UN expert urges Peru to do more to combat modern slavery

Peru’s government must do more to tackle modern day slavery while the Andean nation was elected to serve on the organization’s Human Rights Council, a UN rights expert said last week.

Peru has “demonstrated a strong will to combat contemporary forms of slavery by establishing multisectoral institutions at both national and regional level and developing relevant national plans,” Gulnara Shahinian, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, said Friday.

“However, a lot remains to be done,” she added. “In particular by enforcing existing legislation, introducing separate criminal sanctions for all forms of slavery, developing comprehensive protection mechanisms as well reintegration and compensation schemes for victims and strengthening implementation and monitoring of programs at regional and local levels.”

Shahinian’s 12-day fact-finding trip to Peru focused on slavery from forced labor in logging and illegal mining, domestic servitude and child labour, the UN said in a release.

Domestic servitude remains almost invisible in urban areas and targets are often young girls and women migrating from rural regions, Shahinian said. “[They] are not aware of their rights and feel unable to report of their abuses and exploitation,” she said.

In Peru’s southeastern Madre de Dios region, record high gold prices have led to a rush to exploit the yellow metal which has resulted in forced labor and sexual exploitation of minors and adults.

“The ungoverned gold rush in Madre de Dios has brought lawlessness and with it a whole range of slavery-like practices,” Shahinian said.

Peru’s government has been looking at ways to gain control over informal miners in Madre de Dios region and recently published a five-year national plan. The government has also sent in security forces to root out informal miners, which has resulted in violent conflicts.

In addition to the social costs, informal mining has also led to widespread environmental contamination that includes mercury pollution in local waterways and deforestation, as well as costing the central and regional governments millions in unpaid taxes.

“Peru, which is experiencing one of the world’s fastest economic growths, should ensure that economic development does not take precedence over people’s rights,” Shahinian said.

Shainian reports to the UN Human Rights Council. Her report comes as Peru was elected to the 47-member council. Fifteen new members were selected on Friday for a term from 2011-14, including Chile and Costa Rica from Latin America.

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