Justice Delayed is Justice Denied: Lori Won but Peru Won't Let Her Go

Casper Star-Tribune (Casper, Wyoming) -- 28 July 2002

by Rhoda and Mark Berenson

On July 22 the government of Peru sued the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights because the Commission ruled in favor of our daughter. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the OAS vindicated our daughter Lori Berenson. It ruled that Peru's authoritarian laws instituted by the now disgraced former President Alberto Fujimori are illegal, that both Lori's military trial and the subsequent trial in a civilian court extensively violated her rights, and, that Lori has been detained under inhumane and degrading conditions.

The Inter-American Commission recommended that Peru reform the legal decrees that allow for these violations and adopt measures to repair the violations of Lori's human rights, which would include moral and economic reparations for being wronged all these years. Unfortunately, despite this vindication, Lori continues to be held in a remote mountain prison because Peru refuses to act responsibly and abide by its international human rights commitments. Instead, Peru has chosen to sue the Inter-American Commission at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights of the OAS, an unprecedented step.

We are sure the Inter-American Court will also vindicate Lori. This human rights court has already ruled in previous cases that Peru's repressive anti-terrorism laws are illegal and do not meet international standards of fairness and due process. The Peruvian government has done nothing to address this continuing violation of the American Convention on Human Rights and this latest decision not to comply with the Inter-American Commission ruling will further setback human rights in Peru.

At the time of her arrest in November 1995, Lori was working as a free-lance journalist researching articles on the effects of poverty on women in Peru.

She has been concerned with human rights and social justice all her life.

Although the Fujimori-controlled media painted her as a "gringa terrorista," Lori has publicly condemned terrorism. She is innocent of the charges that were used to sentence her on two separate occasions in illegal court procedures under internationally condemned laws. She has never been charged with a violent act. She was first sentenced to life in prison by a hooded military judge while a hooded soldier held a gun to her head.

Four-and-a-half years later, the verdict and sentence were overturned for lack of evidence. She was then "tried" in a special civilian terrorism court where three judges and two prosecutors worked together to sentence her to 20 years for collaboration with a rebel group in a process also now condemned by the Inter-American Commission. Note that one of the prosecutors was fired soon after the trial and on July 16 this year two of the three judges and the other prosecutor were also fired - indicating that the highest Peruvian judicial authorities are dissatisfied with their performance.

This November will mark seven years of wrongful imprisonment. Lori spent nearly three years at the internationally condemned Yanamayo Prison in the southern Andes where the bitter cold and 12,700 feet altitude severely impaired her health. She later endured months of solitary confinement at Socabaya Prison until Amnesty International, the Catholic Church, and the International Committee of the Red Cross intervened. On December 21, 2001, she was physically and sexually abused when moved to Huacariz Prison in the northern Andes. And now that the Peruvian government is waging an all out fight including an unprecedented legal attack on the Inter-American Commission, Lori must wait for the Inter-American Court decision that will surely result in her freedom because it has already ruled similarly in other cases. This will mean more years of wrongful imprisonment and possible mistreatment unless President Bush forcefully intervenes. The president is obligated by U.S. law (Title 22 USC section 1732) to come to the rescue of a citizen wrongfully held abroad. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which is comprised of seven internationally recognized scholars from OAS-member nations, has ruled that Lori is wrongfully held, and now President Bush must do everything in his power to bring her home.