Self-defense militias, known as Rondas Campesinos, have existed in Peru for decades. One such group was behind the abduction of the alleged witches. Photo via Rodrigo Abd/AP.
At least seven women were detained and allegedly tortured by a rural militia in Peru who accused them of practicing “witchcraft.” The victims were reportedly stripped naked and whipped in an attempt to force them to admit that they were practicing sorcery against inhabitants in a small community in the central province of Pataz.The kidnapping took place in the district of Chilia on June 29, according to the Ombudsman’s Office of Peru, and the women were held for nearly two weeks. On Tuesday, Peru’s Attorney General’s Office announced that seven women and one man had been released and that they would be opening an investigation.
The abduction made waves when a video of a woman being hung upside-down from the ceiling by her foot and being interrogated by the militia was published by local media. Another video showed bruises along the back of an elderly woman.
The rural militias, known as “rondas campesinas”, were founded in the 20th century to protect against incursions from the Sendero Luminoso, or the Shining Path in English, a Maoist guerrilla group founded in 1969 that warred with the government off and on for decades. The militias now serve as a sort of neighborhood patrol in many rural areas of Peru, and the country’s current president, Pedro Castillo, reportedly used to be a member of one such group.Pablo Haro, the president of the rondas campesinas in the area, defended the kidnapping to local news outlet RPP Noticias, claiming that the people detained “made a commitment: that they will also leave the town. They made their statements that they have been involved in practices of witchcraft.”But the case of the abducted women, ranging in age from 43 and 70, has caused some to question the role of the rural militia.
“The rondas play a very important role. Without a doubt, they have autonomy in terms of their organization and the establishment of order and security in their community, which they are part of, and are the right arm of the communities in the rural area,” a local ombudsman chief, José Luis Agüero, told RPP Noticias. “But that does not give it the power… to carry out acts against human rights. The Constitution itself establishes that limit. The rights they have, also extend to the rights of others, and this type of act cannot be carried out, as has been seen in the videos where women are hanging from a beam or are being whipped.”By July 12, the women were released and many returned home.The family of one of the detained women, 64-year-old Irene de la Cruz, said that they plan to take legal action against the militia behind the alleged crimes.“One by one, they have to pay for the crime that they committed,” one of her children told Radio Exitosa, asking to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals from the militia. “What they have done is torture; not even an animal is punished like this.”