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Today's Top News
Abuse Claims Against Peru Police Guarding British Firm Monterrico
Protesters seek damages over 'inhuman' treatment • Shot farmer was allegedly left to bleed to death
Peru is already the world's third-largest copper-producing nation, and the mine in the province of Piura was to have increased output by around a quarter, producing exports worth up to $1bn (£600m) a year for the next 20 years.
However, the corporation found itself in conflict with local farmers soon after its arrival in the region in 2001, and has struggled to develop the project.
At 18,858 acres (7,600 hectares), the mining concession covered a vast area, much of it covered by cloud forest that collects rainwater and feeds it into rivers flowing into the agricultural basins below. Farmers and environmentalists feared the rivers would become polluted and depleted, that the fragile eco-systems of the region would be severely damaged and that farmlands would be endangered.
In law, the corporation was required to obtain the consent of two-thirds of the local population before embarking on mining but - with the apparent encouragement of the government - it tried to press ahead without it. This resulted in a series of violent confrontations.
In August 2005, a group of protesters marched to the mine to find police waiting for them. Twenty-eight of the protesters say they were detained, hooded with hands tied behind their backs, beaten with sticks and whipped.
Hundreds of people had converged on the mine from communities scattered across the region. Some had walked for several days to reach the site. Once there, they say, they were attacked by the mine's security guards and by contingents of the Peruvian federal police firing teargas.
Two protesters were shot in their legs, one man lost an eye to gunshot wounds and a farmer called Melanio Garcia, 41, suffered a fatal gunshot. Photographs allegedly taken by a Monterrico supervisor, which the protesters say support their allegations of abuse by the police, show Garcia lying on the ground, apparently alive but badly injured. Several other pictures taken 30 hours later, according to their time and date stamps, clearly show Garcia to be dead.
The protesters - who have launched a multimillion-pound claim for damages at the high court in London - claim Garcia was left to bleed to death at the mine site. Monterrico says Garcia was shot some distance from the mine and it vigorously denies that any of its officers or employees were in any way involved with the alleged abuses at Rio Blanco.
The corporation says a police officer was shot in the leg by the protesters, and that the protesters were detained because of this assault.
Richard Meeran, of Leigh Day, the London law firm bringing the high court case, said the evidence of torture was incontrovertible and that it was inconceivable the company could have been unaware of what was happening on its site.
"The company must have been aware of the inhuman treatment of the victims during their three-day ordeal at the Rio Blanco mine," he said. "Yet there is no evidence of it taking any steps to prevent the harm. On the contrary, it would appear that the company was working in cahoots with the police. It is vital that multinationals are held legally accountable for human rights violations occurring at their overseas operations."
Meeran said the claimants' allegation was not that Monterrico was responsible for Garcia's shooting, but that it failed to provide him with medical assistance.
According to statements by three former mine employees, the police arrived by helicopter and were taken to the dining area where they received instructions directly from the mine's manager. This man is said to have warned them that they were at risk of being overrun and killed by the approaching protesters if they did not take "all necessary measures".
The security staff told police where to deploy, according to statements. One adds: "The commanding officers of the police did not speak in these briefings."
One of the former mine employees said in his statement that before the protest began the manager of the mine's security force gave orders to the police "pointing out strategic points of the operation on a map, for instance, geographical points, the rotation of the police personnel and the dangers they could encounter in each area. He also explained that they had to report every 10 to 15 minutes via the Motorola radio to the management of the mining company."
When the protesters arrived, he added: "The police shot teargas immediately. I saw the community members who wanted to talk but this was immediately denied and they were teargassed. After this clash the community members, who were about 500 or 600, retreated and stopped at about 15 metres from the police. It could be observed that among the protesters there were some children, young ladies, and elderly people. The community members raised the national flag, and sang the national anthem."
Both sides spent the night there, he added, and the next day around 30 of the protesters were detained.
Doctors from Physicians for Human Rights, a Massachusetts-based NGO, examined eight of the protesters, and found physical and psychological signs of the mistreatment they described.
In the aftermath, however, local authorities prosecuted several demonstrators in a manner that Peruvian human rights groups denounced as an attempt to criminalise legitimate protest. Some people, including a number of mayors, faced charges of terrorism and corruption. Many of those charges were later dropped.
Richard Ralph, the British ambassador in Lima at the time of the incident, later resigned from the diplomatic service and joined Monterrico as executive chairman. He expressed the firm's deep regret for what had happened, and has since resigned. The company was bought by a Chinese consortium in 2007, but is still incorporated in London. It has yet to extract any copper from the mine.
A spokesman for the company declined to comment on detailed questions ahead of the case, but said: "Monterrico vigorously denies any of its officers or employees were in any way involved with the alleged abuses at the Rio Blanco mine in 2005 and it considers allegations to the contrary made by the claimants to be wholly without merit."Last March Peruvian prosecutors accused the police of torture, but cleared Monterrico and its security guards of wrongdoing. In Lima, the National Coordinating Committee for Human Rights denounced that finding, and with the emergence of the photographs, human rights activists are pinning their hopes on a victory in the English courts.