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

RIGHTS-PERU: Severe Setbacks for Justice in Cases Involving Military

Ángel Páez

LIMA, Jun 19 2010 (IPS) - Human rights groups in Peru are complaining about drastic setbacks in the attempt to hold members of the security forces responsible for crimes against humanity committed during the country’s counterinsurgency war.

Since early 2009, the Sala Penal Nacional, the highest-level court dealing with the human rights cases against armed forces and police personnel, has acquitted 65 members of the security forces and convicted only 15, according to human rights organisations that defend victims of the 1980-2000 civil war.

Of the 15 who were sentenced, 10 belong to the army, four to the police and one to the navy, representatives of the National Human Rights Coordinating Committee (CNDDHH), the Legal Defence Institute (IDL) and the Association for Human Rights (APRODEH) told IPS.

“There’s a clear tendency towards impunity on the part of the Sala Penal Nacional in cases of extremely serious human rights violations, that benefits members of the military and police who should be punished for the crimes they committed,” said CNDDHH executive secretary Ronald Gamarra.

The human rights groups responded with statistics in hand to Defence Minister Rafael Rey, who recently stated in a public military ceremony that the members of the armed forces who fought “subversion” are victims of “judicial persecution.”

“The military continue to be unjustly mistreated and persecuted,” said Rey, alluding to the case of retired army general Juan Rivero.

Rivero is accused, as then director of army intelligence, of distributing weapons and equipment to an Army Intelligence Service death squad known as the Colina Group before it committed two high-profile massacres, known as Barrios Altos and La Cantuta.

In the former, 15 people were killed at a barbecue in Lima on Nov. 3, 1991, and in the latter, nine students and a professor at La Cantuta University were kidnapped and murdered on Jul. 18, 1992.

Former president Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000) was sentenced to 25 years in prison for ordering the Colina Group to carry out the two death squad operations, while Rivero’s case is still in court.

Gamarra, who took part in the trial against Fujimori, said the defence minister’s remarks were aimed at “paving the way for an amnesty for the members of the criminal commando that acted under the former president’s orders.”

The activist went even further, asserting that “The aim of this campaign is to get Fujimori out of prison. The script is obvious.”

Minister Rey also said human rights groups were “intolerant” towards the military — a view that is backed by President Alan García, in office since 2006. (His first term as president was 1985 to 1990.)

“The minister is right,” quipped APRODEH lawyer Gloria Cano, who has defended a number of families of victims of military and police operations carried out during the counterinsurgency war.

“We are intolerant,” she said. “How could we not be, in the face of these crimes, these abuses and the government’s ignoring of the clamour of hundreds of Peruvians who, 30 years after the start of the armed conflict, continue to search for the bodies of their missing children, spouses, siblings and parents?”

The survivors “still hope to find out the truth about what happened, and to see justice done,” Cano said.

The ombudsman’s office reports that 351 military and police personnel have been tried in Peru, including the 65 acquitted by the Sala Penal Nacional. Of that total, 264 belong to the army, 47 to the police and 40 to the navy.

But the defence minister puts the total at 755.

“In many cases, the trials drag on because the armed forces refuse to hand over information about the identity of the members of the military, who operated under aliases, or because they resist putting the accused at the disposal of the justice system,” said IDL lawyer Carlos Rivera.

“Nevertheless, they accuse the judiciary and the human rights organisations of dragging out the trials,” he added.

One illustration of this phenomenon is that Rey recently reported that there is no information on the members of the military who were posted at the army counterinsurgency base in Putis, in the southern Andean region of Ayacucho, where 123 villagers, including 19 children, were slaughtered in 1984.

“There are no documents, because in that period, military personnel were given their orders verbally, using their aliases, as a security measure,” the minister said.

But during Fujimori’s trial for the Barrios Altos and La Cantuta massacres, judicial authorities found documents in the army archives on the members of the unit that committed the murders, with both their noms de guerre and their real identities.

Rivera, who closely studied 19 acquittals of military and police personnel in human rights cases tried by the Sala Penal Nacional, said he found an “alarming” willingness on the part of the judges to absolve the defendants based on what he called “questionable” arguments.

“In cases of forced disappearance, the judges ruled out eyewitness testimony by relatives of victims, arguing that their accounts were not objective,” Rivera said.

“And when the perpetrators of the crimes could not be identified because the armed forces refused to provide the names of the military personnel in question, the judges concluded that the murders had never happened,” he added.

“The validity of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (2001-2003) report has also begun to be questioned, under the pretext that the information is erroneous — whenever doing so favours the accused, of course,” he said.

But in Rivera’s view, “the worst thing is that they don’t classify the incidents as crimes against humanity.”

Cano said some cases show that the government supports a “policy of impunity,” as reflected by Rey’s refusal to make the accused available to the courts.

“Minister Rey refuses to hand over Lieutenant Carlos Morgan and Second Lieutenant José Luis Chávez, who detained Zenón Huamaní, Eleuterio Fernández, Napoleón Quispe, Onofredo Huamaní, Luis Amaru, Julio Arotoma and Honorata Oré — who was eight months pregnant — on Apr. 19, 1991,” she said, to illustrate.

“The victims were taken to the Huancapi military base, and never came out again.

“Rey asks us to be tolerant of that. Our response is that we are, and we will remain, intolerant of impunity,” Cano said.

Republish | | Print |