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Three dead, 31 injured as police use lethal force on protesters

(Human Rights Watch/IFEX) - Washington, DC, April 8, 2011 - Peru should conduct a prompt, thorough, and impartial investigation into the killing of 3 demonstrators and injuring of at least 31 others during confrontations with the police in Islay province, Human Rights Watch said today.

The confrontations, since April 3, 2011, came during protests against the results of an environmental impact test of a potential mining project in the province of Islay. A local human rights group said in a statement that the police threw tear gas bombs and opened live fire "indiscriminately" to disperse the demonstrations. News media reported that 11 police officers had been injured as well.

"The reports that police opened fire on demonstrators are very disturbing," said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. "Anyone who used excessive force in Islay needs to be brought to justice."

The National Human Rights Coordinator (Coordinadora Nacional de Derechos Humanos), an organization that groups over 80 nongovernmental organizations in Peru, contends that the police's use of lethal force did not comply with international standards. The three people who were killed during the demonstrations, the national and local sources reported, are: Carlos Andrés Taype Choquepuma, 22, who had three gunshot wounds in his back, and died on April 3;
Aurelio Huancapuma, 50, and Nestor Cerezo Cataño, 31, who were both killed on April 7.

The number of injured protesters remains uncertain. According to press accounts, Rolando Luque, an official from the national ombudsman's office, said his office had documented 31 cases of injured demonstrators. A local human rights group in Arequipa and press accounts reported that over 50 protesters had been injured. Video footage shows several demonstrators, including a woman, with apparent bullet wounds.

The media reports also said that demonstrators had set on fire a municipal building in Islay and had burned a truck.

The United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials provides that law enforcement officials, in carrying out their duty, shall, as far as possible, apply non-violent means before resorting to the use of force and firearms. Whenever the lawful use of force and firearms is unavoidable, law enforcement officials shall use restraint and act in proportion to the seriousness of the offense. The legitimate objective should be achieved with minimal damage and injury, and preservation of human life respected.

"Human Rights Watch recognizes that the Peruvian police have a duty to respond to protesters who engage in violence and prosecute those who break the law," Vivanco said. "But they also have an obligation to respect the basic rights of demonstrators."

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