Sat. May 25th, 2024

A Peruvian court has sentenced five men to nearly three decades in prison for the murders of four Indigenous Amazon land defenders. These defenders, leaders of the Ashaninka people, were brutally killed in front of their community members on September 1, 2014, in a confrontation with illegal loggers operating along the Brazil-Peru border.

The victims, Edwin Chota, Jorge Rios, Leoncio Quintisima, and Francisco Pinedo, were staunchly defending their land against encroachment. Peru’s main Indigenous organization, AIDESEP, highlighted the murders as a grim consequence of their resistance to illegal logging activities. Edwin Chota, particularly renowned for his environmental activism, had previously received threats for his efforts to protect the land.

Judge Karina Bedoya handed down sentences of 28 years and three months each to brothers Josimar and Segundo Atachi, Jose Carlos Estrada, Hugo Soria, and Eurico Mapes as “coauthors of aggravated homicide.” This ruling follows a retrial initiated due to irregularities in witness testimony, after the initial guilty verdict last February.

Relatives of the victims, accompanied by Peru’s Justice Minister Eduardo Arana and representatives from the United States, the European Union, and the United Nations, witnessed the verdict. Lita Rojas, widow of Leoncio Quintisima, expressed satisfaction with the sentence, emphasizing that “justice was done” after a prolonged legal process.

The murders sparked international outrage and scrutiny of Peru’s response to protecting Indigenous leaders and environmental activists. Global Witness reports that since 2012, Peru has witnessed the deaths of at least 54 land and environmental defenders, with a significant portion belonging to Indigenous communities.

With hopes of setting a precedent for safeguarding Indigenous leaders and environmental advocates, the families of the victims are seeking compensation of approximately $66,000 for each conviction. As celebrations erupted among the Indigenous community outside the court, the verdict stands as a pivotal moment in the ongoing struggle for land rights and environmental protection in Peru.

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