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Peru - Human Rights World Report 2001 in Spanish



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Peru experienced its most turbulent year since 1992, when President Alberto Fujimori dissolved Congress and assumed dictatorial powers. The circumstances in which Fujimori was sworn in for his third consecutive term on July 28 were symptomatic of the deep crisis of legitimacy facing his government after a decade in power. Police cordoned off the Congress building and employed water cannon and teargas against thousands of demonstrators. As the president handed over his sash and received it back again from his loyal congressional leader, Martha Hildebrandt, all but six representatives of the opposition staged a noisy walk-out. Flawed from the outset because the president's candidacy was evidently unconstitutional, the April 9 presidential and congressional elections were among the most widely questioned the region had seen in years.

The National Intelligence Service (Servicio de Inteligencia Nacional, SIN), headed by Fujimori's shadowy advisor Vladimiro Montesinos, was widely blamed for harassing opposition candidates, and manipulating the press, the courts, and the electoral bodies to secure Fujimori's re-election. On September 16, to public astonishment, Fujimori announced that he would dismantle the SIN and hold new elections in which he would not be a candidate. The announcement followed the broadcasting on television of a video apparently showing Montesinos bribing an opposition congressman to defect to the government party. A week later, Montesinos left for Panama, where he unsuccessfully sought asylum. He returned to Peru in October, just after the government proposed to extend a 1995 amnesty law to cover human rights crimes committed since 1995, and to write the law into the constitution. At this writing the amnesty had not been extended. Although Fujimori took some measures to distance himself from Montesinos, he nonetheless replaced the chief of the armed forces in October with a general widely considered to be a close ally of Montesinos.

The Fujimori re-election campaign was plagued by scandals and irregularities, and only concerted international pressure applied at the eleventh hour seems to have convinced Fujimori to concede a second round, after inexplicable delays in the announcement of the first round result. He then had fifty days to make reforms detailed by the electoral observation mission of the OAS before the presidential run-off scheduled for May 28. As that date approached, opposition candidate Alejandro Toledo withdrew his candidacy, considering the conditions still to be unfair. The OAS mission, present in Lima since early March, asked the electoral board to postpone the date so that its minimum conditions could be met, but the electoral board refused. Fujimori was then elected as the sole candidate.

During the inauguration, the Lima police used excessive force against protesters. They fired tear gas cartridges from moving vehicles and roof-tops as well as from positions in the street, sometimes at body height and directly at protesters, and also used teargas in enclosed spaces. Several people were seriously injured when struck by cartridges, including Aldo Gil Crisóstomo, who lost an eye, artist and human rights activist Victor Delfín, and U.S. journalist Paul Vanotti. During the morning, unidentified individuals set fire to several public buildings in the city center, including the National Bank, in which six security guards perished. Armed gangs then attacked firemen and destroyed fire-fighting equipment, harassed journalists, and threatened human rights observers, who were prevented from gaining access to the scene. Suspicions of government complicity in the violence were aroused by the failure of the police to protect the buildings or to arrest any of those responsible. On July 29, a pro-Fujimori congresswoman laid charges of "intellectual authorship" of the previous day's violence against opposition leader Alejandro Toledo, and Congress members Anel Townsend and Jorge del Castillo.

Fujimori and Montesinos subjected their actual or potential critics to legal harassment and character assassination. Through his influence over the courts and the taxation office, Fujimori had secured the support of several television channels and radio stations previously critical of him. Bogus criminal accusations were launched against independent media, such as Peru's most respected daily newspaper, El Comercio. The hand of the government in these maneuvers was disguised by their appearance as boardroom disputes between shareholders. In the provinces, journalists suffered physical attacks for their opposition opinions. Popular tabloids widely believed to be sourced by the SIN engaged in a campaign of scandalous allegations against and lampooning of opposition candidates and the media supporting them. Many believed the constant barrage of malicious rumors to have destroyed the presidential chances of former Lima mayor Alberto Andrade. Government supporters shrugged off these attacks claiming they were a legitimate exercise of freedom of expression.

On February 29, El Comercio revealed that a pro-Fujimori councilor had arranged the forgery of more than one million signatures to ensure the registration of the Peru 2000 Front (Frente Peru 2000), a member of the pro-Fujimori electoral alliance, using names from the 1998 municipal election register. The scandal obliged the National Electoral Board (Jurado Nacional de Elecciones, JNE) to cancel the registration of the party. In addition, two candidates implicated in the fraud were forced to resign, and two officials of the National Office of Electoral Procedures (Oficina de Procesos Electorales, ONPE), which is responsible for the vote-tally and the computation of the results, were dismissed. However, the electoral authorities failed to carry out a thorough and transparent investigation. Instead, the JNE handed responsibility to special prosecutor Mirtha Trabucco Cerna, whose investigation was inordinately delayed, and finally accused only one low-level official, as well as some of those who participated in the fraud and later denounced it. On June 28, four months after the scandal broke, a parliamentaryinvestigative commission produced conclusions that amounted, in effect, to a whitewash. The forgery scandal reinforced the lack of credibility of both the JNE and the ONPE.

