(Washington, DC) - Human Rights Watch today hailed the arrest on March 24 of two retired generals who headed Peru's intelligence operations when major rights abuses occurred. Both Gen. Julio Salazar Monroe, former head of Peru's disbanded National Intelligence Service (SIN), and retired Gen. Juan Rivera Lazo, former head of the Army Intelligence Service (SIE) have been linked to the "Colina Group," an army death squad responsible for the Barrios Altos massacre, and other human rights atrocities in the early 1990s. Two other alleged former death squad members, Juan Pampa Quilla and Wilson Carbajal Garcia, were also reportedly detained.
"The wall of impunity that held firm in Peru for a decade is beginning to crumble," said José Miguel Vivanco, executive director of Human Rights Watch's Americas division.
The arrests followed a historic March 20 decision of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights declaring two 1995 amnesty laws incompatible with the American Convention on Human Rights, and hence without legal effect. The ruling obligated Peru to bring those responsible for the massacre to justice. In 1999, former President Alberto Fujimori, who fled the country last year, illegally withdrew Peru's recognition of the court. In January of this year, Peru formally returned to its jurisdiction. Interim president Valentín Paniagua has recognized the state's responsibility for the massacre, and pledged to carry out the court decision. Peruvian police are now searching for the leader of the death squad, retired Maj. Santiago Martin Rivas, and some ten other former members of the group.
The international monitoring group commended the Peruvian government for the speed with which it responded to the Inter-American Court's decision. "The court has established a precedent for the whole region. Presidents may pass amnesty laws, violate human rights treaties and shun international human rights courts. But these arrests show that, in the end, justice prevails," said Vivanco.
On November 3 1991, armed men wearing ski-masks burst into a fund-raising party in the poor Barrios Altos district of Lima and machine-gunned to death fifteen people after ordering them to lie on the floor. Four survived with serious injuries.
Rivas and other members of the death squad were detained and convicted in 1994 by a military court for a separate human rights atrocity, the abduction and secret execution of nine students and a teacher from La Cantuta University in 1992. While serving their sentence in privileged conditions in a military prison, they were charged in April 1995 for the Barrios Altos massacre. Two months later, however, the government of Alberto Fujimori suddenly passed a law granting a sweeping amnesty to military or police personnel convicted or implicated in human rights crimes during the counter-insurgency war. When the prosecutor and judge challenged the law, Peru's Congress rapidly passed another law enforcing its observance. Rivas and the others were immediately set free. He and other members of the group are now accused of further human rights crimes they committed after their release.