Justice Prevails: Peru Court Sentences Murderers of Indigenous Land Defenders to 28 Years

April 11, 2024

Camila Rossi: gro.s1719221547utser1719221547ofnia1719221547r@iss1719221547orc1719221547

“Our leaders will finally rest in peace. Justice has been served. Long live Saweto!”

After ten long years, justice was served on Thursday, April 11, for the victims of the emblematic Saweto case in the Ucayali region of Peru. The Court sentenced the four accused to 28 years and three months of imprisonment for the crimes against Ashéninka community leaders from Alto Tamaya – Saweto: Edwin Chota Valera, Jorge Ríos Pérez, Francisco Pinedo Ramírez, and Leoncio Quintisima Meléndez, who were brutally murdered on September 1, 2014. The fifth culprit is on the run and will only be tried once captured.

The four men accused of the murders were already found guilty of the crime last February and each was sentenced to 28 years in prison at that time. However, an appeals court overturned that ruling and ordered a new trial due to “irregularities” in the testimony of a witness.

Three widows of the murdered Indigenous leaders—Julia Pérez González, Hergilia Rengifo López, and Lita Rojas Pinedo—attended the hearing, as did Lina Ruiz Santillán, daughter of slain leader Francisco Pinedo. “I feel somewhat happy, but we must fight and move forward so that my father’s death does not go unpunished. I will not rest easy,” expressed Lina.

After 53 consecutive hearings since November 2, 2023, this verdict marks a significant step in pursuing justice for environmental defenders who fought against illegal logging in their communities.

Meanwhile, representatives and hundreds of members of Indigenous communities followed the hearing on a screen placed in front of the Superior Court headquarters. “Our leaders will finally rest in peace. Justice has been served. Long live Saweto!” they exclaimed.

It should be noted that the Saweto case sentence must be ratified on appeal. The full reading of the verdict is scheduled for April 23, after which there will be a five-day period for the corresponding appeal.

Rainforest Foundation US (RFUS) played an important supporting role in the case, assisting the families and widows, providing legal representation with dedicated lawyers who were key in this verdict, and also assisting with advocacy and communications.

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Didier Devers
Chief of Party – USAID Guatemala

Didier has been coordinating the USAID-funded B’atz project since joining Rainforest Foundation US in April 2022. He holds a Master’s in Applied Anthropology and a Bachelor’s in Geography. Before joining the organization, Didier worked for 12 years in Central and South America on issues of transparency, legality, governance, and managing stakeholders’ processes in the environmental sector. Prior to that he worked on similar issues in Central Africa. He speaks French, Spanish, and English, and is based in Guatemala.