’s Office reported insufficient accessibility and inadequate facilities for prisoners with disabilities. Prisoners with mental disabilities and mental health conditions usually lacked access to adequate psychological care.
Prisons became a critical COVID-19 hotspot during the pandemic, and the Ombudsman’s Office urged the government in April to preserve life, health, and security inside prisons. As of July more than 2,600 inmates tested positive for COVID-19, and 249 died of the disease. The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights took urgent measures to reduce crowding and improve sanitary conditions in detention centers. As of July the government had pardoned or commuted the sentences of 1,929 inmates who met the eligibility conditions and released them. Eligibility conditions for pardons and commutations included a sentence for minor offenses only and having already served two-thirds of the jail sentence. Persons serving for crimes such as murder, rape, drug trafficking, and terrorism were not eligible for release. Additionally, 2,000 of 2,700 persons serving sentences for alimony debts were released upon debt payment.
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. International Committee of the Red Cross officials and representatives of the Ombudsman’s Office made unannounced visits to inmates in prisons and detention centers. The Ministry of Women and Vulnerable Populations and UNICEF monitored and advised on policies for juvenile detention centers.
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge in court the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention. Following the November 9 protests and change in government, citizens, domestic and international organizations, and members of Congress expressed concern that police did not follow lawful arrest and detention procedures during widespread political protests. The government constitutionally suspended the right to freedom from arrest without warrant in designated emergency zones and during the national state of emergency for COVID-19.
The law requires a written judicial warrant based on sufficient evidence for an arrest unless authorities apprehended the alleged perpetrator of a crime in the act. Only judges may authorize detentions. The press, national and international organizations such as the IACHR, the Ombudsman’s Office, members of Congress, and citizens alleged police did not respect these procedures during the November 10-15 protests.
The government constitutionally suspended the right to freedom from arrest without warrant during the national state of emergency declared on March 16 to fight the spread of COVID-19. In March and April, 55,000 persons were arrested for not complying with curfews, social isolation, and other measures to fight the pandemic. The PNP detained offenders and charged significant fines.
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; authorities respected this requirement.
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: There were reports of unlawful detentions by police forces, including plainclothes officers, during November 10-15 that allegedly led to the temporary disappearances of dozens of citizens who protested during this period. Some protesters alleged they were held for up to 72 hours. As of December the government was investigating these allegations.
Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention remained a problem. According to an April report by INPE, 37 percent of prisoners were being held under pretrial detention. The length of pretrial detention occasionally equaled but did not exceed the maximum sentence of the alleged crime. Delays were due mainly to judicial inefficiency, corruption, and staff shortages. 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 tried 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 March, Congress approved legislation that prevents the use of pretrial detention on police officers who kill or injure “while complying with their duties.”
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary. Some NGO representatives and other advocates alleged the judiciary did not always operate independently, was not consistently impartial, and was sometimes subject to political influence and corruption. Authorities generally respected court orders from the judiciary.
Following a 2018 influence-peddling scandal involving judges and politicians, then president Vizcarra implemented measures to address judicial corruption, including replacing the National Council of Magistrates with a reformed version called the National Board of Justice. The National Council of Magistrates, the body in charge of selecting, evaluating, and punishing judges and prosecutors, was at the heart of the corruption scandal. The new National Board of Justice took office in January. It maintains the same responsibilities as the council but selects its members through a competitive public application process.
The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and the judiciary generally enforced this right, although reports of corruption in the judicial system were common. The government continued the implementation, begun in 2006, of the transition from an inquisitorial to an accusatory legal system and the application of a new criminal procedure code to streamline the penal process. As of September the government had introduced the code in 32 of the 34 judicial districts. Implementation in the two largest judicial districts, Lima Center and Lima South, remained pending.
The law presumes all defendants are innocent. The government must promptly inform defendants in detail of the charges against them and provide defendants a trial without undue delay. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial and to communicate with an attorney of their choice or have one provided at public expense. State-provided attorneys, however, often had poor training and excessive caseloads. Although the law grants citizens the right to a trial in their own language, interpretation and translation services for non-Spanish speakers were not always available. This deficiency primarily affected speakers of indigenous Andean and Amazonian languages.