Peru's ombudsman, Jorge Santistevan, and the nongovernmental monitoring group Transparencia documented other serious irregularities in the campaign. These included the refusal of open-access television channels to sell air-time to opposition candidates (until the very end of the campaign, when a slight improvement was noted); the meager, biased and distorted news coverage of the opposition campaign; physical attacks on, and disruption of, opposition rallies; and the misuse of state resources and personnel in support of the campaign conducted by Fujimori's electoral alliance, Peru 2000. The use of food-aid and other programs of assistance to the poor to garner support for, and deter votes against, Fujimori's election was among the abuses documented.

A quick assessment carried out by Transparencia on the evening of the elections, April 9, indicated that neither candidate had come close to the 51 percent needed for a first round victory. The ONPE, however, delayed twelve hours before giving out its first partial results, which then put Fujimori ahead of Toledo and close to victory with 49.88 percent. It's Lima computing centers remained closed until the afternoon of April 10, preventing the OAS observers from monitoring the vote count. The computing system produced extraordinary anomalies, such as the apparent registration of more than one million votes in excess of the number of registered voters. After firm pressure from the United States, the OAS, and some European countries, the JNE finally announced on April 12 that a second round to the election would be held. Much longer delays affected the calculation of the results of the congressional elections.

The government employed various means to harass and intimidate opposition media. On February 2, 2000, the 30th First Instance Court confiscated the transmitters of Radio 1160, owned by Genaro Delgado Parker, implementing an embargo on behalf of a creditor. The confiscation silenced broadcasts by a popular opposition political commentator, César Hildebrandt. The program went back on the air with a replacement transmitter, but this too was embargoed and removed on the orders of a provisional judge without tenure and consequently vulnerable to political pressure.

Opposition print media that suffered judicial harassment included El Comercio and Liberación, an outspoken opposition paper of which Hildebrandt was director. Liberación narrowly escaped closure when a provisional judge ordered the embargo and seizure of its printing press. Almost simultaneously a Lima judge ordered the seizure of bank accounts and printing presses belonging to the Editora Correo publishing house, which publishes El Correo de Piura, following a U.S. $600,000 defamation suit brought by a pro-Fujimori congressman against the paper. In August, the director of the company that publishes Expreso, a pro-Fujimori tabloid, launched a U.S. $1 million defamation suit against Hildebrandt and two other Liberación journalists.

Opposition journalists also received anonymous death threats. On June 8, Monica Vecco, an investigative reporter for La República, Peru's leading opposition tabloid, received a threatening e-mail message from a group calling itself the April 5 Group (a reference to the date that Fujimori assumed dictatorial power in 1992). La República had published a report that day by Vecco linking officials of Peru 2000 to the SIN. Four journalists from Lima's Santa Rosa radio station were physically attacked or threatened in separate incidents in May. They had reported on attempts by Peru 2000 to pressure attendants at soup kitchens in poor neighborhoods to vote for Fujimori's re-election. Physical attacks and death threats against radio journalists were also common in rural areas.

Despite a law outlawing torture promulgated in 1998, the practice remained widespread and perpetrators were rarely convicted. In one incident, police belonging to the Division of Special Operations (División de Operaciones Especiales, DIVOES) detained Alejandro Damián Trujillo Llontop on the evening of March 1, 2000 in Lima while he was in the company of some friends, and took him away in a personnel carrier. On March 14, his father denounced his "disappearance" to the district attorney, but DIVOES denied having arrested anyone on March 1. On May 8, Trujillo's relatives were informed that the body of a twenty-five-year-old man had been found on the beach in Callao on March 2. Fingerprint and other tests confirmed that it was Trujillo's body. An autopsy indicated that his death occurred within four hours of his arrest on March 1, and that the body bore injuries consistent with torture.

The mandate of the commission set up by President Fujimori in 1996 to recommend presidential pardons for hundreds of innocent prisoners wrongly charged or convicted under the draconian anti-terrorist laws was not renewed when it expired at the end of 1999. Although the commission had secured the release of 481 prisoners, more than fifty applications approved for release by the commission awaited decision by the president, while four or five times that number had been presented by nongovernmental human rights groups. Those released received no compensation for the serious abuses they had suffered. At the end of August, the Supreme Council of Military Justice accepted an appeal by U.S. citizen Lori Berenson, convicted by a "faceless" military court to life imprisonment for treason. In what was widely interpreted as a gesture to U.S. opinion, Berenson was to be retried in a civilian court on a charge of terrorism.

Human Rights Watch World Report 2000

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