Human Rights Developments
Although professing to uphold human rights, in practice the Peruvian government continued to treat the issue as well as its proponents with disdain. Among the human rights violations Human Rights Watch/Americas continued to monitor in 1994 were extrajudicial executions, disappearance, rape, torture, and a glaring lack of due process in the special courts set up to convict accused insurgents and drug traffickers. For its part, the Communist Party of Peru_the Shining Path_continued to murder opponents, bomb civilian targets, and threaten those it deemed enemies to its political goals. Although political violence decreased markedly since the beginning of the Shining Path's campaign to seize power in 1980, groups that monitor key indicators continued to register disturbing levels of violence perpetrated by both sides.
Since the April 5, 1992 "self-coup" by which elected president Alberto Fujimori took on dictatorial powers, the structure that encouraged and protected egregious abuses in the 1980s not only remained in place but was significantly reinforced. The government's power continued to rest on a military with unlimited license and a civilian bureaucracy willing to cover up military crimes. While the government attempted to modernize economic and trade policies, on human rights it remained entrenched in a model that considered these rights dispensable.
In 1994, recorded disappearances decreased in comparison to previous years, totalling eight for the first eight months of the year. This dramatic fall from last year's total of 168 was due largely to international pressure and clearly indicated the extent of government control over disappearances. None of the more than 4,000 registered disappearances were being seriously investigated, nor were the perpetrators being prosecuted. Over one-third of the country remained under emergency legislation and the de facto control of the military, which continued to violate human rights with impunity.
Military impunity was underscored in April when the army mounted a large-scale operation near Tingo María, Huánuco. In the preceding months, the prosecutor for human rights in the departments of Huánuco and Pasco had documented a series of disappearances, rapes, beatings, and threats by soldiers against the civilian population. After "Operation Aries" concluded, human rights groups documented extrajudicial executions, torture, rape, and the wanton destruction of homes by the army. Thirty-one of the thirty-seven extrajudicial executions recorded between January and October occurred during Operation Aries, according to the Coordinadora Nacional de Derechos Humanos.
Although the army claimed that they targeted Shining Path weapons caches, villagers and journalists who visited the area say that houses were attacked indiscriminately. The dead included the elderly and a two-year-old child. According to a formal report, fifteen soldiers gang-raped and killed a thirteen-year-old girl named Lourdes on April 8. The woman who testified about this incident also told the Coordinadora that soldiers knifed her husband to death and beheaded him. She said six others were also murdered. The woman testified that she was gang-raped but that her life was spared because the troops needed a guide.
Far from taking these reports seriously, the government moved to suppress them by naming as special prosecutor a retired soldier, who failed to visit key sites or direct adequate autopsies. Repeatedly, military authorities accused the International Committee of the Red Cross, denied access to the area, of collaborating with guerrillas. For its part, the pro-government majority in the Democratic Constituent Congress (CCD) passed a motion condemning the Coordinadora for "distributing negative reports about the behavior of the Armed Forces."
In 1994, civil patrols allied with the army continued to be implicated in killings. On February 12, friends of Hugo Zapata Gutiérrez, a teacher near Ulcumayo, Junín, who had been detained by patrol members at his home two months earlier, found his body with other burned remains in a gorge two hours from the village. According to one of the five patrol members accused of killing Zapata, they murdered suspected subversives on orders from the local base commander.
Perhaps the best-known example of government defiance of human rights was the continued cover-up in the "La Cantuta" case, which involved the disappearance of nine students and a professor from the Enrique Guzmán y Valle (La Cantuta) University in July 1992. After the bodies of some of the victims were discovered outside Lima in November 1993, pressure mounted to arrest the military and intelligence officers believed to have planned and carried out the murders. Although the exhumation was a travesty of scientific method, family members managed to identify some remains through clothing, dental work, and belongings, including a set of keys.
Once the bodies were identified, the military and its supporters abruptly stopped denying military involvement and instead rushed to pursue a case in military court. Threatened with a challenge from the civilian court already investigating the case, in February the government pushed through Decree Law 26291. The "Cantuta Law" changed the procedure for determining civilian or military jurisdiction, allowing the Supreme Court's simple majority of pro-Fujimori appointees to vote to send the case to a secret military tribunal. While historically the military has won in such jurisdictional disputes, the new law provided fail-safe insurance.
