(Washington, DC) - The Peruvian government has failed to reform the country's draconian and much-criticized anti-terrorism legislation, Human Rights Watch said in a backgrounder released just prior to U.S. President George W. Bush's visit to Peru.
Human Rights Watch hailed important advances in human rights protection under the government of Alejandro Toledo, but noted that the anti-terrorism laws remain in effect and some 2,500 prisoners who were convicted by anti-terrorism courts without due process remain incarcerated.
"Despite strong efforts to restore the rule of law trampled on during the ten-year rule of Alberto Fujimori, the government has yet not tackled the sweeping anti-terrorism laws that have trapped thousands of Peruvians in a legal nightmare," said José Miguel Vivanco, executive director of the Americas Division of Human Rights Watch.
Elected on a human rights platform, the Toledo government is making efforts to hold accountable those responsible for the widespread corruption and human rights abuse of the Fujimori years. Two key figures of the ruling clique, the de facto head of the National Intelligence Service, Vladimiro Montesinos, and former army commander Gen. Nicolás de Bari Hermoza Ríos, are both in prison facing charges of human rights abuse. In addition, two international warrants have been issued for the arrest of former President Alberto Fujimori, who now resides in Japan.
At least fourteen other generals are in jail or under house arrest, as well as ten members of a death squad responsible for notorious human rights crimes. While those responsible for more than 4,000 "disappearances" during the counter-insurgency war (1980-2000) have so far escaped justice, Peru has swept aside a 1995 amnesty intended to protect them from prosecution. A truth commission established to investigate the events is expected to publish its findings in February 2003.
Some 2,500 Peruvians remain incarcerated under the anti-terrorism laws, which date from 1992. Convicted following torture, often by hooded military judges and without proper opportunities of defense, they are now clamoring for their cases to be reviewed. A high proportion are serving life sentences.
Following a policy introduced by former President Fujimori, the Toledo administration has pardoned and released clearly innocent prisoners. It has also granted requests, including those made by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, to allow civilian retrials in a few high profile cases. The civilian court retrial of American citizen Lori Berenson was mandated under Fujimori.
Human Rights Watch is urging the Peruvian government to order the civilian retrial of all prisoners whose basic due process rights were violated. Rights to defense and cross-examination, open courtroom procedures, and the elimination of evidence obtained under torture must be guaranteed. Laws against terrorism must be revised so as to define precisely the nature of the offenses, and make the penalties proportionate to the seriousness of the crime.