Dr. César Gaviria
Secretary General
Organization of American States
17th and Constitution Avenue
Washington, DC 20006

Dear Mr. Secretary General:

I write to express Human Rights Watch's deep concern about your intervention to secure political asylum in Panama for Vladimiro Montesinos Torres, former advisor to President Alberto Fujimori and de facto head of the Peruvian National Intelligence Service (SIN). I refer to your letter of September 23 addressed to the Foreign Minister of Panama, José Miguel Alemán, in which you requested the government of Panama to reconsider its earlier decision to refuse political asylum to Montesinos. In your letter you cite your mandate under the June 5 resolution at the OAS General Assembly in Windsor, Canada, to further the process of democratic reform in Peru.

In recommending that Panama grant political asylum to an individual widely believed to be responsible for grave violations of human rights, you are asking an OAS member state to breach a basic principle of international asylum law. The 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees provides:

F. The provisions of this Convention shall not apply to any person with respect to whom there are serious reasons for considering that:

(a) he has committed a crime against peace, a war crime, or a crime against humanity, as defined in the international instruments drawn up to make provision in respect of such crimes;

(b) he has committed a serious non-political crime outside the country of refuge prior to his admission to that country as a refugee;

(c) he has been guilty of acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

Vladimiro Montesinos's conduct would disqualify him from political asylum on any of the three grounds listed above. First, he has been credibly implicated in illegal abductions, torture and extrajudicial executions as the organizer of a death squad responsible for crimes against humanity in two cases currently under investigation by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (the La Cantuta and Barrios Altos cases). Second, he is guilty of other serious crimes committed in Peru. The video whose exhibition spurred his request for asylum apparently showed him in the act of bribing a public official, a serious crime in any country. To this must be added credible allegations that Montesinos was involved in illegal wiretapping, drug-trafficking and illegal arms dealing, none of have been satisfactorily investigated in Peru due to his power and influence in Congress and the judiciary. Third, Montesinos is guilty of numerous actions subverting the rule of law and democratic institutions in Peru, acts that are clearly contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

It is the height of cynicism for Montesinos to claim, as he did in a recent letter to President Mireya Moscoso of Panama, that he is a victim of political persecution in Peru. What political refugee, one must ask, has his own government pave the way for his exit from the country, secure him a place of asylum, provide him with lodging and a military escort, and pass a resolution praising him for "services to the nation"? It is obvious that Montesinos expects Panama to grant his request for asylum not on its merits, but because of his continuing capacity to disrupt Peru's return to democracy, and to threaten the stability of the region. In his calculations he obviously has taken into account the weight of the recommendations to Panama of the OAS Secretariat and of key member states.

We are very concerned that providing Montesinos political asylum in a third country will protect him from future prosecution for human rights violations and other crimes. Such was evidently his intention in insisting on efforts to secure him asylum as a condition for leaving Peru. It now appears that Montesinos's threats to carry out a military coup were no more than a bargaining ploy to secure refugee protection in return for abandoning power, or appearing to abandon it. Giving in to these threats sets a deplorable precedent, one that conveys the message to potential dictators across the region that crime, manipulation and brinkmanship will be rewarded, and that subordinates fundamental human rights principles to political expediency.

In practice, appeasing Montesinos is likely to have the opposite effect from that intended by the States that are currently trying to convince Panama to grant him asylum. It offers no guarantees that Montesinos will desist from further efforts to sabotage the process of democratic reform in Peru. Montesinos has been accompanied in Panama by eleven high-ranking Peruvian military officers, who arrived without authorization on September 24. Seven of them were deported on September 27 when their presence became known to the Panamanian authorities. Montesinos maintains contact with army officers in Peru that he appointed to key posts. On September 27, Congressman Juan Carlos Miguel Mendoza reported that he and other members of Fujimori's electoral alliance, Peru 2000, were pressured to resign and form a pro-Montesinos group "to promote disorder and chaos" in the country, and create conditions for a military coup to re-install Montesinos. The most disturbing element of this denunciation was that the resignations were said to have been prepared in army headquarters.

Mr. Secretary General, instead of seeking to establish favorable conditions for Montesinos in Panama, the OAS and its member states should be seeking his immediate arrest, together with the retirement of the officers appointed by him to the armed forces command. Until the criminal clique that currently hold a gun to Peruvian democracy is removed from power and prosecuted for its crimes, the reform process on which the OAS and Peruvian democrats are embarked has little chance of success.

I strongly urge you, therefore, to take no further actions that would contribute to the impunity so far enjoyed by Montesinos and other government officials responsible for grave human rights violations. Instead, I believe that your Windsor resolution mandate requires you to press for their arrest and prosecution.

Sincerely yours,

José Miguel Vivanco