After a four-day procedure, nine of the eleven men accused were given sentences of between one and twenty years in military prison. Ranking officers believed to have planned and ordered the killings, however, were never charged and remained on active duty. According to subsequent press reports, the convicts, dubbed "Los Cantutos," were enjoying special privileges, including color television, a bar, daily family visits, regular salary payments, cellular telephones, and free run of the prison tennis and indoor soccer courts. The La Cantuta victims' family members enjoyed no such luxuries. After pressing for the return of their loved ones' remains, they were given ragged evaporated milk and computer boxes containing human bones, dirt, and trash.
The Cantuta Law, passed easily by the CCD's pro-Fujimori majority, revealed the lengths to which the highest levels of the Peruvian government would go, in defiance of international condemnation, to protect those implicated in abuses, so long as its victims were labeled enemies of the state. In protest, the Coordinadora withdrew from a dialogue with Peruvian government officials initiated at the request of the U.S. government.
The law also marked the third time that the CCD voted in flagrant violation of the constitution only four months after that document was approved by referendum. Because the judiciary remained weakened by the 1992 coup, which included mass firings of judges and the dissolution of the Constitutional Guarantees Tribunal, there was no legal body with the power to challenge laws that violated the constitution, and open manipulation by the executive continued to be the rule.
Fujimori's manipulation of the judicial system, indeed, made it a principal tool in government repression. Though the number of disappearances fell in 1994, for example, the number of arbitrary detentions skyrocketed. In the twenty months after the terrorism and treason laws were implemented in mid-1992, 7,667 people were arrested. Of that number, 1,219 individuals were sentenced by secret, or "faceless," military and civilian courts, more than double the number sentenced for similar crimes over the previous eleven years. Military courts convicted 95 percent of the treason cases brought before them, an indication that in these courts a defendant is guilty until proven innocent.
Many of those charged with terrorism during 1994 were arrested on the uncorroborated testimony of a single individual, called an arrepentido, who claimed to have participated in guerrilla activities and agreed to implicate others in exchange for a reduced sentence. After the CCD passed a new law guaranteeing arrepentidos special benefits, authorities began announcing mass surrenders. By mid-1994, 3,095 former members of the Shining Path and 1,044 former members of the Movimiento Revolucionario "Túpac Amaru" (MRTA) had been registered with the office of the special prosecutor for terrorism cases, an astonishing number given that estimates of the armed strength of these groups in previous years had never surpassed 5,000.
A closer look, furthermore, reveals that not a single person charged with terrorism or treason received a fair trial. Trials were conducted in secret by prosecutors, judge, and witnesses whose identities were never revealed; police were permitted to hold defendants for up to thirty days incommunicado, during which prisoners were regularly subjected to torture. Defendants remained in prison until a final verdict was rendered and confirmed by a higher court. In Iquitos, Loreto, 600 detainees staged a hunger strike in September to protest trial delays of up to three years.
Hundreds of innocent Peruvian were trapped by planted evidence, perjury, mistaken identities, personal vendettas, political witch hunts, and even typographical errors in court documents. Typical was the case of the couple Juan Carlos Chuchón Zea and Pelagia Salcedo Pizarro. Internal refugees who fled their Ayacucho village in 1982 because of threats from the Shining Path, they resettled in Lima. Their new life ended on December 11, 1992, when police broke into their house. Without the prosecutor required by law to be present, police beat them, forcing Salcedo to sign a declaration admitting that weapons planted in the home by the police were theirs. Chuchón refused to sign until he was taken to the headquarters of the anti-terrorism police (DINCOTE) and tortured with blows, electric shocks to the genitals, and death threats. Chuchón stated that before concluding their report, DINCOTE agents offered to let him go in exchange for money. Despite illegalities and the documented use of torture in the case, the couple was sentenced to thirty years in prison.
