Will justice ever be delivered to Berenson?

Columbus Dispatch -- 2 August 2002

by Neil Webner

Letter to the Editor

I am outraged that, once again, justice is delayed for Lori Berenson, an American human-rights activist and freelance journalist imprisoned for more than 6 1/2 years in Peru.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights vindicated Berenson. The commission, comprised of seven internationally recognized scholars from member nations of the Organization of American States, ruled that Peru is in violation of the American Convention on Human Rights and Berenson is wrongfully imprisoned.

Unfortunately, the government of Peru has decided to appeal this decision. Impoverished Peru has budgeted $182,000 for the appeal from a fund recovered from corruption under the hard-line government of President Alberto Fujimori, ousted two years ago in a scandal -- the same administration that originally orchestrated Berenson's "trial." Peru's action only can be construed as support for the illegal statutes instituted by Fujimori, who is now hiding from extradition in Japan.

For nearly seven years, Berenson has proclaimed her innocence. She presently is in Huacariz Prison in the northern Andean city of Cajamarca. She suffers various medical conditions from the harsh effects of her years in Peruvian prisons, the cruelest in this hemisphere. Peru's decision to appeal means that she must suffer yet longer as she awaits the decision from the Inter-American Court that will finally free her. The slow-acting commission appeals process could take years to resolve.

Our government has supported Berenson. President Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell both have told Peru's current democratically elected president, Alejandro Toledo, of the importance they attach to providing Berenson with due process and humane treatment. In fact, Bush is obligated under U.S. statutes to come to the rescue of a citizen wrongfully held abroad. He must act now to protect an American citizen.

The government of Peru needs to demonstrate it is among the community of nations that supports the rule of law and human rights by abiding by the commission's ruling. To do otherwise is to align itself with every terrorist who arbitrarily takes what he wants by whatever means he can, including life and liberty from others.

Volunteer coordinator for Central Ohio
Committee to Free Lori Berenson