Torture rises in Peru - U.S. report

Reuters -- 3 March 2002

by Jude Webber

LIMA, Peru - Peruvian police and prison officers have unlawfully killed seven prisoners in 2001 and the number of reported torture cases actually rose despite a return to democracy after the fall of hard-line President Alberto Fujimori, according to an annual U.S. rights report.

The report, an overview of the world human rights situation compiled by the State Department under congressional mandate, found Peru had made significant strides to improve its tarnished human rights record but still had a way to go.

"The government made significant institutional improvements during the year; however, the human rights record remained poor in several areas and longstanding problems remain," it said.

"Police and prison security forces committed seven extrajudicial killings. The security forces tortured, beat and otherwise abused detainees. Abuse of military recruits continued. Impunity remained a problem, and security forces sometimes harassed victims or other witnesses to keep them from filing charges," it added.

The U.S. report catalogued no cases last year of killings or disappearances that were politically motivated but said that despite constitutional and legal bans "in practice, torture and brutal treatment by the security forces continued to occur."

It said torture most often happened immediately and during police detention and cited 36 reported cases of aggravated torture by security forces in 2001, compared with 35 in 2000.

Among the seven illegal killings it reported was that of a man serving a seven-year term for stealing a tricycle who died from injuries he said he received in a police beating in prison just before he was about to be pardoned for good behaviour.

The report found prison conditions remained generally poor in Peru, and cited reports of arbitrary arrest and "inordinate delays" to trials.

No one was immediately available for comment either at the interior ministry, which oversees the police, the prisons authority or the state human rights monitor.

Return to democracy

Peru had one of Latin America's worst human rights records under disgraced President Alberto Fujimori, who was fired in November 2000 amid a massive corruption scandal that erupted when his spy chief, Vladimiro Montesinos, was revealed in secretly-taped videos paying bribes to congressmen, media bosses, judges and businessmen to keep his patron in power.

Montesinos ran the ruthless National Intelligence Service, which is accused of wire-tapping and harassing political opponents of Fujimori during his 1990-2000 regime. Montesinos is now in jail awaiting trial while Fujimori, who denies charges of human rights abuses and corruption, fled to Japan.

Fujimori is widely credited in Peru with stamping out 15 years of leftist rebel violence in the 1980s and 1990s, in which 30,000 people died, but human rights groups slammed his tactics -- including military trials for civilians.

Peru's return to democracy began under an eight-month interim administration after Fujimori's fall and continues under President Alejandro Toledo, who took office in July.

Peru's human rights record was thrust back under the spotlight on Monday by a newspaper report that a former member of an army death squad told a congressional commission investigating Montesinos that torture victims were buried in a vegetable patch in the army headquarters in Lima.