| LIMA, Sept 20
LIMA, Sept 20 Human Rights Watch urged Peruvian
President Ollanta Humala on Thursday to rein in the police and
the army to prevent them from shooting and killing people who
protest against mining companies.
At least 19 people have died in disputes over natural
resources since Humala took office in July 2011. The Andean
country is one of the world's top exporters of minerals.
The former army officer has promised to use mediation to
avert violence. But critics say he now is too quick to rely on
security forces to break up demonstrations against new mines.
In an open letter to Humala, the New York-based group said
he should immediately bar security forces from using live
ammunition to control crowds, ensure that police have adequate
supplies of nonlethal weapons and close legal loopholes that
could give immunity to officers who commit abuses.
Human Rights Watch said its investigation into the deaths of
five protesters at demonstrations in the Cajamarca region in
July against a gold mine proposed by U.S. company Newmont
turned up red flags.
"We found evidence that strongly suggests that the use of
lethal force was unwarranted and constituted a serious
violation of international human rights norms," the group said
in its eight-page letter to Humala and his Cabinet.
Fallout from the Cajamarca protests prompted Humala to
shuffle his Cabinet and promote Juan Jimenez, a human rights
lawyer who had been justice minister, to prime minister.
In 2006 Humala's failed campaign for the presidency was
rattled when he was named in a lawsuit alleging that soldiers
from an army base he oversaw in 1992 were responsible for the
disappearance of two presumed insurgents during Peru's civil
Peruvian courts exonerated Humala, but relatives of the
victims have since sent the case to the Inter-American
Commission on Human Rights.
Human Rights Watch called on Humala to carry out a thorough
inquiry to see if police shot unarmed protesters in Cajamarca.
The government, which maintains that in some cases the
protesters were armed, reiterated on Thursday that it has a plan
to use only nonlethal weapons to control crowds. It had no
Critics of mining companies have said they do not bring
enough direct economic benefits to poor rural towns, soak up
scarce water supplies and cause pollution. The government says
mines generate exports, tax revenues and jobs that have fueled
the country's decade-long economic boom.
There are more than 200 lingering disputes over natural
resources in Peru, and 165 people were killed in protests during
the term of Humala's predecessor, Alan Garcia, according to
Peru's own human rights agency.