The law provides that all defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense. Defendants have the right to confront adverse witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence. The government cannot compel defendants to testify or confess to a crime. Defendants may appeal verdicts to a higher court and ultimately to the Supreme Court. The Constitutional Tribunal may rule on cases involving the constitutionality of laws and issues such as habeas corpus.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees during the year.
Citizens may seek civil remedies for human rights violations, but court cases often take years to resolve. Press reports, NGOs, and other sources alleged that persons outside the judiciary frequently corrupted or influenced judges.
The law prohibits such actions, and there were no reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions. The national state of emergency declared on March 16 for COVID-19 allowed authorities to inspect places suspected of violating public health regulations such as curfew times and prohibition of large gatherings. The government’s continued declaration of an emergency zone in the VRAEM due to drug trafficking and terrorist activity suspended the right to home inviolability in that region.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The law provides citizens the ability to choose their national and local government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal, compulsory, and equal suffrage.
Elections and Political Participation
Recent Elections: Elections were held in April 2016 for Congress and president. Domestic and international observers declared the elections to be fair and transparent, despite controversy over the exclusion of two presidential candidates for administrative violations of election-related laws. Pedro Pablo Kuczynski won and assumed the presidency in July 2016, with Martin Vizcarra as first vice president. President Kuczynski resigned in March 2018, a few days before his impeachment hearing on corruption allegations. Pursuant to the constitution, in March 2018 First Vice President Vizcarra assumed the presidency following Kuczynski’s resignation. Congress voted to remove Vizcarra under the “permanent moral incapacity” clause of the constitution, and President of Congress Manuel Merino assumed the interim presidency on November 10. Merino resigned on November 15 following widespread protests and the deaths of two protesters. Congress appointed Francisco Sagasti as its president on November 16, and per the constitution’s order of succession, Sagasti then assumed the presidency of the country.
The country held free and fair legislative elections on January 26, following President Vizcarra’s constitutional dissolution of Congress in September 2019. Political opponents of Vizcarra presented a challenge in the Constitutional Tribunal to the dissolution. In January the Constitutional Tribunal ruled the president’s dissolution of Congress was constitutional, but it recommended amendment of the relevant articles of the constitution for clarity.
Political Parties and Political Participation: By law groups that advocate the violent overthrow of the government and adhere to ideologies intrinsically incompatible with democracy cannot register as political parties. In September the government enacted a constitutional amendment that prohibits individuals with a criminal record from running for public office.
Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. In June Congress approved a law requiring gender parity in political parties’ lists of congressional candidates, in party lists to elect regional assemblies, in party tickets to elect regional governors and vice governors, and in party tickets to elect the president and vice presidents. This law raises a previous quota of 30 percent for each gender in congressional lists to 50 percent. Of the 130 members of Congress, 33 were women in the 2020-21 term, compared with 36 during the dissolved 2016-19 term, and 28 in the 2011-16 term. The advent of Sagasti’s government brought more women leaders to the fore. As of December the judiciary and the Ministry of Defense were led by women for the first time. Women also served as prime minister, attorney general, head of the Constitutional Court, and interim president of Congress.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials; however, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of corruption by government officials during the year. Citizens continued to view corruption as a pervasive problem in all branches of national, regional, and local governments.
Corruption: Several high-profile political figures remained under investigation for corruption, particularly in relation to the well publicized Odebrecht corruption scandal.
Authorities transferred two-time presidential runner-up Keiko Fujimori from preventive detention to house arrest in May during the COVID-19 pandemic, while they continued investigating her for obstruction of justice and money laundering of campaign donations.
There were widespread allegations of corruption in public procurement and in public-private partnerships. Large transportation and energy infrastructure contracts frequently generated high-ranking political interference and corruption, including by former presidents and regional governors. Companies also reported midlevel government officials skewed tender specifications to favor bidders that paid bribes.
There was evidence of widespread corruption in the judicial system. Prosecutors continued an investigation launched following 2018 media reports on a judicial scandal involving allegations of influence peddling and graft by judges at all levels. Corruption was frequent at all levels of the PNP.
Financial Disclosure: Elected public officials and high-level appointed officials must submit personal financial information to the Office of the Comptroller General prior to taking office and periodically thereafter. The comptroller monitors and verifies disclosures, but the law was not strongly enforced. Administrative punishments for noncompliance may include suspension between 30 days and one year, a ban on signing government contracts, and a ban on holding government office. The comptroller makes disclosures available to the public.