Indigenous Asheninka Diana Ríos appearing before the Superior Court of Justice of the Peruvian Amazonian province of Ucayali in October 2019 to file her community’s formal accusation for the murder of four of their leaders. Photo Credit: Rainforest Foundation US 

Justice Delayed Is Justice Denied: Saweto Testifies Before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

Seeking Justice

Today, October 6, 2020, indigenous Asheninka spokeswoman Diana Ríos is testifying before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on how delays and corruption in the Peruvian judicial system concerning her community’s case is effectively denying them their basic right to justice.

Since losing their husbands, fathers, and brothers to a brutal attack by illegal loggers in September 2014, the widows and community of Saweto have fought for justice, seeking nothing more than a proper investigation and prosecution of those responsible.

Read the full history of Saweto’s struggle here

They have persevered in this struggle for six years, facing near-constant personal risk including harassment, death threats and other means of intimidation. 

Delay Delay Delay

Meanwhile, the Peruvian judicial system has lagged in providing due process, most notably demonstrated in perpetuating serial delays for a hearing on the criminal accusations supported by the community and prepared by the Regional Prosecutor last year.

On October 30th 2019, the Ucayali Regional Prosecutor Otoniel Jara, accompanied by Diana Ríos (daughter of the assassinated Jorge Ríos Pérez), presented the indigenous Asheninka community of Saweto’s formal accusation to the Superior Court of Justice of the Peruvian Amazonian province of Ucayali in Pucallpa, Peru. This landmark filing accused Hugo Soria, an operative from the logging company ECO FORESTAL UCAYALI SAC (ECOFUSAC), of being the intellectual author of the killing of Edwin Chota, Jorge Rios, Francisco Pineda, and Leoncidio Quintisima, indigenous leaders whose sole objective had been the defense of their peoples’ ancestral territories. The filing received significant international coverage and was followed by a high-profile advocacy mission in December 2019 to Washington DC where Diana Ríos and Rainforest Foundation US appealed to Congress and multiple embassies to pressure Peruvian officials to deliver a fair trial. 

Nearly one year on, the formal hearing on the accusation has faced an unprecedented number of delays—for arguably dubious motives—that persist to this day. The following records the delays faced by the prosecution and the stated rationale that accompanied each.

Hearing #1: December 21st, 2019

Hearing suspended due to alleged health issues for two of the defendants and postponed until January 2020.

Hearing #2: January 17th, 2020

The judge did not attend the hearing because of health issues and her replacement could not attend since, “unfortunately”, he had other hearings of his court at the same time. The hearing was postponed to March 5th, 2020 

Hearing #3: March 5th, 2020

The prosecutor Dennis Vega requested the judge too rescheduling the hearing in accordance with a gubernamental resolution that terminated the functions of the prosecutor in charge. Vega was subsequently assigned to the investigation and the judge presiding over the hearing proceeded to reschedule it for April 3rd, 2020.

Hearing #4: April 3rd, 2020

The Judiciary and the Public Ministry halted activity due to the Peruvian Government’s State of Emergency caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In July 2020, Rainforest Foundation US, representing Saweto, requested a new date and the Regional Court set it for August 21st, 2020.

Hearing #5: August 21st, 2020

The new lead prosecutor left abruptly on vacation and the prosecutor appointed to fill in at the last minute was compelled to reschedule the date due to his inability to represent the case properly. Having recorded the irresponsible conduct of the appointed prosecutor, the judge proceeded to establish the hearing for September 22nd, 2020.

Hearing #6: September 22nd, 2020

The judge suspended the hearing due to the lack of representation  of the accused, Hugo Soria, whose appointed defense resigned the day before. The judge appointed him a public defender and rescheduled the hearing date for November 2nd, 2020.

What’s Next For Saweto

The community of Saweto is experiencing mounting frustration in the ineffectiveness of the Peruvian judicial system as their accusation hearing is repeatedly rescheduled and as a lack of constraints and sanctions are imposed on the prosecutors and judges appointed to the case. Meanwhile, they experience an obstructionist attitude on the technical defense of the accused.

Today, Diana Ríos will be presenting these and other delays on her community’s case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights as evidence of an insufficient and corrupt justice system that perpetuates violations of human rights by denying access to justice.

Saweto unfortunately has not been the sole Amazonian indigenous community fighting to protect their environment at great personal risk, while the political and judicial system tolerates impunity for atrocities perpetrated against them. Their testimony at the Commission will be joined by those of Santa Clara de Uchunya community, Unipacuyacu community and Nuevo Amanecer Hawai community.

It is the community’s hope that the visibility of Saweto’s challenges at the international level paves the way for their accusation’s successful hearing now scheduled for November 2nd, 2020.

Rainforest Foundation US has been providing legal and advocacy support and accompaniment over the course of the Saweto community’s case and will be providing regular updates as the process advances on JusticeForSaweto.org.

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Daniela supports the overall administration and financial and operational management of Rainforest Foundation US’s work in Peru, with a recent focus on supporting the program’s COVID-19 response. Prior to joining Rainforest Foundation, Daniela was a supervisor at the Casa Andina hotel network in Peru, providing staff and management oversight of large teams. She holds a Master’s in Business Management from the Universidad San Martin De Porres. She is a native Spanish language speaker and is proficient in English.