Crime & Justice, Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean

PERU: Congress to Debate Death Penalty for Child Rapists

Ángel Páez

LIMA, Sep 21 2006 (IPS) - Three different draft laws have been announced in Peru to expand the death penalty to child rapists, who are “not human beings” but “abominable, execrable and monstrous” creatures who “have no rights,” according to one of the initiatives.

The draft law presented to Congress last week by rightwing legislator Lourdes Alcorta describes rapists as “predatory, savage animals”, “perverted criminals,” and “ill bred wretches.”

Therefore, society has no choice but to eliminate them, as “they do not deserve to live,” according to the draft law, which would apply the death penalty to rapists of children under nine years of age, physically or mentally disabled persons, and minors aged nine to 18 who are raped and then killed.

Alcorta has the support of seven other lawmakers from her party, out of a total of 17 belonging to the rightwing National Unity alliance.

During the election campaign, President Alan García, who took office Jul. 28, proposed a similar measure. But only after Alcorta announced her initiative did the executive branch submit its own to Congress.

Peru ratified the American Convention on Human Rights, known as the Pact of San José, in 1978. Article 4 of the treaty severely restricts the use of capital punishment and stipulates that “the death penalty shall not be reestablished in states that have abolished it.”

Alcorta’s draft law would imply reneging on the Pact of San José.

In its 1979 constitution, Peru recognised the competence of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

The constitution restricts the use of the death penalty to cases of treason in times of war with a foreign country.

But in 1993, representatives of the regime of Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000) in the “Constitutional Congress” that replaced parliament after it was dissolved by his “self-coup ” on Apr. 5, 1992 extended the death penalty to acts of terrorism, in spite of the opposition of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which Peru then distanced itself from.

When democracy was restored in 2001, Peru renewed its recognition of the Court’s competence.

Opinion leaders are divided about the drastic plan to apply the death penalty to child rapists, although a majority of the public is in favour. On Aug. 13, a survey by the Apoyo polling firm found that 82 percent of those interviewed accepted the use of the death penalty.

On Sep. 7, the University of Lima published another survey on the same question, which found that 72 percent of respondents were in favour of capital punishment.

Critics of the death penalty, such as the president of the National Unity alliance herself, former presidential candidate Lourdes Flores, say the question is being exploited for political and electoral ends.

“There is nothing opportunistic about my proposal because I’ve been fighting for this for years,” Alcorta told IPS. “It just happens to coincide with (the governing Aprista Party’s) initiativeàIt’s not a populist bill. It’s up to Congress to decide what to do.”

In spite of the popular support enjoyed by the death penalty, it is not certain that it will garner the necessary votes in parliament, especially as reintroducing capital punishment would require a constitutional reform, which in turn requires a special majority of at least 80 out of the 120 legislators, and ratification in the next legislative term, in 2007, with the same minimum number of votes.

The Aprista bloc of 36 legislators will back García’s bill, which calls for capital punishment for those found guilty of raping and then murdering a child under the age of seven.

The death penalty is a measure aimed at “radically eliminating individuals whose aberrant personality offers no possibility whatsoever of social readaptation,” states the government’s bill, which is somewhat more lenient than Alcorta’s, and might capture the votes of more legislators.

Speaker of Congress Mercedes Cabanillas of the governing party publicly backed Alcorta’s bill. Afterwards, in line with her party’s strategy, she presented another draft law to modify Peru’s penal code, stiffening the penalties for rape without murder.

This initiative proposes increasing prison terms from 30 years to life for rapists of children under 10, instead of under the age of seven, as is currently the case. For victims aged 10 to 14, the new penalty would be no less than 30 years in prison (currently 20 to 25 years).

Cabanillas’s press spokesman told IPS that the lawmaker did not wish to make any further comments on the matter.

But the APRA bloc in parliament has already made a fundamental decision.

“We will support en bloc the draft law to use the death penalty for child rapists,” the vice president of the Aprista parliamentary group, Nidia Vílchez, told IPS. “It doesn’t matter who proposes what, the main thing is to achieve the goal that child rapists receive the death penalty.”

“We think Alcorta’s bill is fine, and we congratulate her because it enriches the debate,” but the Aprista parliamentary grouping itself intends to present its own proposal on the death penalty, in addition to President García’s, she said.

The 42 legislators in former presidential candidate Ollanta Humala’s alliance – made up of the Union for Peru (UPP) and the Peruvian Nationalist Party (PNP) – have not adopted a common position. Their spokesman Juvenal Ordóñez said that Alcorta’s bill “goes against the advance of civilisation, because the death penalty is a particularly violent argument which dehumanises society.”

However, he clarified that each member of Congress in his group “will be free to vote according to their conscience. My opinion is personal, but I think that I speak for most of our parliamentary bench.”

The 17 National Unity members of Congress have not adopted a unified position either, and Alcorta’s bill only carries the signatures of less than half of them.

The 13 legislators of the pro-Fujimori Alliance for the Future (AF) are also divided on the issue. The third vice president of Congress, Luisa María Cuculiza, supports Alcorta’s proposal, but acknowledged that everyone in her party will vote in accordance with their own views.

“What I can say is that the majority are in agreement,” Cuculiza told IPS.

In any case, the “Fujimorista” votes will not suffice, unless APRA’s bill prospers.

According to the Ministry for Women and Social Development, between January 2002 and June 2003 the Emergency Centres received 1,688 complaints of sexual abuse involving children and teenagers, some 99 cases a month. And between January and June of this year there were 1,053 cases, approximately 175 per month.

Peru’s Catholic Episcopal Conference issued a communiqué, saying that “experience elsewhere shows that extending the criminal code to include the death penalty to avenge crimes as serious as the rape and murder of a child does not solve the problem, and would impel us dangerously back to ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’, with the added problem that this will not eradicate the wrong.”

The secretary general of the Episcopal Conference, Juan Larrañeta, told IPS that “the Church does not condemn the death penalty, but in cases of murder and rape we are not in favour of its use because, first of all, it is irreversible.”

“Secondly, the credibility of our judges is at an all-time low. And third, nothing has been done to improve the intellectual capacity and quality of life of the victims of rape, who are among the poorest of the poor and live in overcrowded slums,” he said..

In addition, Larrañeta warned that reinstating the death penalty would put Peru on an international blacklist. “We would be isolated, because the world today appreciates and values life.”

The international trend is to abolish killing people as a punishment for serious crimes. Amnesty International reports that by 1981, 27 countries had outlawed the death penalty, a number that has now climbed to 88.

“Extending the use of the death penalty would be a step backwards in terms of human rights and democracy,” Eduardo Vega, a human rights specialist in the Ombudsman’s office, told IPS.

“We would become distanced from the (Inter-American) Court (of Human Rights), and that would set a pattern for our international relations,” he added.

President García apparently wants to reintroduce the death penalty without reneging on the Pact of San José, so that Peru will not be seen as going back to the time of Fujimori.

Foreign Minister José Antonio García Belaúnde explained it to IPS in this way: “I won’t comment on the death penalty, but what I can say is that Peru is not going to renounce the Pact of San JoséàThat is a firm decision.”

Asked whether the decision meant that the president would abandon the idea of reinstating the death penalty, García Belaúnde replied: “No, that is an interpretation. What I am saying, as the person responsible for the government’s foreign policy, is that Peru will not pull out of the Pact of San José.”

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