Amnesty International Special Report on Peru's Anti-Terrorism Laws

12 May 2003

(portion extracted that relates to Lori Berenson)

Unfair Trials for Political Prisoners

The 1992 "anti-terrorism" legislation not only provided a framework for the detention and imprisonment of prisoners of conscience, but it also rendered all trials for those charged with "terrorism-related" offences as unfair. Thousands of political prisoners have been tried under this legislation; all have received an unfair trial and on occasions, they were convicted to very harsh sentences for having sympathised with the armed opposition some time in their past without having used violence. Since the legislation came into effect, Amnesty International has urged the Peruvian authorities to review this legislation in order to bring it into line with international human rights standards for a fair trial.

Some political prisoners have been retried following national and international pressure. Lori Berenson, a US citizen sentenced to life for the crime of "treason" by a military court in 1996 was retried in a civilian court in 2001 and sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment. This ruling was appealed by the defence. However, on February 2002 the Supreme Court upheld the sentence. Her case had been submitted by Lori Berenson's defence to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission concluded in July 2002 that her second trial had also been unfair. The Commission also recommended that the "anti-terrorism" legislation be reformed so that it abides by rights enshrined in the American Convention on Human Rights. Lori Berenson's case is now before the Inter-American Court who will have to rule for or against the Peruvian state.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has already ruled that Peru's "anti-terrorism" legislation violates fair trial standards enshrined in the American Convention on Human Rights. In 1999 it ruled that five Chilean nationals accused of the "terrorism-related" offence of "treason" did not receive a fair trial under this legislation and ordered the government to retry them and to reform the legislation to ensure that all people under its jurisdiction receive a fair trial as enshrined in the American Convention on Human Rights. Two years earlier the Court ruled that "the Peruvian State violated Article 8(4) of the American Convention with Ms. María Elena Loayza Tamayo's trial in the civil jurisdiction for the same facts of which she had been acquitted in the military jurisdiction"(15). María Elena Loayza was detained in 1993 and tried by a military court for "treason" under the "anti-terrorism" legislation. She was acquitted of the crime of "treason" and sentenced for crimes of "terrorism" in a civil court with "faceless judges". The Inter-American Court ordered her release. The Peruvian authorities released her to comply with the Court's ruling.

Latest Developments

In January 2003, the Constitutional Tribunal's ruled that life imprisonment and for military courts to try civilians for the "terrorism-related" crime of "treason" were unconstitutional. Following this ruling, between January and February 2003 President Alejandro Toledo, the Minister of Justice and the President of the Council of Ministers have issued a series of decree laws to conform to the Constitutional Tribunal's ruling. The decree laws annul the sentences handed down by military courts for the crime of "treason" and order that all those tried under military courts be retried in civilian courts. The decree laws also order the retrial of all those tried by "faceless judges" and modify the length of the sentences which can be applied under the anti-terrorism legislation. Amnesty International welcomes these new developments but remains concerned that the definition of terrorism related offences continues to lack precision. By the end of April 2003, the organization had not been able to assess what effect these latest decrees would have on fair trials for all political prisoners and for the release of all those falsely charged with "terrorism-related" offences. However, by the time this report went to print, there were signs that some political prisoners were going to be retried in ordinary courts in public trials.

Amnesty International's Recommendations to the Peruvian Government

In view of all these concerns Amnesty International urges the Peruvian authorities: