Last week, Benjamin blogged about the ongoing protests by communities challenging the controversial Conga mining project in the Cajamarca region of Peru. At the time, all eyes were on recently elected Peruvian President Ollanta Humala to see how he would respond to the protesters’ demands that he halt the $ 4.8 billion project—which will pose serious environmental impacts for the surrounding communities.

Late Sunday evening, Humala finally responded. But his response was not what the protestors had been seeking.

After the Administration and leaders of those opposing the project were unable to reach an agreement for resolving the protest, the President decided to take unilateral action, calling on the force of the State. In a televised address Sunday night, President Humala announced that he was declaring a sixty-day state of emergency in four provinces in the Cajamarca region, authorizing the deployment of the Peruvian armed forces to assist local police in the zone, and giving the military sweeping authority. The government, he said, had “exhausted all paths to establish dialogue as a point of departure to resolve the conflict democratically”.

This measure is nothing short of extreme, and it raises serious concerns for Peru’s obligations under both international and InterAmerican human rights law. Beyond the deployment of the domestic military against its own citizens, the directive also threatens to suspend critical constitutional freedoms, such as the right to free assembly and travel, for the same 60-day period. In addition, the state of emergency may be used to justify invasive private property searches normally prohibited by the Peruvian constitution; and it could permit arrests without warrants.

This development is a worrisome one, and we will be following it closely from the ERI Amazon office.