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
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
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.
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.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media
The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press and a functioning democratic political system generally promoted freedom of expression, including for members of the media.
Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Several organizations, including the Institute of Press and Society (IPYS), EU Electoral Observation Mission, Ombudsman’s Office, and Ethics Tribunal of the Peruvian Press, noted biased coverage of the second-round electoral campaign by most Lima-based national press outlets. The EU report described the role of “most private media coverage” as “clearly biased in favor of Fujimori and against Castillo, without distinction between facts and opinion, undermining the right to truthful information.” The Ethics Tribunal of the Peruvian Press expressed concern for “headlines […] that did not match the facts, interested opinions disguised as impartial analysis, and an unequal coverage of presidential campaign events in time and substance,” further warning that “this behavior seriously damaged citizens’ trust in the Peruvian press.” Controversial actions included the May dismissal of leading television channel America Television’s journalism director and the resignation of the hosts and reporters who worked in its premier political weekly show. The resigning staff accused the channel of demanding they provide biased coverage in favor of candidate Keiko Fujimori.
Violence and Harassment: IPYS, the Association of Foreign Press of Peru (APEP), and the Ombudsman’s Office denounced aggression and intimidation towards journalists who covered second-round campaign events in May and June as well as postelection political rallies in June and July.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: In August IPYS and APEP criticized the Castillo administration for limiting press access to official government events such as the swearing in of cabinet ministers. The Sagasti and Castillo governments limited press access to high-level events based on COVID-19 restrictions. In early December President Castillo reopened press access to the government palace.
Nongovernmental Impact: NGO representatives reported local figures linked to a wide array of political and economic interests threatened press freedom by intimidating local journalists who reported on those activities. This was particularly acute in areas with a strong presence of illegal activities.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials; however, the government did not always implement the law effectively. 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. 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 who paid bribes. The COVID-19 pandemic and the urgent public procurement of medical supplies exacerbated the incidence of corruption.
There was evidence of widespread corruption in the judicial system. Prosecutors continued an investigation launched following 2018 media reports of a judicial scandal involving allegations of influence peddling and graft by judges at multiple levels. Corruption was frequent at all levels of the PNP. Observers said the 2019 creation of the National Justice Commission, an independent body in charge of hiring and disciplining prosecutors and judges, was a step toward increased transparency and accountability. The commission had removed more than 100 officials for corruption as of September, including judges and prosecutors.
Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men and women, including spousal rape. Penalties are a minimum of 14 years and a maximum of life in prison. Enforcement of sexual and domestic violence laws was inadequate, often at the discretion of the relevant authorities, according to gender-based violence experts. Undue dismissals of charges were allegedly also common. Nevertheless, emblematic sentences occurred, such as the November conviction of five men to 20-year prison sentences for the 2020 rape of a 21-year-old woman in Lima.
The law defines femicide as the crime of killing of a woman or girl based on expectations, assumptions, or factors distinctive to her gender. The minimum sentence for femicide is generally 20 years, or 30 years when the crime includes aggravating circumstances (e.g., crimes against minor, elderly, or pregnant victims). Police action to enforce the law was weak and slow, and prosecution of cases was often lengthy and ineffective. In August a man killed a 15-year-old girl in Jicamarca as revenge for accusing him of kidnapping her. The killer had been released in June from 15 months of preventive detention based on the kidnapping charges.
The law prohibits domestic violence; penalties generally range from one month to six years in prison. The law authorizes judges and prosecutors to prevent a convicted spouse or parent from returning to the family home. The law also authorizes the victim’s relatives and unrelated persons living in the home to file complaints of domestic violence. The law requires a police investigation of domestic violence to take place within five days of a complaint and obliges authorities to extend protection to female victims of domestic violence. Enforcement of the law was lax, according to NGOs specialized in combatting gender-based violence.
Violence against women and girls, including sexual, physical, and psychological abuse, was a serious, underreported national problem. A government health survey from 2020, published in May, stated 55 percent of women ages 15 to 49 had suffered physical (27 percent), psychological (50 percent), or sexual (6 percent) violence in the previous 12 months. The Ministry of Women and Vulnerable Populations reported more than 57,000 cases of violence against women between January and July, including 92 femicides and 79 femicide attempts; 46 percent of reported cases included physical violence, 56 percent included psychological violence, 46 percent included physical violence, and 15 percent included sexual violence. In most cases of femicide, the killer was the victim’s partner or former partner. The Ombudsman’s Office and the vice minister of women both expressed concern because the reported yearly figures represented a 16 percent increase over the same period in 2020.
The Ministry of Women and Vulnerable Populations operated 449 service centers for victims of domestic violence, sexual abuse, and other crimes including sex trafficking and their accompanying children. Some of these emergency centers provided basic short-term shelter as well as legal, psychological, and social services. NGO representatives expressed concerns regarding the quality and quantity of the program’s services, particularly in rural areas. The ministry operated a toll-free hotline and implemented projects to sensitize government employees and citizens to the problem of domestic violence. The Public Ministry operated emergency accommodation that women and children survivors of domestic violence and other crimes, such as human trafficking, could use for short-term accommodation. The government made efforts to expand temporary shelters, but NGO representatives and members of Congress stated there were not enough.
