Peru Court to Scrap Fujimori Anti-Terror Laws

Reuters -- 27 December 2002

by Jude Webber

LIMA, Peru - In a highly complex ruling, Peru's top court has found tough anti-terror laws decreed by ex-President Alberto Fujimori unconstitutional -- meaning hundreds jailed in the 1990s, including top rebel leaders, will now face retrials, court sources and jurists said on Thursday.

The Constitutional Court is expected to formally issue the 80-page ruling on Friday, striking down four legislative decrees signed by Fujimori in 1992 that allowed rebel suspects to be tried by hooded military judges with no due process.

"They've reached the conclusion that the laws are unconstitutional," one court source told Reuters, requesting anonymity. The ruling is designed to bring Peru's legislation in line with international human rights requirements.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, a watchdog arm of the Organization of American States, has already found that Fujimori's anti-terror laws "per se violated human rights" and some rebel convictions -- notably that of 33-year-old New Yorker Lori Berenson -- have already been challenged.

Court President Javier Alva Orlandini has described the ruling -- drafted after a petition by 5,000 people, mostly relatives of those jailed, calling for the laws to be revised -- as "the longest and most voluminous" in court history.

Human rights groups welcomed the prospect, but jurists said there was no chance avowed rebel leaders like Abimael Guzman, head of the Shining Path guerrilla group that was one of Latin America's bloodiest insurgencies at its height and remains on an official U.S. list of terror organizations, would go free.

The court source said final details were being worked out on Thursday in a bid to ensure there was no legal vacuum until new anti-terror legislation can be approved by Congress. Some 2,500 people are currently in jail in Peru on terror charges.

Peru has already pardoned and freed several hundred people wrongly imprisoned on terrorist charges.

Francisco Soberon, head of Peru's human rights coordinator, told Reuters he expected some 700 or 800 retrials. That could prove costly for a justice system already under strain, but he said: "The state has an obligation to rectify this situation."

Draconian laws long in spotlight

Peru's rebel wars in the 1980s and 1990s -- in which some 30,000 people died and 7,000 disappeared at the hands of guerrillas or state security forces -- have left deep scars and polls show the public still has no sympathy for "terrorists."

Although widely reviled for the corruption scandal that engulfed his government in 2000 and sparked his flight to Japan where he remains on the run from human rights abuse charges, Fujimori still earns praise for succeeding where his two predecessors failed -- quelling rampant violence by Shining Path and the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, or MRTA.

Fujimori passed the draconian anti-terror laws -- which helped give Peru one of Latin America's worst human rights records -- after his so-called "self-coup" in April 1992, in which he temporarily closed Congress and ruled by decree.

Jorge Santistevan, Peru's former human rights ombudsman and a respected lawyer, told Reuters he expected less than 1,000 people to have retrials and said lower sentences could be set.

Peru has so far revised only one military court conviction, that of Berenson, who was jailed for life in 1996 as an MRTA leader by a military judge. Her conviction was overturned in 2000 and a civil retrial last year sentenced her to 20 years for the lesser crime of collaboration. She says she is innocent and is appealing.