(Santiago) – The Chilean Supreme Court’s decision to extradite former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori to Peru to face trial for human rights abuses is welcome and unprecedented, said Human Rights Watch today.
Human Rights Watch noted that this is the first time that a court has ordered the extradition of a former head of state to be tried for gross human rights violations in his home country.
“After years of evading justice, Fujimori will finally have to respond to the charges and evidence against him in the country he used to run like a mafia boss,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch, who was in Santiago for the announcement.
Human Rights Watch said that the decision had special significance in light of Chile’s own history.
“This landmark ruling is a huge step forward for Chile,” said Vivanco. “After years of wrestling with Pinochet’s legacy of atrocities, Chile is now building a positive record on human rights and justice.”
Today’s landmark decision fits within a global trend started when the British House of Lords ruled that former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet could be extradited to Spain to face charges of torture.
In two other cases in recent years, former heads of state have been turned over by governments to international tribunals. Slobodan Milosevic was turned over by the Serbian government to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia for prosecution. Charles Taylor, the former dictator of Liberia, was turned over by the Nigerian government to face trial by the Special Court for Sierra Leone. However, both of these were cases in which the executive branch of government took the political decision to turn over the former rulers.
In contrast to these cases, Fujimori is not facing trial in an international court, and it is the Chilean Supreme Court that has decided that he can be handed over to Peruvian authorities pursuant to an extradition request filed by prosecutors during the administration of then-President of Peru Alejandro Toledo.
The Supreme Court’s ruling also sets an important precedent for other countries that are faced with the question of what to do with former heads of state wanted for atrocities. For example, in the case of Hissène Habré, the former dictator of Chad who is in detention in Senegal, Senegal has formally agreed to an African Union request to prosecute Habré.
“This decision is a remarkable example of the role that domestic institutions of justice can play in enforcing international standards and furthering accountability, even in highly sensitive cases,” said Vivanco. “It will now be up to Peru’s courts to show that they are up to the task of trying Fujimori and guaranteeing him a fair trial.”
Human Rights Watch said that it would be closely watching the proceedings in Peru to ensure a thorough and independent investigation and trial, in accordance with international standards of justice and due process.
The Supreme Court ruling authorizes Fujimori’s extradition to face prosecution and trial in Peru for the killings of 25 people in two separate massacres in 1991 and 1992. The massacres were allegedly carried out by the Colina Group, a specialized squad of military intelligence officers.
In the “Barrios Altos” massacre, Colina Group members broke into a party, shooting machine guns and killing 15 civilians, including an 8-year-old boy. In the “Cantuta” massacre, which happened within months after Fujimori had carried out a “self-coup” with the support of the armed forces, Colina Group members arrested nine students and a professor at La Cantuta University. They later shot and killed them, hiding the bodies.
In its 2005 report, Probable Cause: Evidence Implicating Fujimori, Human Rights Watch detailed the substantial evidence linking Fujimori to the Barrios Altos and Cantuta massacres. The evidence includes a videotaped interview in which the operational head of the Colina Group states that the group was created pursuant to an official government policy, specifically approved by Fujimori, of physical “elimination” of suspects. There is also extensive official documentation as well as testimony showing that the Colina Group was not independent, but rather existed as a formal structure within the Army Intelligence Service and received official support at the highest levels. Fujimori in fact signed two memos in which he recommended that several Colina Group members be given promotions and raises. And even once the Colina Group’s crimes had been made public, Fujimori pushed a law through the Peruvian Congress giving the group’s members an amnesty for their crimes.