Peru to bring case of American prisoner to international court

Associated Press -- 16 July 2002

by Craig Mauro

LIMA, Peru - Peru will file a suit against the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights before an international court over the case of Lori Berenson, an American imprisoned here on terrorism charges, the justice minister said Tuesday.

Fernando Olivera told cable news station Channel N from Washington that the commission, part of the Organization of American States, held a "favorable position" toward Berenson, who was convicted last year of collaborating with leftist rebels.

Berenson's family had filed a complaint with the Washington-based commission, alleging that her trial violated due process.

The commission recommended the Peruvian government give the New York native an "integral reparation," Olivera said, without specifying what that included. Olivera has been in Washington meeting with commission officials.

"We do not accept that recommendation. It has no legal basis," Olivera said. "For that reason, we've decided to file a suit against the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights before the Inter-American Court."

The Costa Rica-based Inter-American Court of Human Rights, a legal arm of the OAS, can legally bind member countries, including Peru, to comply with its rulings.

Olivera told Radioprogramas radio station that Peru's suit would be unprecedented. "Usually, it's the commission that files suit against states," he said.

A commission official had said Monday that the panel was considering whether to pass Berenson's case to the court. Peru's suit against the commission would apparently pre-empt that decision.

Berenson, 32, has been serving out a 20-year sentence after a civilian court convicted her in June 2001 of aiding the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement in a failed bid to seize Peru's Congress.

A secret military court originally sentenced Berenson in 1996 to life in prison for being a Tupac Amaru leader and plotting the thwarted attack, but that sentence was overturned in 2000.

In February, the Supreme Court upheld the civilian court's decision, leaving a presidential pardon or a ruling by the inter-American system as Berenson's only options for getting released from prison.

A pardon would be unpopular in Peru, where many consider Berenson a foreign terrorist.

"The Peruvian state is in no way not going to free Lori Berenson," Olivera said. "Lori Berenson received a civilian trial by independent judges, where she had the right to a defense, where due process was respected."

Berenson's supporters have insisted that her civilian retrial was unfair, contending that she was convicted for her leftist ideas and not on hard evidence.

Mark Berenson, her father, called Peru's decision to go to the inter-American court "mean-spirited and frivolous" since the court has already ruled that Peru's anti-terrorism laws do not meet international standards of fairness and due process.