(Lima) - Today's conviction of Alberto Fujimori, former president of Peru, is a major advance for human rights accountability in the region and beyond, Human Rights Watch said today.
A three-judge panel of the Peruvian Supreme Court found Fujimori guilty on charges involving serious human rights violations.
"After years of evading justice, Fujimori is finally being held to account for some of his crimes," said Maria McFarland, senior Americas researcher at Human Rights Watch, who was in the courtroom for the ruling's announcement. "With this ruling, and its exemplary performance during the trial, the Peruvian court has shown the world that even former heads of state cannot expect to get away with serious crimes."
Human Rights Watch pointed out that today's landmark decision fits within a global trend of increasing accountability for former heads of state. But it stands out because in contrast to many other situations, Peru's national court system demonstrated the will, capacity, and independence to try its former president.
The ruling came after a lengthy televised trial, which Human Rights Watch said was respectful of due process guarantees and consistent with international standards on fair trial.
Fujimori was convicted of the killings of 25 people in two separate massacres, in 1991 and 1992, and the kidnappings of Gustavo Gorriti, a journalist, and Samuel Dyer, a businessman, in 1992. The massacres were carried out by the Colina unit, a specialized squad of military intelligence officers.
In its 2005 report, "Probable Cause: Evidence Implicating Fujimori", Human Rights Watch detailed the substantial evidence then available linking Fujimori to the Colina unit and its activities. The evidence included extensive official documentation and testimony showing that the Colina unit was not a rogue operation, but rather existed as a formal structure within the Army. Its members received resources and logistical support from the highest levels of the Army and the National Intelligence Service, which were completely under Fujimori's control.
During the trial, additional evidence surfaced showing that the killings formed part of a counterinsurgency strategy that Fujimori established and carried out through the country's intelligence services.
Human Rights Watch noted that today's ruling takes on added significance because of Peru's history of authoritarianism and weak rule of law. For a decade, the Fujimori government used bribery, extortion, and intimidation to concentrate power in the presidency, subverting the democratic process and eliminating normal checks by the judiciary, legislature, and media on government abuses. Fujimori is to be tried separately on multiple corruption charges, which are also detailed in "Probable Cause."
"Just a few years ago, Fujimori had near-total control of Peru's judiciary," said McFarland. "This court's ruling is important not only because of its content, but also because it demonstrates the crucial role an independent tribunal can play in addressing past abuses and shoring up the rule of law."
Today's conviction is subject to appeal before the Supreme Court.
"We would like to believe that the court will continue to show the same transparency and impartiality it has demonstrated during the trial phase," said McFarland. "If it does, we're confident the verdict will stand."