The Human Rights Trial of Former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori

Unpublished -- 31 December 2008

by Mark Berenson

Among the most important human rights trials in Latin America in the first decade of this millennium is the trial of Alberto Fujimori that has been taking place in Lima, Perú since late 2007. A court decision is anticipated in early 2009. The website provides an extraordinary historical account of the more than 100 days courtroom proceedings of this trial in both English and Spanish.

Based on materials extracted from the Context section of this website and other public information, the article below summarizes the current case.

The Alberto Fujimori Case: A Historical Perspective

Using his dual citizenship, former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori sought refuge and settled in Japan in November 2000, renouncing his illegal third term in office as President of Perú. In March 2003, Interpol issued an arrest warrant for Mr. Fujimori’s alleged responsibility in extrajudicial assassinations and in July 2003, the Peruvian government requested his extradition from Japan based on alleged responsibility for egregious human rights violations in two cases (La Cantuta and Barrios Altos – see the aforementioned website) but Japan’s laws prohibited extradition of Japanese citizens.

In November 2005, desiring to return to power, Mr. Fujimori traveled to Chile where he expected he would be able to campaign for the 2006 presidential elections in neighboring Perú. However, the Chilean Supreme Court ordered his detention while the Peruvian government made a formal extradition request. This request, submitted in January 2006, presented 12 criminal charges -- 10 for corruption and 2 for the aforementioned human rights violations.

For more than a year-and-a-half, political pressures and maneuvers by supporters in Perú, Japan and Chile enabled the former president to live comfortably in Santiago and hopeful of avoiding extradition to Perú and criminal trial. In one such plan, Fujimori was "recruited from afar" to run for Senate in Japan while living in Chile. A victory would have assured the former disgraced dictator of "diplomatic immunity" and, in a campaign message from Santiago, Mr. Fujimori asked for votes saying he was "ready to die for Japan" – in spite of his previous proclamations of loyalty and allegiance to his "beloved" Perú!

Surprising national election results in Japan thwarted Fujimori’s hopes as he was defeated in his senatorial bid. After considerable delay, in September 2007 the Chilean Supreme court approved Mr. Fujimori’s extradition to Perú for 7 of the 12 requested criminal charges, including the 2 for human rights.

On September 22, 2007 Mr. Fujimori was extradited to Perú and immediately incarcerated. He is currently serving in a facility specially-built for him in Lima which is in accordance with Peruvian legislation regarding special incarceration treatment for an ex-president. His "house" (or "palace") detention is nothing like the facilities Lori Berenson and other Peruvian political prisoners live under. In fact, Mr. Fujimori’s living facilities are estimated to be superior to those of 85 percent of the Peruvian population! Unlike Lori Berenson’s 6 feet by 9 feet all-concrete cell with no furniture, limited light, no hot water, no running water and a hole in the floor for a toilet, Mr. Fujimori has a bedroom, kitchen and bathroom with hot running water and a study room. Of course, the Fujimori family has protested his "horrendous living conditions!"

Initially Mr. Fujimori was tried on a serious corruption charge involving an illegal search along removal and disappearance of important documents. He was convicted and given a 6-year sentence – so he is already a convicted criminal.

Mr. Fujimori’s human rights trial commenced over a year ago. There have been more than 100 courtroom proceedings and a decision is expected in January or February 2009.

It will be interesting to see how Peruvian justice is delivered in this trial. The State Prosecutor has asked for a 30-year sentence for crimes against humanity. If the court determines guilt, how many years will the sentence dictate?

The trial has had several interruptions and postponements owing to Mr. Fujimori’s health. The Peruvian government has insured that Mr. Fujimori’s health concerns are addressed.

Given current Peruvian law, Mr. Fujimori’s special "housing" and medical care are neither inappropriate nor excessive – he was a former president of Perú. However, I disagree with such law, be it in Perú, in the US or elsewhere. I believe that those elected to uphold the constitution of a country and its rules of law should certainly not be given any better treatment than the general population.