Provincial prosecutorial offices are required by law to incorporate victims of sexual violence into the national Victims and Witness Assistance Program or to request required protection measures from the court; however, one NGO reported 15 percent of criminal prosecutors did not make these requests.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment was a serious problem. The law defines sexual harassment as comments, touching, or actions of a sexual nature that are unsolicited and unwanted by the victim. The penalty for sexual harassment is up to eight years in prison. Sexual harassment in the workplace is also a labor rights violation subject to administrative penalties. Government enforcement of the law was minimal, according to experts on gender-based violence.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Access to menstrual health remained a problem, particularly in rural and poor areas, due to lack of water and sanitation, high price of menstrual hygiene products, and a lack of information and awareness by teachers and employers.
Of births nationwide, 94 percent occurred in institutional facilities, such as hospitals, clinics, and health centers. This figure dropped to 84 percent in rural areas. Civil society organizations reported that women in rural areas, especially Quechua-speaking women, were distrustful of health-care providers, who sometimes imposed fines on indigenous women who gave birth at home. Civil society organizations that focused on sexual and reproductive health reported health-care staff at times threatened to withhold birth certificates, and indigenous women in rural areas experienced “verbal aggressions, mistreatment, the imposition of institutionalized and horizontal childbirth, and ignorance of their language and customs,” when seeking reproductive health services. Other factors, such as lack of sexual education, location of health centers, religious and social customs, and economic hardships, also contributed to the mistrust of the state health-care system among certain populations.
The law requires public health centers to provide free access to emergency contraception, which was also available at a cost in commercial pharmacies. Postsexual assault kits included emergency contraception. There were complaints of unnecessary delays in processing the kits. Health officials reported they provided a total of 1,325 kits to victims in 2020, an increase from 335 in 2019.
Both public and private health centers provided care for postabortion obstetric emergencies. Experts noted, however, that because nonaccidental abortion is criminalized, there was a risk of public health centers filing charges against the patient following the procedure. This was less of a concern at private health centers, leading to socioeconomic disparities regarding the legal implications of abortion.
Early motherhood continued to be a risk to adolescent health. The 2020 data from the Demographic and Family Health Survey reported 8 percent of female adolescents ages 15-19 had been pregnant at least once (12 percent in rural areas).
Discrimination: The law provides for equality between men and women. It prohibits gender-based discrimination between partners regarding marriage, pregnancy, pay, and property rights. Despite this, the law obliges only women to wait 300 days after widowhood or divorce to remarry. The government did not always enforce the law effectively, according to specialized NGOs.
Arbitrary dismissal of pregnant women and workplace discrimination against women were common. The law stipulates women should receive equal pay for equal work, but women often were paid less than men for the same jobs.
Indigenous persons remained politically, economically, and socially disadvantaged. Indigenous peoples in the Amazon region faced threats from land grabbers, narcotics traffickers, illegal miners, illegal loggers, and extractive industries that operated near or within indigenous land holdings. Indigenous persons were particularly at risk for both sex and labor trafficking. Many indigenous persons who lived in rural communities had limited access to justice, protection, or abuse prevention activities. Indigenous leaders claimed the national and regional governments did not adequately protect indigenous peoples and their property interests.
NGOs, fellow activists, the United Nations, and various government actors expressed concern regarding the increase in killings of environmental activists in the last two years (see section 1.a.). Activists claimed the slow, ineffective process for punishing harassers and killers effectively supported impunity.
Regulatory measures and protection responses were insufficient to deter threats posed to environmental rights defenders. Experts cited a need for public policy changes to provide effective protection, including a system in line with the Escazu Agreement, which deepens the linkage between human rights and environmental justice. They criticized Congress for refusing to ratify the Escazu Agreement in 2020, without further action as of November.
While the constitution recognizes that indigenous peoples have the right to own land communally, indigenous groups often lacked legal title to demarcate the boundaries of their land. Amazonian indigenous peoples continued to accuse the national government of delaying the issuance of land titles. By law indigenous communities retain the right of nonassignability, which is designed to prevent the title to indigenous lands from being reassigned to a nonindigenous person. Some indigenous community members, however, sold land to outsiders without the majority consent of their community.
The national government retains subsurface mineral rights for land nationwide. This led to disputes between local indigenous communities, the national government, regional governments, and various extractive industry interests. The law requires the government to consult with indigenous communities on proposed extractive projects or on changes to current extractive projects. The law also requires the government to produce a detailed implementation plan to facilitate government and private-sector compliance. Implementation of this law was considered by observers as somewhat effective.
The law requires the Ministry of Culture to establish a database of indigenous communities entitled to consultation. The ministry recognized 55 indigenous peoples entitled to “prior consultation” and confirmed the existence of another 14 indigenous “peoples in voluntary isolation” with very limited or no contact with the rest of the country, all of them in the Amazon rainforest. The government recognized 48 indigenous languages, including four Andean and 44 Amazonian languages. Quechua is the most widely spoken indigenous language, with 14 percent of citizens (4.4 million individuals) claiming it as their first language. Quechua is the co-official national language with Spanish, and access to essential public services and government action in Quechua should be available, but enforcement of this remained weak at the national level. Other significant indigenous languages include Aymara, Ashaninka, Awajun, and Shipibo.
From 2014 to 2019, the government initiated 24 prior consultations with various indigenous communities, which generated 487 agreements. Of the 24 prior consultations, 10 were concluded and 14 continued at year’s end.
NGOs, legal experts, and the Ombudsman’s Office expressed concern that indigenous communities did not have sufficient training to engage effectively in consultations with the government and extractive industries.