Two partners of the aid agency CAFOD have been detained by police whilst investigating human rights abuses near Anglo-Swiss mining company Xstrata’s new Tintaya site in Peru. Their arrest on unsubstantiated charges comes following complaints of intimidation by local security forces.
Jaime César Borda and Romualdo Tito Pinto, who work for CAFOD’s partner the Vicariate of Solidarity of Sicuani, were first held illegally within the Xstrata mine site for two days with 20 other prisoners before being transferred to an official state institution in the city of Cusco. They are still being held along with six others.
Sergio Huamani, a representative of the United Front for the Defense of the Interests of Espinar, was also beaten at the scene of the arrests. Last month, Sergio was brought to London by CAFOD to meet with representatives from Xstrata, who promised to look into the group’s concerns.
CAFOD is demanding the immediate release of Jaime and Romualdo without charge, and an investigation into the alleged assault on Sergio.
In a statement the Catholic aid agency said:“The local authorities in Espinar must release the staff of the Vicariate immediately and without charge. We will not tolerate the abuse and intimidation of our partners. The Vicariate of Sicuani has worked for many years on behalf of the rights of communities in this area of Peru and is a trusted and long-standing CAFOD partner. We stand in solidarity with the Vicariate and will do all we can to ensure the safety and release of Jaime and Romualdo.”
Last week protesters in Espinar began a series of demonstrations calling for more dialogue between Xstrata and local communities with a protest camp outside the company’s Tintaya mine site. Police were sent in to protect the mine site and control the demonstrations. Clashes resulted in police opening fire on protestors with two people being killed. The protests at the Xstrata mine led the Peruvian government to declare a 30-day state of emergency from Tuesday (29 May).
The Catholic Church, through the Vicariate of Sicuani, has been playing a mediation role in the conflict, appealing for the respect for human rights to be observed. Vicariate lawyers, who visited the detainees in the mine site, report that they have had their shoes removed and been beaten on their heels.
Monsignor Miguel La Fay Bardi, Bishop of the Prelature of Sicuani, said: “We are outraged at the arrest of human rights defenders working for the Vicariate of Solidarity of the Prelature of Sicuani, Jaime César Borda and Romualdo Tito Pinto.
“We are saddened at the news of the death and the injuries produced as a result of the confrontation between the National Police and the civilian population. At the same time, we are worried about the situation of those people who have been detained, their security and physical safety, given the beatings they have suffered during their detention.”
On Monday during the visit by the Vicariate lawyers to those detained in the mine, Jaime César Borda, the environmental coordinator and Romualdo Tito Pinto, the organisation’s driver, were arrested by Peruvian police while waiting for their colleagues to return. Sergio Huamani, who was with them, was beaten. The keys to the Vicariate’s vehicle were confiscated and, following an un-witnessed search of the vehicle, police alleged they found firearms. The police then tried to force Jaime and Romualdo to sign a police statement, which they have refused to do.
CAFOD believes that the allegations and charges regarding the presence of firearms in the Vicariate’s vehicle are part of a wider campaign of intimidation to discredit the work of the Vicariate of Sicuani and label their workers as extremists.
As well as the release of Jaime and Romualdo, and an investigation into the alleged assault on Sergio, CAFOD is making four additional demands:
The Peruvian authorities must guarantee the physical welfare of all detainees, their transfer to a medical centre or place of legal detention, and the public security forces who have committed acts of violence must be duly investigated;
Xstrata must not allow its mine site to be used for the illegal detention of civilians, and must make clear that it condemns the acts of violence, harassment and intimidation against those individuals legitimately protesting against the mine;
Xstrata must urgently re-engage in an open, honest and constructive dialogue with the Espinar community leaders, following their meeting with them in London on 26 April. A peaceful resolution to the conflict is sought with the opening of a meaningful dialogue, facilitated through external and independent mediation; and
The delegation of the European Union and the European embassies in Peru should investigate the harassment and unlawful detention of the Vicariate staff and community leaders of Espinar who are seeking to defend people’s human rights, in accordance with the EU Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders.
The UK is the second largest investor in Peru with a capital stock of £4.4 billion in 2010. Much of this is concentrated in the country’s extractive sector. Such investment has made a significant contribution to the high rates of economic growth enjoyed by the country in recent years.
The Church of England is amongst those who have invested in Xstrata.