(Washington, D.C.) – New evidence has emerged that credibly implicates former President Ollanta Humala Tasso (2011-2016) in atrocities during Peru’s armed conflict in the 1990s, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The evidence also implicates Humala in the attempted cover-up of incriminating evidence when he ran for president in 2006.
The 24-page report, “Implicating Humala: Evidence of Atrocities and Cover-Up of Abuses Committed during Peru’s Armed Conflict,” provides an overview of existing evidence, including testimony by several soldiers that they tortured, killed, and forcibly disappeared people during military operations against armed groups in the 1990s. They said they did so under the orders—and sometimes in the presence of—Humala, who was allegedly stationed at the Madre Mía military base in the Alto Huallaga region in 1992 under the pseudonym “Captain Carlos.” In testimony provided to judicial authorities and interviews with Human Rights Watch and the media, several victims also implicated Humala in violations and in attempted cover-ups.
“Faced with very strong evidence implicating a former president in atrocities and their subsequent cover-up, the Attorney General’s Office should actively pursue all new leads,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “This is a unique opportunity that should not be wasted to pay Peru’s longstanding debt to many armed conflict victims who are still waiting for justice.”
Human Rights Watch interviewed victims and witnesses of violations in which Humala is implicated, the prosecutor in charge of the investigations, a former high-level Defense Ministry official, and a journalist who interviewed soldiers who were witnesses to or participated in the crimes. We also reviewed witness testimony provided by witnesses to prosecutors and other judicial records, and the soldiers’ testimony.
In May 2017, several soldiers who say they served under Humala’s command said on television that they had killed detainees, then dismembered their bodies, weighted them with rocks, and threw them into the Huallaga river. One soldier said he was told to torture men and children, kill them, and burn their bodies in a field.
Another said he witnessed soldiers burning a peasant alive, and raping three women after Humala told the soldiers the women were “gifts” and they “could do whatever they wanted with them.” Some of the soldiers made formal statements to prosecutors and are currently under a witness protection program.
One of the soldiers said Natividad Ávila, a local resident in the Alto Huallaga area who, together with her husband, Benigno Sullca Castro, was forcibly disappeared in June 1992, was initially held at the Madre Mía base. Her brother, Jorge Ávila, who was also detained at the base, said soldiers had subjected him to electric shocks while forcing his head into water asking if he was a Shining Path leader. He escaped after five days, but Sullca Castro’s body was found in the Huallaga river with a bullet hole in his forehead. Natividad Ávila’s whereabouts remain unknown.
A soldier stationed at the Madre Mía base, Jorge Ávila, and Ávila’s sister, who had gone to the base to ask about the whereabouts of her missing relatives soon after their detention, all said “Captain Carlos” oversaw the base at the time.
Since the soldiers’ testimony aired, other victims or their families have also publicly identified Humala as “Captain Carlos” and accused him of killings, enforced disappearances, and torture.
Humala has acknowledged that he served in 1992 in a battalion in the region, and that his pseudonym at the time was “Carlos.” Other evidence—including a photograph showing a young Humala wearing a T-shirt with the “Madre Mía” base on it and a copy of what appears to be his military record—also puts him at the base at that time. But Humala insists that many soldiers were called “Carlos” and denies participating in human rights violations.
In 2006, after the Avila-Sullca Castro family identified Humala as “Captain Carlos” during the presidential campaign, prosecutors opened an investigation. The case was closed in 2009 after Jorge Ávila and some soldiers retracted their statements.
However, taped conversations between people close to Humala and between one of them and Jorge Ávila, released in April 2017, strongly suggest that people close to Humala had bribed Jorge Ávila to retract his statement. These allegations are consistent with other testimony implicating Humala in covering-up incriminating evidence.
Since May, the Attorney General’s Office has reopened the investigation into the Natividad Ávila and Sullca Castro case, and has opened at least 10 new investigations.
The prosecutor in charge of these investigations—who cannot disclose information on specific cases to comply with Peruvian legislation—told Human Rights Watch that the biggest obstacle is the lack of cooperation by the Defense Ministry. The prosecutor said that the ministry has prevented the identification of suspects in “thousands” of cases by refusing to provide information on who oversaw the bases and the names of soldiers stationed in them.
Human Rights Watch asked the Defense Ministry for detailed information about soldiers and commanding officers at Madre Mía and other bases in the area, but was told that Armed Forces personnel had informed the ministry the information “would not exist.” A former high-level Defense Ministry official told Human Rights Watch it is believed the documents were deliberately destroyed by fire.
Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission found that the highest number of victims in the country’s northeast region were in the Huánuco jungle and the southern portion of San Martin, which includes Madre Mia. It concluded that 2,244 people were killed or disappeared there by security forces or Shining Path members in the 1980s and 1990s, with the highest numbers between 1990 and 1993. The vast majority of those responsible for these crimes have never been brought to justice.
Humala is has been in pretrial detention since July, awaiting trial on corruption charges.
“Peruvian authorities should provide the Attorney General’s Office all the support it needs for these investigations,” Vivanco said. “Anyone who refuses to cooperate in identifying military officers, including commanders, or who may have been implicated in destroying important official documentation should be held accountable for obstructing justice.”