Court orders Peru to retry Chileans

Nicaragua Solidarity Network of Greater New York -- Weekly News Update on the Americas #488 -- 6 June 1999

On June 1, the Inter-American Human Rights Court (CIDH) of the Organization of American States (OAS) ordered the Peruvian government to grant a new trial to four Chilean nationals serving prison sentences in Peru on charges of "terrorism" and "treason to the homeland." The Court ruled that the Chileans' trial was "not valid" because it violated nine articles of the American Convention on Human Rights. The CIDH, based in Costa Rica, also ordered the Peruvian government to pay $10,000 to the relatives of the four. Jaime Francisco Sebastian Castillo Petruzzi, Maria Concepcion Pincheira Saez, Lautaro Enrique Mellado Saavedra and Alejandro Luis Astorga Valdez, were convicted for their alleged involvement with the leftist rebel Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA).

There are 4,000 people serving sentences in Peru for "terrorism" or "treason to the homeland." The CIDH decision clarified that Peru's legal definition of treason does not carry implications of loyalty based on nationality; the Court explicitly recognized Peru's right to try foreigners for the crime of "treason to the homeland," as long as due process is respected.

In Lima, Fujimori immediately rejected the CIDH ruling, reiterating that "the Peruvian government is not going to free terrorists." "This sentence goes against the Peruvian Constitution, which establishes that once there has been a trial there can't be a second trial, and it goes against Peruvian sovereignty and the internal security of the country," said Fujimori. [CNN en Espanol 6/3/99 with info from Reuters; La Republica (Lima) 6/5/99]

On June 4 Attorney General Miguel Aljovin Swayne and National Terrorism Court president Marcos Ibazeta both indicated that Peru should respect the CIDH ruling. Aljovin noted that the CIDH decision did not ask that the four Chileans be freed, only that they be given a new civilian trial where their lawyers can defend them without restrictions. Izabeta emphasized that the civilian court system can conduct a trial for any crime, so there would be no problem with having civilian judges try the four Chileans.

Members of Peru's Supreme Court also told the opposition daily La Republica on June 4 that the government should comply with the CIDH ruling to avoid any consequences, and emphasized that "with a little intelligence and common sense" it would be possible to do this without freeing anyone or paying any money. The Supreme Court members, who asked that their names not be identified, said the Chileans could be tried publicly in a civilian court, "where they would also receive a life sentence," according to La Republica.

The Supreme Court members noted that a year ago they had requested that the four Chileans and US national Lori Berenson-- who is serving a life sentence in Peru for supporting the MRTA-- be publicly tried by civilian judges, because it was predictable that the CIDH would rule against Peru. The Supreme Court members said the government rejected their proposal for political reasons. "The only thing we managed to get was the transfer of Lori Berenson from the Yanamayo-Puno prison to the one at Socabaya-Arequipa, one day before the Inter-American Human Rights Commission was to look at her case," which has similar characteristics to that of the Chileans, they said. They added that Berenson's transfer prevented a possible precautionary ruling in her favor by the Commission. The Supreme Court and the judicial branch of government have maintained an official silence on the subject, "because it's too politicized," said the sources cited by La Republica. [LR 6/5/99]