Inter-American Court No Longer to Rule Here

IPSEdited/Distributed by HURINet - The Human Rights Information Network -- 8 July IPS

by Abraham Lama

LIMA, Jul 8 (IPS) - Peru refuses to heed Inter-American Human Rights Court (IAHRC) authority as a result of the court's decision to nullify the life sentences of four Chileans found guilty of terrorism.

But the government of Peru, which has several cases pending against it before the IAHRC, does not reject the Convention on Human Rights or the San Jose Pact and will adhere to the terms of both agreements, according to the Senate decision made in a 64 to 33 vote, with one abstention.

Hernan Salgado, president of the IAHRC, declared Wednesday evening from San Jose that Peru's rejection of the court's jurisdiction while remaining within the San Jose Pact "is not legally viable."

This possibility "does not figure within the spirit and letter of the Convention on Human Rights," said Salgado.

The IAHRC, based in the Costa Rican capital, announced that it would continue proceedings and would declare sentences in the pending cases, as well as those presented in the future, as long as Peru adheres to the Convention.

The IAHRC was created as an instrument of the Convention and as a court of international instance for people and institutions who believe their civil rights have been injured by their government.

The most recent IAHRC decision against Peru nullified the sentences of four Chileans from the guerrilla Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement because they had been tried in military court.

The decision also demanded that Peru reform its legal mechanisms that give military courts authority to judge civilians accused of terrorism or of treason against the nation.

Fujimori declared the court's recommendation "unacceptable," saying that the military courts were created because civilian court judges and their families had been receiving death threats from terrorist organisations.

"Abimael Guzman himself and other leaders from the criminal Shining Path party were declared innocent due to lack of proof by frightened judges," affirmed Fujimori. "To end political violence, which has cost Peru 30,000 dead and disappeared, we need strong courts," he declared.

But the military court's action, made up of judges masked to hide their identities, violated the Chilean's guarantees for due process, say human rights organisations and the IAHRC.

Peru's break with the IAHRC is backed by 64.7 percent of the electorate - more than double the support that Fujimori has - while just 23.7 percent believe Peru should respect the decision, according to the polling firm Apoyo, Opinion y Mercado.

"The electorate has shown that it is unhappy with the economic results of the Fujimori administration, especially with the high level of unemployment," explained pollster Alfredo Torres, "but the electorate still believes that one of the government's biggest merits is its anti-terrorist policies."

Opposition party legislators state that terrorism has already been eliminated - though they acknowledge that small groups still exist in jungle areas - and accused Fujimori of exaggerating the level of terrorism in his alarmist declarations during recent weeks.

The president's goal is to frighten the population and strengthen his re-election prospects, they added.

The opposition also stated that breaking ties with the IAHRC is fundamentally an attempt by Fujimori to open a path for his intention to run, illegally, for a third consecutive presidential term in next year's elections.

The IAHRC has prepared to order the reinstatement of Peru's Constitutional Court members, who Fujimori relieved of their posts because they opposed his attempts at re-election, said the legislators during the 12-hour debate on the IAHRC's decision.

Representatives of the governing party, Cambio 90, did not respond to that accusation, limiting themselves to denouncing the IAHRC, saying the court's recent decision revealed its political incapacity to understand the extraordinary measures Fujimori had to take in order to defeat subversion.

The president of the congressional Justice Commission, Oscar Medelius, maintained that heeding the IAHRC's decision would lead the 1,800 prisoners accused of terrorism to turn to the same legal mechanism that the Chileans' defence used.

Medelius predicted that in such case, "the civilian judges would again be intimidated and that many of them would decide to release the subversives."

Javier Alva Orlandini, leader of the centrist opposition Popular Action Party, maintained that "removing Peru from the jurisdiction of the San Jose court would leave 24 million Peruvians at the mercy of a government that has persisted in violating civil and human rights."

Edgar Nunez, of the social-democratic Peruvian Aprista Party, added that Fujimori has other motives behind this decision. "The government wants to remove Peru from the IAHRC so it can attack liberty of the press with impunity and not return Baruch Ivcher's television station to him," he said.

Israeli-born Ivcher, owner of a television station that criticised the Fujimori government, was stripped of his Peruvian citizenship.

The only sanction that the IAHCR can impose if the government does not comply with its decision is a communique to the Organisation of American States, said opposition legislator Fernando Olivera during the congressional debate.

Peru is already in non-compliance with an IAHRC decision. The government has not yet compensated the families of the 300 political prisoners killed during the put down of four Shining Path prison rebellions in June 1986, said Olivera.

Alan Garcia, president at the time but now in exile, was accused by his adversaries of having personally ordered the executions of the prison rioters. Many Shining Path prisoners were shot in the head after they had surrendered.

The opposition maintains that pulling out of the IAHRC will hurt Peru's reputation internationally, causing a reduction in foreign financial aid and a retraction of foreign investment.

On Thursday, some business leaders - including Carlos Bruce, president of the Exporters Association; and Roque Benavides, president of the National Alliance of Private Business Institutions - said they were also worried about the Senate decision.