Fujimori Challenges Human Rights Pact

IPS -- 10 June 1999

by Abraham Lama

LIMA, Jun 10 (IPS) - Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori is on collision course with the Inter-American Human Rights Court (IAHRC) and risks putting his country in conflict with the entire inter-American political system, according to government critics.

The accusations stem from Fujimori's statements that his government would not recognise the IAHRC's verdict ordering Peru to lift military court sentences handed out to four Chileans for terrorism, and to re-try them in a civil court.

The IAHRC found that the military court, which condemned the Chileans to life sentences, had not guaranteed the accused their full rights to a legal defence. It also ordered the Peruvian government to pay compensation of 10,000 dollars to each of the Chileans - three men and one woman.

The Chileans were members of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) - notorious for its Dec. 1996 attack on the Japanese embassy in Lima when it took more than 500 people hostage, including 25 ambassadors and several government ministers. That incident ended in the death of all MRTA guerrillas four months later when troops stormed the embassy.

The four Chileans were captured in October 1993 when police broke into a house in Lima where the MRTA was holding a Peruvian businessman. They were accused of having killed another five hostages whose families had not paid ransom.

In January 1994, a military court found them guilty of "treason against the fatherland," theoretically a crime that cannot be committed by foreign citizens. Shortly after, a Chilean humanitarian organisation initiated procedings before the IAHRC for their release.

The IAHRC has not commented on the guilt or innocence of the four Chileans, or about the "treason" verdict but ordered only that the sentences of the Chileans be nullified because, by trying the four in military court, the government had violated their rights to due process and limited their rights to a legal defence.

Peru signed the 1979 Convention on Human Rights for the Americas in San Jose, Costa Rica, without any reservations, meaning that the government cannot appeal the IAHRC verdict and is obligated to comply with its terms, according to legal circles.

Reports that the judgement could lead everyone accused of terrorism to demand nullification of their sentences caused some unease among citizens - still recovering from the civil war here that caused the deaths or "disappearance" of nearly 30,000 people between 1980 and 1993.

"I understand the public's frustration, but I want to clarify that it is unfounded," argued Javier Valle Riestra, former prime minister in the Fujimori government. "It is impossible that all other people accused of terrorism will demand the cancellation of their sentences...the six-month period in which they could initiate the procedings is already over."

Victor Joy Way, president of the Council of Ministers, declared that IAHRC members were "under the influence of leftist ideology," and "their verdict was reached without sensitivity to Peru's political situation."

Government parliamentarian Martha Chavez proposed that Peru denounce the San Jose Pact, "because it is an instrument that limits our national sovereignty."

"The verdict in favour of the Chilean terrorists is intervention in a case that followed the judicial procedures established by the sovereignty of our country to protect ourselves from terrorism," argued Chavez.

Fujimoroi's political opponents, however, believed Peru was obligated to recognise the IAHRC verdict.

"Fujimori doesn't like the San Jose Pact because it is a commentary on his style of administering justice, which entails infringing on procedural norms that guarantee the right to adequate legal defence," said the opposition newspaper "La Republica."

"Fujimori will use public reaction against the IAHRC decision as a pretext to pull Peru out of the San Jose Pact."

Diego Garcia Sayan, director of the Andean Commission of Jurists, said, "Fujimori's reaction against the IAHRC verdict is consistant his government's policy of pulling back from the international community when it comes to human rights. That way he can prevent international pressure on the issue."

Garcia Sayan said that the attitude of the Peruvian president "brings up another deeper issue: his desire to pull out of the inter-American human rights system's jurisdiction, an intention that is also reflected in statements made by his prime minister and parliamentarians from his party."

Social-Christian MP, Lourdes Flores said that the Peruvian government already had contradicted the IAHRC recommendation to re-instate members of the constitutional guarantees court.

Fujimori dissolved that court when it declared his candidacy for a third term unconstitutional.