Peru on the Brink: Lame-Duck Congress Pushes Bill to Militarize Indigenous Territories

FROM THE EDITORS: Peru’s democracy is still in crisis while voters await confirmation of Pedro Castillo as president, scheduled to occur between July 19 and 20, just one week before taking office. The National Elections Jury (JNE) rejected all accusations of fraud, yet Keiko Fujimori declared that she will not accept the election results. An investigation has been launched against Fujimori for “disrupting or impeding the electoral process.” In the middle we find the Peruvian people who remain vigilant and demonstrated already to be a great political-social force during the protests of November 2020, by rejecting a legislative coup and the removal of then-President Martín Vizcarra. In the daily game of politics, Peruvians are mostly interested in a healthy democracy and dignity with rights.

Unfortunately, members of Congress are taking advantage of the transition gap to push several bills that will further place Peruvian democracy at risk. Among the most worrying, according to the Muqui Network, legislators are trying to accelerate the election of members of the Constitutional Court, despite the fact that a judge found the candidate selection flawed. They are also trying to fast-track the Self-Defense Committees and Rural Development Law that seeks to militarize peasant and indigenous territories by arming and training “self-defense” civilian groups. This bill was already approved in April but vetoed by the executive for violating the rights of autonomy and prior consultation of indigenous peoples; nevertheless, Congress is hoping to override the veto with a final vote this week. At Awasqa we express great concern for this bill, as it is similar to the self-defense forces law in Colombia in the 1980s that eventually led to the creation of illegal narco-paramilitary forces. Below we share CooperAcción’s coverage of a protest against the bill last week organized by indigenous leaders. 

Composición CooperAcción

SOURCE:, translated into English by Awasqa.

Peru: Indigenous Leaders Reject Militarization in their Territories

Indigenous leaders of autonomous peasant patrols (rondas campesinas) gave a press conference this Friday, July 9, before Congress to reject a “Law that recognizes self-defense committees and rural development and incorporates them into the citizen security system,” which had been withdrawn from the plenary’s agenda after many calls against it.

Yet, according to information provided by congressman Lenin Bazán, legislators who introduced this bill to militarize indigenous territories, are trying to place it on the plenary agenda next week [July 14-16] yet again. 

Present at the conference were Santos Saavedra, president of the Unique Central of Peasant Rounds of Peru (Cunarc); Víctor Raúl Maita Frisancho, president of the National Agrarian Confederation; Lourdes Huanca, president of the National Federation of Peasant, Artisan, Indigenous Women, Native and Salaried Women of Peru (Fenmucarinap); Wilder Sánchez Chávez, president of the Peasant Confederation of Peru; Melania Canales, president of the National Organization of Andean and Amazonian Indigenous Women of Peru (Onamiap); along with congressmen of the republic who support indigenous organizations’ decision to reject this Bill. 

Santos Saavedra, president of Cunarc indicated that their organizations did not request at any time the creation of such a law, since there has been no consultation or prior consent of the peoples and its impact would be “absolutely negative.”

“It would create paramilitary groups and generate violence; we already had a bad experience with that. It is not possible that today, when we live in peace, with respect and harmony, where security is guaranteed by organized towns and rondas campesinas, they pretend to say that there is terrorism and high-level crime in rural towns. For this reason, we categorically reject the imposition of the creation of self-defense committees, which will not bring us any good. (…) The concern is not only of the peoples, but also of the Ministry of Defense and the Interior, and we hope that other institutions will pronounce themselves on this matter,” declared the leader of the ronderos.  

Lourdes Huanca, president of Fenmucarinap, pointed out that “the current congressmen instead of enacting laws in favor of indigenous peoples to reactivate the economy, are dedicated to enacting laws that will violate the tranquility of the peoples.”

“According to the ILO 169 Convention we have rights to be able to defend our territories, therefore, brothers and sisters of indigenous peoples, we must be prepared to achieve respect from our bases and regions to make legislators feel that they are not self-appointed, they were elected to make development proposals for our country,” said Huanca. 

Víctor Raúl Maita Frisancho, president of the National Agrarian Confederation, was also present at the press conference and rejected the Self-Defense Committees Bill. He also called on the legislators to “not divide peasant communities.”

“You must respect the Law of peasant communities, the political constitution, and the 169 Convention. We have the right to self-determination, we have autonomy, and they can’t propose these types of legal norms seeking to divide peasant communities. (…) We categorically reject this law, it cannot be approved from Lima without knowing our customs; we are a plurinational country and this norm cannot be applied as universal. The organizations will take forceful measures if they insist on this unconstitutional, wrongful law,” reiterated Maita Frisancho. 

Melania Canales of Onamiap, said that the congressmen are approving special interests with these bills, which violate the laws of peasant communities, without respecting their autonomy or right to prior consultation.

“These legislators are unaware that indigenous peoples have collective not just individual rights. Who are these self-defense committees going to protect? And that is the question, are they going to protect the drug trafficker or those who violate human rights? Remember that the Truth Commission in its report said these groups committed excesses and were created by Fujimori in the 1990s. They seek to strengthen that, threaten us, intimidate us. They promote a civil war, and we demand peace,” declared Canales. 

Likewise, the leader demanded that legislators stop imposing laws like this one, stop making use of “colonialism and racism.” 

After the press conference, the leaders held a sit-in outside Congress, where they reiterated their position of rejecting this bill to create Self-Defense Committees in their communities, homes, and territories, which represent a great danger to their autonomy and indigenous organizations.  

It should be remembered that on July 2, the President of the Republic Francisco Sagasti did not sign this bill into Law, approved in April by Congress. However, this week, the Board of Spokespersons of Congress agreed to seek the approval of this project by overriding the veto, and exonerated it from debate in the Defense Commission, to go directly into a vote during the plenary. This Law was on the agenda on July 9, however after the press conference by indigenous leaders, it was removed from it. It could still be put to a vote next week [July 14-16], so indigenous and rondera organizations announced they will remain on high alert.


CooperAcción is a Peruvian nonprofit organization that promotes the knowledge and exercise of social, environmental, political, cultural, and economic rights since 1997; as well as the sustainable management of the territory with a gender and intercultural focus. Likewise, it promotes alternatives to extractivism in a consensual and participatory manner, with organized groups, communities, local authorities; in alliance with other NGOs and public and private institutions, from areas of influence of extractive activities and coastal areas. We seek to contribute to the construction of an inclusive and democratic society, based on the appreciation of its cultural diversity, gender equity, and respect for human rights.