While it is true that some prisoners have regained their freedom after concerted campaigns by families, friends, and human rights groups, many others remained behind bars, forced to prove their innocence under a punitive and often life-threatening prison regime worse than that faced by convicted murderers. To this injustice, government authorities have responded with icy indifference. "Unfortunately, unfair arrests and irregularities...have occurred," agreed Special Prosecutor for Terrorism Cases Daniel Espichan in September. "But one can't cry over spilled milk."
Although a few of the most draconian measures were modified_including one restricting lawyers to representing only one client charged with terrorism or treason at a time and a ban on habeas corpus petitions_the essence of the legislation remained fundamentally abusive. While government officials have stated that the faceless court system should be reviewed, the government has taken no action. In October Peru's permanent representative before the OAS called for a modification of the treaties prohibiting an expansion of existing death penalties, heralding the start of a new campaign to impose this sentence, authorized by the new constitution, on Peruvians convicted of treason.
For its part, although much weakened and diminished in geographical scope, the Shining Path continued to violate the laws of war by murdering opponents, bombing civilian targets, and attacking and threatening its critics. After the arrest of Abimael Guzmán and other top leaders, the group apparently split into a faction that supports Guzmán's plan to negotiate a peace and a group of militants still in the field determined to continue their war.
The latter group was considered responsible for the April 16 massacre of eighteen people, including children and the elderly, in the village of Monterrico, Junín. In June, militants also killed David Chacaliaza García, a long-time activist in the Lima shantytown of Huaycán.
In December 1993, guerrillas put a bomb in the doorway of the Center for the Development and Study of Populations (CEPRODEP), a development group that worked with internal refugees in the southern highlands. Three months later, a similar dynamite blast was left at the home of conservative columnist Patricio Ricketts, killing a passerby and injuring Ricketts's daughter. The Shining Path was believed to be responsible for the March 30 bombing of the Yompián mall in Lima, which caused significant damage but no casualties.
The Right to Monitor
Underscoring the government's scorn for human rights was its continued failure to fund or empower the office of the Defensor del Pueblo, a governmental office created under the new constitution to investigate human rights violations. In an indication of the importance the government attaches to human rights, it shut down the office of the special attorney for human rights, though the defensor, its supposed replacement, had not yet been established.
Lawyers who represented the victims of human rights abuses continued to be harassed. On March 28, Heriberto Benítez Rivas, who represented some of the family members connected with the La Cantuta case, complied with a court order requiring him to give testimony on a matter related to the case. Previously, he had received threatening telephone calls from a member of the Judicial Police, who said that he would be arrested if he testified. After his court testimony, Benítez was arrested with an illegal warrant. He was released after spending twenty-four hours in jail.
Also in relation to the La Cantuta case, family members of General Rodolfo Robles, who left the country after publicly confirming details of the disappearance, murder, and army cover-up published in the press, continued to suffer harassment and telephone death threats. Four La Cantuta students who participated in a peaceful march to protest the killings were briefly detained in September.
Journalists were also the targets of threats for their human rights work. Mariano Paliza Mendoza, who hosts "Urgent Action," a radio program sponsored by the Association for Human Rights (APRODEH), which offers air time to human rights activists and the relatives of victims of violations, received several death threats beginning on March 25. The program also suffered persistent electronic interference with the apparent purpose of stopping its transmission.
With the urging of influential members of Congress, the U.S. government continued to press Peru on its dismal human rights record, particularly after the government rejected the recommendations on legal reform made by an international commission of jurists. The commission, known as the Goldman Commission for its chair, Robert K. Goldman, was established by the Clinton administration with the acquiescence of the Fujimori government in 1993. Its report analyzed the impact on judicial independence of legal changes imposed after Fujimori's "self-coup" and detailed violations of international legal standards represented by the new faceless courts.
Among the recommendations were that the government end military trials of civilians and any trials in which the defendant does not know the identity of the judge and prosecutor; the establishment of an honor council to review the work of district attorneys and judges and to fill vacancies left after Fujimori's purge of the judiciary; the repeal of the treason law, which violates the rights of civilians not to be tried by military courts; a review of all sentences handed down by military courts in cases of treason; and a revision of the definition of terrorism, which the commission determined was currently too broad and prone to erroneous interpretation.
