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

RIGHTS-PERU: Pressure to Amnesty Military, Police

Ángel Paez

LIMA, Nov 6 2008 (IPS) - The chairman of the congressional committee on defence and internal order in Peru, Edgard Núñez, has introduced a draft law to grant an amnesty to members of the military and police facing trial for human rights violations.

“There are members of the military and the police, especially rank-and-file troops, who have spent more than 36 months in prison and have not yet been sentenced,” Congressman Núñez told IPS.

“Some have been persecuted by the justice system for 20 years. For how long are they going to persecute these people? The only thing they did was to stick out their necks to save us from terrorism and offer us peace and democracy. My draft law is aimed at putting an end to this situation,” he said.

While spokespersons for his party, the ruling APRA, insist that the draft law is the legislator’s personal initiative, he says he has the support of several members of his party and of other political forces.

Núñez forms part of a political current arguing in favour of preferential treatment for members of the security forces who are facing prosecution for crimes committed during the 1980-2000 counterinsurgency war against the Maoist Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) guerrillas.

President Alan García himself, as well as his first vice president Luis Giampietri, a retired vice admiral, Defence Minister Antero Flores Araoz and army chief General Edwin Donayre have repeatedly complained of alleged “abuses” by the justice system against members of the security forces who took part in counterinsurgency operations.

Núñez introduced the draft law at a time when local residents of the area known as the VRAE region (comprising the Apurimac and Ene River Valleys) have been complaining about torture, disappearances, murders and forced displacement committed by troops in joint army, navy and air force operations carried out against a surviving remnant of Sendero Luminoso.

The ombudsman’s office reported the discovery of the bodies of four members of a local peasant family, including a pregnant woman, who were shot to death in that area. The armed forces claim that they were terrorists.

Human rights groups say the draft law is a new attempt to guarantee impunity for human rights abusers, against the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which in its 2003 report called for members of the military who tortured, “disappeared” or killed civilians to be brought to justice.

But Núñez argues that an amnesty is necessary to protect members of the security forces who fought the “terrorists” from a “campaign” by activists seeking legal action.

“Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) live off of persecuting the brave people who defeated the subversives,” Núñez told IPS. “All they do is defend the human rights of terrorists.”

“I am grateful to those who saved us from the terror,” he added. “That’s why I am proposing an amnesty. For example, in the military hospital there are 34 soldiers injured in Sendero Luminoso ambushes. I’m sure they are going to be tried and imprisoned for human rights violations just because they fought in the VRAE region.”

Ronald Gamarra, secretary general of the National Human Rights Coordinator, an umbrella linking 67 NGOs from around the country, criticised Núñez’s initiative and said it was another manoeuvre aimed at making impunity official policy.

“This draft law is not viable,” Gamarra told IPS.

“The San José Court (Inter-American Court of Human Rights), the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court have all established that no amnesty law can apply to human rights violations,” said Gamarra, who is the lawyer for the victims of the Barrios Altos and La Cantuta massacres in the trial against former president Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000).

The notorious massacres of civilians were committed in 1991 and 1992 by the “Colina Group”, a death squad made up of army intelligence service (SIE) agents.

Gamarra denied that there is any “persecution” of members of the military and police who took part in counterinsurgency operations. He pointed out that of the 280 security forces personnel under prosecution, only 53 are facing arrest warrants or are under arrest. The rest have only been summoned to testify.

“If 20 percent face arrest warrants and 80 percent only have to show up in court when they are summoned, what kind of persecution are we talking about? Besides, of the 53 facing arrest, only 14 are in jail and the rest are fugitives from justice. On the contrary, what we have is impunity, because there are members of the military who are not obeying judicial orders. And the congressman’s draft law is aimed at giving these people even more impunity,” said Gamarra.

As IPS has reported in the past, the armed forces have cooperated very little in clarifying human rights crimes, which explains why the justice system is moving so slowly in prosecuting and convicting the perpetrators.

So far, 35 sentences have been handed down, involving 119 members of the security forces. Of that total, 28 have been sent to prison and the rest received conditional suspended sentences.

In other words, less than 12 percent of them are in jail for human rights violations in a country where the civil war left nearly 70,000 people dead, including a large number of civilians uninvolved in the fighting, according to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

“Behind the amnesty draft law are people who are facing prosecution or fear that the judiciary will try to hold them accountable for human rights abuses,” said the head of the National Human Rights Coordinator, which is accredited with the United Nations and the Organisation of American States (OAS).

“The amnesty is general, which means that no matter how much congressman Núñez swears that he only wants to benefit a few, it will end up benefiting everyone, particularly Apristas (members of the governing party) who are linked to human rights violations,” said Gamarra.

The Constitutional Court is currently reviewing a judicial decision to close the trial of those responsible for the slaughter of more than 100 suspected leftist guerrillas in the El Frontón prison on Jun. 19, 1986.

If the Court rules that the case should be reopened, charges could even be brought against President Alan García, who ordered the crackdown on the El Frontón prisoners’ riot, and against Giampietri, who took part in the military operation to regain control of the prison.

Already facing trial are former interior minister and García’s former personal secretary Agustín Mantilla, and other prominent APRA members, for forming part of a paramilitary group known as the Comando Rodrigo Franco.

The attorney general’s office blames that right-wing paramilitary death squad, which was active during García’s first term (1985-1990), for the murder of the top leader of the miners’ union, Saúl Cantoral, two members of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) who were negotiating the payment of ransom for a kidnap victim, and Manuel Febres, the defence lawyer of Sendero Luminoso leader Osmán Morote.

Núñez told IPS, however, that he planned to fight in Congress until obtaining approval of the amnesty law, regardless of whether the proposed legislation violates global standards.

“Why follow international standards or the guidelines of the San José Court? They aren’t familiar with the reality here. The country has to be grateful to its soldiers and should automatically amnesty them,” he argued.

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