12 April 2024, London - Almost a decade after the murder of four Saweto Indigenous leaders near the Peruvian border with Brazil, families have finally been brought justice, with five men convicted of the killings. In a historic verdict, four were re-handed a sentence of 28 years and three months in prison.

The five men had already been found guilty of the murders in February 2023, but their sentences were overturned just six months later, and a new trial ordered. All are believed to have been illegal loggers.

Yesterday’s ruling follows years of uncertainty for the families of the four leaders of the Ashaninka people, who were forced to relive the events surrounding the murders.

Javier Garate, Senior US Policy Advisor at Global Witness, said:We believe when justice is delayed, justice is denied. In this case, families have had to relive the events in court for a second time, almost 10 years after they took place.

“This ruling sends a very clear message: these attacks cannot go unpunished. The Saweto case must mark the start of a new era where authorities hold perpetrators to account, and ensure impunity no longer reins.”

Edwin Chota Varela, Leoncio Quintísima Meléndez, Jorge Ríos Pérez, and Francisco Pinedo Ramírez were murdered in front of community members in September 2014 while making the journey across the Peruvian border to meet with other Indigenous leaders in Brazil. They had been documenting and denouncing illegal logging in the Amazon’s Ucayali region for years, filing complaints with both regional and national governments that their lands were being encroached upon by timber mafias.

The case has attracted huge national and international interest, with the Minister of Justice present at the reading of the verdict, along with the deputy ministers of Interculturality and Human Rights. Representatives from eight different embassies were also in attendance, highlighting how emblematic the case is.

While Peru has ratified the American Convention on Human Rights, which protects the right to a fair trial within a reasonable time s justice is all too rare for defenders. Many murders and disappearances are still unsolved, and few are ever investigated.

The Saweto case highlights the dangers land and environmental defenders and their relatives face in Peru. Over the last decade, Global Witness has recorded at least 54 killings of defenders in the country. Indigenous communities in Peru are disproportionately targeted, with more than half of those killed between 2012 and 2022 from Indigenous groups. 

This is also the case worldwide. In 2022, more than a third of all land and environmental defenders killed worldwide were Indigenous peoples, despite only making up around 6% of the planet’s population. Attacks continue to happen despite Indigenous communities being at the forefront of the protection of our planet.