Peru protest victims faced racial bias from security forces, Amnesty says

LIMA (Reuters) - Amnesty International said Thursday that most of those killed in recent protests in Peru came from Indigenous groups, which the rights group said suggested a "racial bias" by police and the military.

Amnesty International Secretary General Agnes Callamard said despite government efforts to portray the victims "as terrorists or criminals," the majority of those killed were protesters and bystanders.

"Almost all of them came from poor, Indigenous and peasant backgrounds, suggesting a racial and socioeconomic bias in the use of lethal force," Callamard said at a news conference in Lima following the publication of an Amnesty report on Thursday on the use of force by security personnel during the protests.

Peru faced waves of protests between December and February after the removal from office and arrest of former President Pedro Castillo, who illegally tried to shut down Congress and rule by decree. Some 49 civilians died in clashes with the police and military, according to data from the Ombudsman's Office.

Protesters demanded the resignation of Castillo's successor, President Dina Boluarte, as well as closure of Congress, early elections and a new constitution. Protest leaders have announced plans to resume anti-government protests in June.

Boluarte has denied abuses by the security forces. She is being investigated by the attorney general's office for "genocide, homicide and serious injuries" and is scheduled to testify in the attorney general's preliminary investigation on May 31.

The president's press office declined to comment on Amnesty's report.

Amnesty noted that there was one death in Lima, where the largest protests were held and 20% identify as Indigenous; while in Ayacucho, where 82% are Indigenous, 10 people were killed.

"We didn't see the same deployment of lethal force in Lima that we saw in other regions," Amnesty International director for the Americas Erika Guevara told reporters.

Amnesty said investigations by authorities had been insufficient despite "serious" human rights violations and asked Boluarte to stop the use of lethal force.

Families of those killed have been demanding justice from authorities for months.

(Reporting by Marco Aquino; Writing by Alexander Villegas; Editing by Rosalba O'Brien)