WORLD REPORT 1999 - Peru

Human Rights Developments
President Alberto Fujimori and the political party he leads, Change 90-New Majority (Cambio 90-Nueva Mayoría, C90-NM), continued to undermine the rule of law and independence of the judiciary during 1998. At the same time, they impeded the exercise of political rights. Although political violence and human rights violations associated with counterinsurgency continued to decline, the incidence of criminal violence increased, provoking the C90-NM-controlled Congress to delegate powers to the executive branch to impose tough new anti-crime decrees likely to lead to violations of the rights of criminal suspects. The decrees permitted the use of military courts to try serious crimes, systematic restrictions of suspects’ rights and due process guarantees, and a special coordinating role for the abusive National Intelligence Service, which was responsible for grave human rights violations committed in combatting leftist insurgencies.

Judicial independence, already precarious in Peru, suffered a major setback in March, when the entire seven-person National Magistrates’ Council (Consejo Nacional de la Magistratura, CNM), an autonomous body established in the constitution to appointand dismiss judges and prosecutors, resigned in protest over a law restricting its powers to investigate irregularities committed by judges and to dismiss those it found culpable. The CNM had already suffered progressive limitations of its authority; in 1996, executive commissions headed by government appointees were given control of the reorganization of the judiciary and the public prosecutor’s office, and in January 1997 the CNM lost its constitutional powers to appoint prosecutors. The March 1998 law was reportedly prompted by an impending investigation by the CNM into the conduct of six judges who were alleged to have signed a forged ruling ordering the Central Reserve Bank to pay a U.S.$40 million compensation claim to a private corporation.

The overwhelming presence of the executive branch was also seen in electoral matters during the year, as President Fujimori continued to maneuver to permit himself to stand for election a third time despite a constitutional limit of two consecutive terms for any president. In December 1997, Peru’s rubber-stamp congress altered the composition of the National Electoral Board (Jurado Nacional de Elecciones, JNE) by giving provisional judges the same powers as tenured judges, thereby allowing them to vote for and be elected to the JNE. The appointment of judges without tenure to the JNE, envisaged in the constitution as an autonomous body that monitors the legality of elections, gave the government powerful influence over its decisions. In August 1998, the JNE ruled that a congressional vote was required to authorize a referendum on Fujimori’s right to stand for reelection, contradicting a ruling it had made prior to the alteration of the board’s make-up and ensuring that congress would be able to block a citizens’ initiative to force a referendum. Citizens’ groups had already collected the required 1.4 million signatures needed for the referendum, and polls in Lima indicated that 70 percent of the city’s population supported it, but Congress voted not to authorize the initiative.

Human rights and civil liberties groups continued to allege that the shadowy National Intelligence Service (Servicio Nacional de Inteligencia, SIN) was behind persistent harassment of opponents of the Fujimori administration, especially journalists. Meanwhile, SIN agents enjoyed impunity for serious human rights abuses committed in previous years. During 1998, several intelligence officials accused of human rights crimes in 1996 and 1997 were released or absolved, while a congressional board of inquiry cleared the SIN of responsibility for electronic surveillance of opposition leaders, despite overwhelming evidence of its involvement.

In mid-1998, over one-fifth of the Peruvian population and 16 percent of the nation’s territory were still governed under emergency powers, maintained on the grounds that leftist guerrilla groups continued to carry out attacks. Emergency powers subordinated civilian authorities to political-military commands and limited enjoyment of rights such as personal liberty, inviolability of the home, and freedom of movement. During 1998, serious armed actions by anti-government guerrilla forces were not reported in all the areas regulated under emergency decrees. Such activity was generally limited to isolated pockets of the departments of Ayacucho, Huánuco, Junín, Pasco, San Martín, and Ucayali, where columns belonging to the Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso) continued to attack soldiers and to commit grave abuses against the civilian population.

According to the Institute for Legal Defense (Instituto de Defensa Legal, IDL), Sendero Luminoso assassinated thirty-six civilians, mostly lower-level community officials and leaders of social movements, in the Huallaga valley area between January and July. Sendero Luminoso was also responsible for an August 8 attack that took place during an electoral meeting in Saposoa, in the department of Huallaga, and shot to death a man and a woman. From there they traveled seventy-five kilometers to the town of Atarraya, where they broke in on another electoral meeting being held by the Let’s Go, Neighbor (Vamos, Vecino) group, seized Celso Rodríguez Vargas, the mayor of Saposoa and an electoral candidate, tied him up, and subjected him to a summary “trial.” A witness said that the villagers pleaded for his life, but the guerrilla chief told them he was being brought to justice for being a candidate for the government’s party. According to the witness, they made him kneel and fired a shot into his head. Before leaving, they burned Rodríguez’s truck and warned the villagers to stop supporting government candidates. The Shining Path also delivered threatening leaflets to the homes of mayoral candidates in several provinces of Huánuco and San Martín departments.

