Two Faces of Justice in Peru
Human Rights Watch/Americas
26 July 1995
Justice in Peru under President Alberto Fujimori is two-faced: benevolent to government forces who torture, rape, and murder citizens, and punitive to civilians who are tried in faceless courts completely lacking in due process. In The Two Faces of Justice in Peru, released today, Human Rights Watch/Americas charges that the sweeping amnesty promulgated in June 1995 insures that murder, disappearance, torture, and rape committed by agents of the state since 1980 in the course of the counterinsurgency war will go uninvestigated and unpunished. A duel system of faceless courts, some civilian and some military, deny civilians accused of broadly-defined crimes of terrorism the most basic non-derogable due process rights. This distortion of judicial process and contempt for accountability combine to deny Peru's citizens the essential elements of the rule of law.
"Faceless courts were not set up to find justice," the 52-page report states, "but to summarily convict those who come before them." Meanwhile governmental violations have for years been condoned by the military justice system. "Now impunity for official abuses has been guaranteed by the amnesty," asserts Jose Miguel Vivanco, Executive Director of Human RightsWatch/Americas.
On July 28, 1995, President Fujimori will begin his second term. The elections held earlier this year for president, vice president, and a new congress marked in many respects the formal return to constitutional order after Fujimori closed down the congress and courts and abrogated Peru's Constitution on April 5, 1992. In releasing this report, Human Rights Watch/Americas calls on President Fujimori and the newly elected congress to address immediately the twin issues of impunity for human rights violations and fundamental due process violations which dramatically worsened as a result of his April 5, 1992 autogolpe.
Among the due process violations associated with the faceless court system are:
- secret trials by prosecutors and judges whose identities are never revealed, making it impossible to guarantee impartiality;
- lengthy incommunicado police detention, leading to a marked increase in torture, including beatings, rape, near-suffocation, mock executions, electrical shocks, sleep and food deprivation, and death threats;
- new definitions of terrorism and treason which violate freedom of expression, criminalizing acts such as "provoking anxiety," "affecting international relations," or seeming to favor or excuse the behavior of terrorists;
- those accused of terrorism are imprisoned until a final verdict is rendered in their case, even absent any evidence of guilt;
- civilians accused of treason, an aggravated form of terrorism, are tried before faceless military courts, which are unable to render impartial justice to their battlefield enemy;
- members of the security forces supplying evidence may not be questioned during trials, leaving defendants no opportunity to confront their accusers;
- the terrorism and treason laws violate the principle that the punishment should fit the crime, assigning the same penalty to crimes both petty and great.
Human Rights Watch/Americas welcomed the reform promulgated in April 1995 which promises an end to the use of faceless civilian courts in terrorism trials beginning in October as an important, but limited step towards addressing the due process violations outlined in The Two Faces of Justice. The report urges a swift end to the use of military faceless courts for civilians accused of treason as well, and the establishment of an independent commission to review all cases adjudicated by the faceless courts.
Among the cases detailed in the report to illustrate the denial of due process under the faceless courts is that of Luis Alberto Cantoral, arrested with his brother, Luis Fernando Cantoral, on February 3, 1993. Both were charged with treason, apparently because police were unable to find an older brother believed to have guerrilla ties. A faceless navy judge found Luis Alberto not guilty and sentenced Luis Fernando to twenty-five years, but because of confusion over the names, released Luis Fernando instead of Luis Alberto. The case file was later doctored to cover up the error. Luis Alberto has since been transferred to the civilian faceless court jurisdiction, where he was sentenced to twenty years.
Juana Quispe Rojas, a maid, was arrested in March 1993 on a warrant for an obstetrical student who shared the same name. According to the Lima-based Instituto de Defensa Legal, there are ten women registered to vote in Peru as Juana Quispe Rojas. Even though her detention was an error, Quispe is currently serving a twenty-year sentence.
Anglica Mendoza de Azcarza, leader of an Ayacucho-based human rights organization, was forced into hiding for two years after a warrant was issued for her arrest under the terrorism law. Mendoza was charged on the grounds that she had purportedly "affect[ed] international relations." In September 1994 the Supreme Court affirmed a lower court acquittal and Mendoza was able to come out of hiding.
Meanwhile, governmental forces who commit egregious violations of human rights are treated with shocking leniency. Peru's 1995 amnesty law held that all those under investigation, prosecution, or detention for human rights violations related to the counterinsurgency campaign since May 1980 should immediately be released and all investigations or prosecutions ended. Promptly freed were the members of a military death squad convicted in the July 1992 extrajudicial execution of nine students and a professor from the La Cantuta University. The same death squad was also under investigation for the November 1991 massacre of 15 men, women, and children attending a chicken barbecue in the Barrios Altos section of Lima. Even before the amnesty law wiped the slate clean of prosecutions, human rights abusers in uniform received no more than a slap on the wrist for the most serious crimes. For the massacre of sixty-nine peasants in Accomarca in 1985, a single officer received a suspended sentence of six years in barracks detention. For the slaying of fifteen peasants in Santa Barbara and the dynamiting of their bodies in 1991, a lieutenant was sentenced to ten years for abuse of authority and perjury. Most other cases were not even investigated.
Human Rights Watch/Americas calls on the Peruvian authorities to repeal and declare null and void the amnesty law, which violates the obligation of the state to prosecute those responsible for crimes against humanity, and to establish a truth commission to investigate and officially document the human rights violations and laws of war violations committed during the counterinsurgency war. The human rights group calls on the Clinton administration to deny visas to any members of the military or police who are linked by credible evidence to serious human rights violations, so long as they are protected from prosecution by the amnesty law.
Copies of this report are available from the Publications Department, Human Rights Watch, 485 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10017-6105, for $8.40 (domestic shipping); and $10.50 (international shipping).