When the commission traveled to Lima in December 1993 to present its conclusions, Justice Minister Fernando Vega Santa Gadea refused to meet with the members. Rather than address the content of the report, the government attacked the commission as a sign of Yankee interventionism and summarily rejected it.
In a statement released after the Cantuta Law was promulgated, the State Department lamented the regime's interference with judicial independence. However, according to the State Department, the U.S. would be satisfied by a "transparent and impartial trial in either jurisdiction," in essence accepting military courts for trials in human rights cases, one of the principal tools the army has used to protect its members from prosecution.
This mixed message seemed to typify a willingness among some to normalize a relationship damaged by the April 5 coup and human rights violations. Interested in supporting privatization, free trade, and anti-narcotics efforts, they have lobbied to make human rights secondary. Before the Cantuta Law was passed, Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs Alexander Watson had signaled to human rights groups his interest in releasing $30 million in balance of payments funding which had been frozen because of the coup. Nonetheless, the funds were not released to the government because of the negative developments noted above.
State Department officials did, however, begin discussions with human rights organizations about the use of some of the suspended funds for support to the judiciary. This plan was modified, however, after Human Rights Watch/Americas and the Washington Office on Latin America together objected to any funding to a judiciary whose independence from the executive branch had not been restored after the 1992 coup. A new plan, using some $16 million of the suspended funds, was later agreed on which avoided our most significant objections. The program avoided balance of payments support, channeled funds instead to specific projects such as the Central Registry of Detainees, the Defensor del Pueblo, and the human rights and legal defense work of several nongovernmental organizations.
Meanwhile, the administration provided $8.4 million in anti-narcotics aid to the police, despite continuing human rights abuses attributed to them, including torture. For fiscal year 1995, the administration requested $18.5 million in "alternative development" assistance and additional police aid. Human Rights Watch/Americas continued strongly to oppose aid to the police so long as its agents continue to torture detainees with impunity.
The drug war assumed a low profile in U.S. policy circles. "Drug czar" Lee P. Brown urged Congress to increase funding to Peru and "find a way to separate our counternarcotics interests in Peru from other foreign policy interests..." In other words, Brown urged the Congress to suspend human rights concerns.
One bright spot was the inauguration in February of the Central Registry of Detainees, whose creation had been made a condition for some U.S. aid in 1991. The registry was intended to track all detentions and thereby deter disappearances. Although its establishment was long delayed, and its implementation limited initially to Lima, the registry and the drop in the reported number of disappearances described above testified to the influence the United States is able to exert over human rights issues in Peru, despite the Fujimori government's nationalistic rhetoric.
The Clinton administration continued to play an important role in defending the work of domestic human rights monitors. After the CCD denounced the Coordinadora for its criticism of Operation Aries, U.S. Ambassador Alvin Adams visited the Coordinadora. Also important, when Assistant Secretary of State Watson visited Lima in January, his delegation's first stop was the Coordinadora office. These symbolic acts of support, as well as the administration's open door policy towards human rights groups, sent an important message to the Fujimori government that their work was important to U.S. policymakers.
The Work of
Human Rights Watch/Americas
Through reports, press releases, frequent communication over specific violations with the U.S. and Peruvian governments, and litigation through the inter-American system of human rights protection, Human Rights Watch/Americas continued to condemn human rights violations and violations of the laws of war by insurgents.
One principle concern of Human Rights Watch/Americas was to focus attention on the deplorable record of the Peruvian justice system. In early 1995, we plan to publish a report that examines the detention of innocent people held on terrorism and treason charges, the impunity with which military and police agents commit human rights violations, and so-called popular trials carried out by the Shining Path. We continued to bring cases to international attention by presenting them to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Inter-American Court. As noted above, our frequent dialogues with the Clinton administration shaped U.S. aid decisions; our efforts to bring to light Peru's policy of disappearances contributed to their reduction in number. Finally, pressure from Human Rights Watch/Americas on the Fujimori government on behalf of individuals wrongly prosecuted by the faceless courts helped bring about freedom for several of them.