At this writing, Peruvian human rights groups had not reported any political “disappearances” or extrajudicial executions by government forces, compared with two cases reported in 1997, neither of which resulted in the conviction of those responsible. Violent abuses carried out in the name of fighting common crime, however, including at least one extrajudicial execution, did take place.

As political violence continued to decline, public concern grew about an apparently dramatic increase in violent common crime, much of it attributed to organized gangs operating in large cities, particularly Lima. While in previous years criminal violence had been associated mainly with poor urban neighborhoods, during 1997 the city’s affluent residential areas were increasingly threatened by the activities of heavily armed gangs. Bank robberies, armed burglaries, and kidnappings for ransom become increasingly common. Some victims were shot and killed by their attackers. Many former or off-duty police and military personnel participated in organized crime, using military-style procedures that made detection more difficult. To deal with criminal violence, the executive branch of government introduced ten decrees under powers delegated to it by Law No. 26950, enacted by Congress on May 19. Equating national security with public order and crime-prevention, Congress gave the Fujimori administration fifteen days to pass decrees “on questions of national security.” The government announced that its measures were designed to deal with “a situation of growing violence that has been a product of the actions of ordinary criminals organized in gangs using combat weapons and explosives and provoking a state of alarm and permanent insecurity in society.”

Taken together, the decrees eroded the due process guarantees of criminal suspects in numerous ways, opened the doors to arbitrary prosecutions. At the same time, they transferred powers to enforce law and order away from civilian courts and the National Police (Policía Nacional, PN) to military tribunals and the SIN. Decree No. 895, for instance, created a new crime of “aggravated terrorism,” applicable to those who “belong to or are accomplices of a gang, association, or criminal grouping that carries or uses combat weapons, grenades, or explosives to carry out a robbery, kidnapping, extortion, or other crime...” Police were allowed to detain suspects without charge for up to fifteen days, and no pre-trial release would be permitted for any reason. Civilians accusedof aggravated terrorism were to be tried by military courts, including minors between the ages of sixteen and eighteen, who would previously have been tried by specialized juvenile courts. Military courts, which already have jurisdiction over civilians accused of treason, are made up of serving military officers without adequate judicial training, and they have been consistently criticized by international human rights bodies for systematic denial of due process. Juveniles faced a minimum sentence of twenty-five years in prison if convicted by these courts. For adults, the mandatory penalty for aggravated terrorism was life in prison, both for people who committed the crime and those who aided them. Included in the latter category would be anyone who provided information used in the commission of the crime, whether or not that information was provided with the intent of aiding the criminal. The breadth of possible circumstances that could be construed as aiding a terrorist opened the door to unfounded prosecutions and convictions. The effectiveness of habeas corpus against arbitrary arrest was limited by two provisions in the decrees. In cases of aggravated terrorism, habeas corpus petitions were to be heard by military judges, who lack the guarantees of independence necessary to rule against an arrest made without reasonable legal grounds. Decree No. 900 transferred competence to hear habeas corpus petitions in other cases from the more than forty criminal judges in the Lima area to one specialized judge, a measure likely to make habeas corpus even less rapid and expeditious than in the past.

The anti-crime decrees borrowed features from laws designed to fight leftist guerrillas, even though those laws had been shown to lead to human rights violations and impunity. Decree No. 897, for instance, prohibited courts from calling police officers who interrogated suspects to give evidence in their cases, a feature of current anti-terrorist laws that has drastically reduced the possibility of proving that a confession was forced. Decree No. 901, allowing immunity or reductions of penalties to those volunteering intelligence on criminal activities, was identical to a provision in anti-terrorism law that had led to scores of wrongful convictions because authorities had failed to establish effective means to eliminate coerced or otherwise false statements from the judicial process. Decree No. 904 created a National Directorate of Intelligence for Social Protection and Tranquility (Dirección Nacional de Inteligencia para la Protección y Tranquilidad Social), an Orwellian-sounding body dependent on the SIN that was given responsibility for coordinating and directing police intelligence. The role allotted to the SIN was particularly troubling in view of well-founded evidence of the intelligence organization’s involvement in the harassment of political opponents of the current government.

Police, soldiers, and intelligence units received greater authority to fight common crime—while being subject to fewer institutional safeguards—despite the fact that torture and brutality already characterized the way police treated criminal suspects. On February 7, two officers belonging to the National Police detained Willi Llerena Macedo and Paolo Herrera Lesama in the town of Pucallpa, Ucayali department. The police allegedly beat both men on arrest and during the journey to the police station. They eventually released Herrera but refused to provide Llerena’s relatives with information about his whereabouts or condition. On February 9, the police told them that Llerena had been taken to a hospital, where his family found him in the morgue. According to the death certificate, he had suffered serious head injuries. As had happened in cases in previous cases involving death under torture, both police officers were charged with fatal assault and abuse of authority. In non-fatal cases, however, such charges continue to be very rare.

