Civil Society, Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean

PERU: Government Lashes Out at Human Rights Groups

Ángel Páez

LIMA, May 2 2008 (IPS) - The Peruvian government, with the backing of the parliamentary bloc that supports former President Alberto Fujimori, has unleashed a campaign against non-governmental organisations that defend human rights, according to activists and lawyers.

It all started on Apr. 25, when the European Parliament turned down a request by the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) to add Peru’s Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) to its list of terrorist organisations. The motion was defeated by a vote of 275-271, with 16 abstentions.

The MRTA was one of the guerrilla organisations involved in the 1980-2000 internal armed conflict in Peru.

Later the same day in Lima, the bloc of pro-Fujimori legislators argued in Congress that the European Parliament (EP) rejected the request because a letter sent on Apr. 23 by the Peruvian Human Rights Association (APRODEH) pointed out that the Marxist-Leninist MRTA no longer exists.

“Treason!” clamoured the Fujimorista members of Congress, led by Rolando Sousa, a former lawyer for ex-president Fujimori (1990-2000) who is on trial for a number of human rights violations.

“That letter shows that non-governmental human rights organisations are defending terrorists and insulting the armed forces that fought the terrorists who sowed death all over the country,” said Sousa.

The letter from APRODEH, signed by its leaders Francisco Soberón and Miguel Jugo, says that “the MRTA has been inactive for eight years, its main leaders are in prison, some have served their sentences, and dozens are no longer linked to the organisation, and are living in many different places around the world.”

If at this point the EP designates the MRTA as a terrorist organisation that continues to exist, it could be used as a pretext to “persecute social activists and political opponents, accusing them unjustly of terrorism,” the APRODEH letter said. In fact, APRODEH is already providing legal defence for seven Peruvians arrested by the anti-terrorist police in February on their way home from Quito, where they had attended the Second Congress of the Continental Bolivarian Committee (CCB).

The Peruvian delegation was headed by Roque Gonzales La Rosa, a former MRTA member who already served a nine-year prison sentence. According to APRODEH, the detainees are leftwing activists and there is no evidence that they have participated in terrorist activities.

But judicial authorities say the MRTA is attempting to “reinvent” itself through front organisations like the Peruvian chapter of the CCB, which is headed by Gonzales La Rosa.

The incident is far from over, as the Fujimorista congressional bloc summoned Foreign Minister José Antonio García Belaúnde to parliament to explain why the Peruvian state was unable to persuade the EP to classify the MRTA as a terrorist organisation.

García Belaúnde said that the motion was proposed by the EPP, which had apparently gathered enough support for its approval, until the letter from APRODEH arrived.

“That letter cost us the decisive support of the Italian socialists,” the foreign minister said.

The 86 lawmakers present unanimously approved sending a letter of protest to the EP, urging it to reconsider the matter.

In addition, the Fujimorista bloc called for a parliamentary commission to investigate APRODEH’s activities. The human rights organisation’s lawyers are also representing the relatives of 10 victims of the 1992 massacre of students and a professor at La Cantuta University by an army death squad, for which Fujimori is facing charges.

On Apr. 27, the government issued a decree cancelling the observer status of 64 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) at the state National Human Rights Council (CNDH).

The decree, regarded by APRODEH as a retaliatory measure, was signed by President Alan García, Prime Minister Jorge del Castillo and Justice Minister Rosario Fernández.

Next, the Peruvian Agency for International Cooperation (APCI), the state body that supervises NGOs and the donations they receive from abroad, headed by Agustín Haya, a member of the APRA ruling party, announced an investigation into the activities of APRODEH.

“All we did was reply to a request for information from a group within the EP and the organisation we belong to, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH),” Soberón told IPS.

With or without the letter, the government was going to launch a smear campaign against human rights NGOs, as part of its repressive policies, he said.

“The letter is only a pretext, because the fundamental issue is that the government intends to use the issue of terrorism to criminalise demonstrations and social protests,” he said.

“The Fujimoristas, in particular, have taken advantage of the situation, because they know that APRODEH is the most active agency in the trial of Fujimori for the crimes he committed during his regime,” said Soberón.

“They want to demonise and discredit us, and to subject us to criminal prosecution for allegedly lobbying on behalf of terrorists, when we have always clearly condemned the actions of Shining Path (the Maoist Sendero Luminoso guerrillas) and the MRTA,” he said.

According to the independent Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the MRTA was responsible for less than two percent of the 69,280 murders and disappearances known to have taken place during the 1980-2000 armed conflict. Shining Path killed 54 percent of the victims, and the rest are attributed to government forces.

Javier Torres, executive secretary of the National Coordinating Committee for Human Rights (CNDDHH), which has been expelled as an observer at the CNDH, told IPS that the government has taken an intolerant stance.

“This government measure is over-exaggerated, and we hope that it will reverse its decision, because the CNDH is a meeting place for dialogue with civil society on human rights issues. We will ask the executive branch to rectify the decision, because this action does not make for a healthy democracy,” Torres said.

Former ombudsman Walter Albán said there is a clear cause-and-effect relationship between the attack on APRODEH and the government’s decision to remove NGOs from the CNDH.

“The government misinterpreted the letter from APRODEH, and is now attempting to criticise all human rights organisations, and to undermine the legitimacy of working for human rights in this country,” Albán told IPS.

“What is happening in Peru will be watched with concern by the international community and the United Nations. The government cannot hinder the work of human rights organisations by kicking them off the CNDH in this way,” he said.

On Wednesday, Fujimorista and governing party legislators were pushing to set up a commission to investigate human rights groups.

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