Abuse Claims Against Peru Police Guarding British Firm Monterrico

Published on
by
The Guardian/UK

Abuse Claims Against Peru Police Guarding British Firm Monterrico

Protesters seek damages over 'inhuman' treatment • Shot farmer was allegedly left to bleed to death

by
Ian Cobain

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. (The Guardian/UK)

The British mining corporation Monterrico's plan was to create Peru's second largest copper mine at Rio Blanco, a vast site in the Huancabamba mountains in the north-west of the country.

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.

 

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