To its credit, in February the Congress passed a law making torture a specific offense in the criminal code. Advocated for years by human rights groups, this reform was first proposed by an opposition congressman in April 1996. Torture, along with genocide and “disappearances,” was classified as a crime against humanity. The law prescribed penalties ranging from five years in prison for less serious instances to twenty years if the victim died as a result of the torture. Doctors who assisted in torture were subject to the same penalties. The law explicitly provided that police or military officers accused of torture would be tried by civilian courts; in the past, military jurisdiction had been a major obstacle to successful prosecution of torturers.

The Fujimori government did make progress on cases of people wrongly accused or convicted of terrorism. Following recommendations made by a commission appointed in 1996 to review such cases, President Fujimori continued to pardon innocent prisoners. Seventy-eight had been pardoned during the year by September 1, bringing the total number released to 438. The mandate of the commission was set to expire on December 31, 1998.

Journalists who exposed wrongdoing by public officials continued to face anonymous threats and reprisals meted out through the legal system. Critics of the Fujimori government suffered similar problems. The victims attributed the attacks to direct or indirect actions of the SIN. José Arrieta Matos, a well-known reporter on Channel 2 television (Frecuencia Latina), left the country in January after learning that he was about to face arrest on bogus charges of obstructing justice and contempt. Arrieta had led an investigation in 1997 into the case of Leonor La Rosa, a former agent of the Army Intelligence Service (Servicio de Inteligencia del Ejército, SIE) tortured by her superior officers after they suspected her of informing journalists about human rights violations. In March he was charged in his absence for allegedly inducing another former intelligence agent into making false allegations of army participation in a 1991 attack on the home of opposition congressman Javier Diez Canseco. The agent, José Luis Bazán Adrienzen, was detained by the army in April 1997 for revealing state secrets, and after his release in December retracted the statements he had previously given Arrieta, evidently under pressure. In March 1998 the Second Criminal Court of Lima ruled that there was no evidence to prosecute Arrieta, but his family continued to suffer intimidation. In May, in a pattern of harassment now familiar in Peru, tax officials visited his home and allegedly tried to persuade his mother to sign documents that might have implicated him in tax evasion. In July, Arrieta was granted political asylum in the United States.

Other reports of harassment of journalists centered on the newspaper La República , an outspoken critic of the Fujimori administration. Angel Páez, one of the paper’s leading investigative reporters, received anonymous death threats in April following the publication of a photograph of a former army intelligence agent in an office the paper alleged was used for tapping the telephonesof opposition leaders. During the same month, journalists began to suspect that Peruvian intelligence services were behind a smear campaign against La República journalists mounted in four popular tabloids: El Chino, El Tío, La Nueva Chuchi, and El Mañanero . In addition to Páez, the targets included Fernando Rospigliosi, Edmundo Cruz, and the newspaper’s owner, Gustavo Mohme, who were accused of being traitors to the nation, false democrats, communists, or guerrilla sympathizers. Given the fierce and often abusive measures taken by authorities against people suspected of sharing these characteristics, the smear campaign posed a serious risk to its subjects.

In May, journalists from El Dominical , the Sunday supplement of one of Lima’s longest established dailies, El Comercio , were reported to have received death threats. The threats preceded the publication of an interview with Julio Salas, a former police officer who fled Peru in 1997 because of harassment after he had denounced the SIN’s involvement in a bogus tax investigation against the owner of Channel 2 television, Baruch Ivcher Bronstein. Representatives of the newspaper suspected that information about the impending news story had been obtained by illegal interception of telephone calls. Also in May, an anonymous caller threatened to kill Cecilia Valenzuela, another renowned reporter working for Andean Television (Andina de Televisión).

The Fujimori administration made no attempt to reverse the negative effects of the amnesty passed in 1995 to protect military and police personnel accused of human rights violations from prosecution, despite condemnation of the measure by the United Nations and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Impunity was the rule with regard to human rights crimes committed by members of the security forces since the amnesty, even though crimes committed since 1995 were not covered by its terms. In January, the First Criminal Court of Puno acquitted seven men of terrorism in connection with an October 1996 bomb attack on the Puno branch of Channel 13-Global Television (Canal 13- Global Televisión). Five of the men were soldiers, and one was reputed to be a member of the so-called Colina group, an army death squad responsible for “disappearances” and selective political killings in recent years. On September 8, the Supreme Court reversed the decision on appeal and ordered a new trial of the accused, but by that time they had already been released. No one was detained or charged in relation to the murder in March 1997 of Mariella Lucy Barreto Riofano, a former SIE agent believed to have been killed by members of the Colina group for revealing to the press information about human rights violations committed by the death squad.

