Dr. Alan García
President-elect of Perú
Dear President-elect Alan García:
I am writing to share Human Rights Watch's concerns regarding one of the most important challenges that you will face during your new term as president of Peru: ending impunity for past human rights violations and strengthening the rule of law in Peru.
When you last served as president, thousands Peruvians lost their lives, victims of atrocities committed by armed insurgent groups and by government forces. The armed groups deliberately and ruthlessly targeted civilians, often from the most vulnerable segments of the community. Government forces, in their response, executed suspects or made them "disappear." Indeed, the number of forced disappearances in Peru during these years was, according to the United Nations, higher than in any other country in the world.
The trauma caused by these atrocities was compounded by Peru's failure to bring the perpetrators to justice. In the case of abuses committed by insurgent groups, instead of providing justice, the state resorted in the 1990s to trials that lacked the basic procedural guarantees needed to ensure that the people convicted were in fact the ones who committed the crimes. In the case of government abuses, no serious effort was made to investigate and prosecute those responsible.
Today the problem of political violence is largely a thing of the past. But the problem of impunity is not. As a matter of international law, Peru has an obligation not only to prevent human rights abuses, but also to punish those who commit them. Even in the cases of atrocities committed two decades ago, this fundamental obligation remains as urgent today as it was when you left office.
Peru has made some progress on this front in recent years. After releasing hundreds of people who had been wrongfully convicted of terrorism in the past, the state has conducted new trials that have resulted in the conviction of more than 300 people for "terrorist" crimes. The top leaders of Sendero Luminoso are currently on trial for the 1985 massacre of 69 civilians in Lucanamarca, Ayacucho, among other crimes. Prosecutors are also pursuing other important cases, ranging from the massacre of ronderos in Huayao to the killing of 5 members of the Ayacucho community of Canchacancha.
Peru has made far less progress in prosecuting government atrocities. Of the thousands of documented abuses, only a handful has been resolved. Only ten people have been convicted. And only one of these, a police colonel, was a commanding officer. Yet, here too, there is reason to hope that justice is within reach. Genuine efforts are underway to prosecute many of these cases, including those that implicate some of the most prominent figures in Peruvian politics today.
One of the most prominent cases involves former president Alberto Fujimori who now faces extradition from Chile for his alleged role in the Barrios Altos and La Cantuta massacres, as well as acts of corruption. The evidence amassed against Fujimori is overwhelming, and therefore it is extremely likely that Chilean Supreme Court will soon extradite him to Peru, where he will join his former intelligence chief, Vladimiro Montesinos, and 52 other suspects currently under prosecution for these and other related crimes.
This progress on the Fujimori cases has occurred in large measure because Presidents Valentín Paniagua and Alejandro Toledo made them a priority. Particularly important was their support for the Ad-Hoc Solicitor's Office responsible for investigating the Fujimori regime, which gave these cases the sustained, focused attention that they required, contributing to and energizing the criminal investigations, and producing unusually positive results.
Another prominent case involves former presidential candidate Ollanta Humala. Earlier this year, serious allegations emerged that Humala had tortured and "disappeared" civilians while stationed at the Madre Mía military base in the San Martín region in 1992 and 1993. Humala denies the allegations. What cannot be denied, however, is that many such atrocities were committed by military personnel in that region before, during, and after the time Humala was there. Yet, so far, none have been held responsible for these crimes.
A major obstacle to resolving these cases has been the systematic failure of the Ministry of Defense to collaborate with civilian prosecutors. In the Humala case, for example, the military refused to turn over information that could determine the identity of the officer who committed the alleged abuses. In other cases, it has failed to turn over crucial records regarding the deployment and operations of military personnel.
Another important obstacle has been the failure to provide prosecutors with the resources they need to carry out what are often very difficult investigations. While the Attorney General's Office did appoint two special prosecutors to work exclusively on human rights cases in Lima and Ayacucho, their efforts have been seriously undercut by the office's failure to provide them with funds to cover basic expenses. The situation for prosecutors handling cases in other regions of the country is even more dire, as they are also responsible for a regular caseload, typically including hundreds of unrelated cases.
I am including with this letter a memo that documents in greater detail how the stonewalling by the military and the lack of support for prosecutors has slowed progress on scores of cases. Whether these cases ultimately succeed will depend, in large part, on whether you, as a president, make them a priority. Specifically, there are several urgent measures that we believe you should take to advance this process.
- order the Ministry of Defense to end its stonewalling on human rights cases and actively collaborate with civilian prosecutors seeking to resolve these cases.
- encourage the Attorney General's Office to ensure that prosecutors handling human rights cases have the resources and political support necessary to function effectively.
- continue the Ad-Hoc Solicitor's Office investigating the Fujimori government, and ensure that it has the resources and political support necessary to ensure that Fujimori is vigorously prosecuted after he is extradited from Chile.
We believe that with these three measures, your new government could make a major contribution towards Peru's ongoing effort to restore the rule of law after years of political violence.
Thank you for your attention to this important matter.
José Miguel Vivanco
Executive Director, Americas Division