On May 28, the congressional Committee on National Defense, headed by Fujimori loyalist Marta Chávez, issued a final report on its investigation into alleged wiretapping by SIN agents of opposition leaders and journalists, which had been denounced in 1997 by Channel 2 television and other media, in part on the basis of testimony by former intelligence agents who claimed to have been involved. The report found no evidence of involvement by the army or the intelligence services in the wiretaps—which had affected nearly 200 politicians and personalities—and it claimed that the equipment needed to intercept calls was neither expensive nor sophisticated, implying that anyone might have been responsible. While finding no executive branch culpability, Chávez accused journalists of refusing to cooperate with the investigation and called for a debate to consider limiting the confidentiality of journalists’ sources.

Defending Human Rights
Under Peruvian conditions, in which the effectiveness of constitutional watchdog bodies had been severely reduced and the judiciary was only nominally independent, the preventive action of the press, independent judges, lawyers, and nongovernmental human rights groups acquired prime importance in the defense of human rights. Outspoken human rights advocates in each of these groups continued to face intimidation and harassment. In April, Delia Revoredo Marsano, dean of the Lima Bar Association (Colegio de Abogados de Lima), left Peru for Costa Rica, where she and her husband were given political asylum. Revoredo, who was one of the judges impeached and dismissed in 1997 from the Constitutional Court, said she feared for her physical safety after receiving repeated death threats against herself and her family. Following her election as dean, the Lima Bar Association had requested that the National Magistrates’ Council investigate the conduct of several judges, one of the factors that may have prompted the pro-Fujimori Congress to pass a law limiting the council’s powers. Revoredo’s attorney, Heriberto Benítes, received threats in April and July. Authorities initiated an investigation into what appeared to be trumped-up charges of customs and fraud violations committed by Revoredo and Benítez; both had been previously acquitted on the same charges.

On August 30, Sofía Macher, executive secretary of the National Coordinating Committee of Human Rights (Coordinadora Nacional de Derechos Humanos, or the Coordinadora), a major nongovernmental human rights umbrella group, received death threats. An anonymous caller telephoned the Coordinadora’s watchman and told him to “tell Sofia that we are going to kill her. Tell her to shut up.” According to the Coordinadora, the caller complained about its public support for the referendum campaign on Fujimori’s expected third bid for the presidency.

United States
Ending a silence that had been seen by human rights groups as tacit U.S. support for Peru’s abusive SIN, the head of the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy, Gen. Barry McCaffrey, publicly distanced U.S. anti-narcotics efforts from Vladimiro Montesinos, the SIN’s reputed de facto leader. Montesinos was widely believed to have had long-term links with the Central Intelligence Agency.McCaffrey took the initiative after the “Panorama” news program, aired on Peru’s Channel 5 television station, showed a video on May 10 depicting Montesinos and other senior Peruvian authorities in a meeting with U.S. officials, including McCaffrey. The footage included a speech by Montesinos and handshakes between him and U.S. officials before and after the meeting. McCaffrey subsequently called a press conference to say that Montesinos had caused him offense by manipulating his visit and doctoring the videotape to clean up his image. McCaffrey also said that he shared many of the concerns of human rights groups about Montesinos. This forceful intervention would make it more difficult in the future for Montesinos to gain status from his association with high-ranking U.S. anti-narcotics officials. However, McCaffrey’s statements did not clarify the extent of the United States’ dealings with the SIN.

Meanwhile, the U.S. ambassador in Lima, Dennis Jett, continued to speak out in support of human rights. He made several public statements in support of freedom of expression, criticized the congressional decision on the Fujimori referendum, and expressed concern about human rights when questioned about the anti-crime measures. When the harassment of journalists was at its height, he made a well-publicized visit to the office of La República, a gesture of moral support. In October 1998, Jett told reporters that the work of nongovernmental human rights groups was necessary “when there are institutions that are losing credibility day by day.” It was announced on the same day that the Agency for International Development (AID) had pledged U.S.$750,000 to support the work of the People’s Defender (Defensor del Pueblo), a government human rights agency. AID also announced it would support nongovernmental human rights monitors, including the Coordinadora and the Institute for Legal Defense.

World Bank
In March the World Bank held up disbursement of its U.S.$22.5 million aid package to Peru’s program of judicial reform in protest over the law limiting the powers of the National Magistrates’ Council. In September, when Congress passed a new law restoring a small part of the CNM’s powers but failed to meet the requirements of the bank, the government rejected the loan altogether, apparently to avoid a rebuff by World Bank.