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Historic ruling against impunity
Elsa Chanduví Jaña
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Ex-President Alberto Fujimori found guilty of human rights crimes, setting a legal precedent for the world.

The 25-year prison sentence Peru´s Supreme Court handed ex-President Alberto Fujimori on April 7 is a turning point for both this country and the world.

Fujimori, 70, is the first former head of state convicted for crimes against humanity by a court in his own country, and for many, this verdict is key to fighting impunity.

“The Peruvian judiciary is starting to recover its credibility after it turned its back on the people for 20 years,” Francisco Soberón, president of the Pro-Human Rights Association, or APRODEH, told Latinamerica Press, referring to the two decades of internal violence Peru suffered from 1980-2000. “It shows the world that the Peruvian justice system can try, judge and convict ex heads of state with all the guarantees of due process and right to defense.”

The 16-month, historic trial began on Dec. 10, 2007 — International Human Rights Day. The three-judge panel of the special Supreme Court chamber, presided over by Judge César San Martín Castro, unanimously convicted Fujimori for human rights violations and 25 years in prison.

In reading the verdict, San Martín said Fujimori was guilty “beyond all reasonable doubt” of the charges: authorizing two death squad massacres in the early 1990s and the kidnapping of a prominent journalist and a businessman.

“This is a milestone not only for democracy in Peru, but for the fight against impunity for the whole world,” said Argentine lawyer Viviana Krsticevic, an international observer at the trial and executive director of the Washington-based Center for Justice and International Law. “It´s a sentence in which a national court is trying a head of state for serious crimes against humanity, in a trial that has been detailed, substantial, that ends with a resounding sentence that establishes Fujimori´s participation in serious human rights violations, crimes against the state, crimes against humanity and determines a severe and proportionate sentence for those crimes, which is 25 years in prison.”

The four cases
The ruling found Fujimori criminally responsible for the murder of 15 people, including an eight-year-old boy, by the clandestine La Colina military death squad during a barbecue in the Lima´s Barrios Altos neighborhood in 1991, and for the kidnapping and murder of nine students and a professor in Enrique Guzmán y Valle University of Education, or La Cantuta, east of Lima in 1992. He was also found responsible for grievous bodily harm in the Barrios Altos case, as well as kidnapping journalist Gustavo Gorriti and businessman Samuel Dyer, during Fujimori´s April 5 “self-coup,” when he shuttered Congress and severely limited civil liberties.

The ruling also found that the crimes constituted crimes against humanity, under international criminal law. The court said that the sentence would count starting with his detention in Chile in November 2005, when he arrived in the neighboring country surprisingly after fleeing Peru for his ancestral home in Japan when his 1990-2000 government collapsed. He was released June 18, 2006 on bail. Once he was extradited to Peru, Fujimori had been detained since Sept. 22, 2007.

His sentence will end on Feb. 10, 2032.

Fujimori has already appealed the sentence.

In a move applauded by the victims´ family members, the court also stated, at the request of relatives´ lawyers, that the slain victims were not terrorists, a social stigma that has followed them since the crime, and used by Fujimori supporters as a justification.

Gisela Ortiz, whose brother, Enrique, was one of the nine students killed at La Cantuta by Grupo Colina, said that she was “totally satisfied that it was a sentence that so widely respected justice, that not only sentenced Fujimori to 25 years in prison but also for crimes against humanity.”

“Also, because it recognizes the innocence of our family members,” she added. “I believe that that is the most important part of this sentence because it repairs the memory of our family members.”

Throughout the trial, Fujimori´s defense attorney, César Nakasaki, said that the case lacked proof that the former president was responsible for the charges against him. Nakasaki asked for documents with Fujimori´s signature authorizing the killings.

Autoría mediata, or criminal responsibility, for which Fujimori was found guilty, is based in the fact that Fujimori was the “head of an apparatus of power, created specifically to carry out a counter-subversive strategy outside the law,” according to APRODEH in its report, “Fujimori: Facts and Reasons for a Sentence.”

“It is difficult that this type of organization acted through written orders,” it continued. “It´s all build around protecting” such apparatus´ head.

The verdict recognized Fujimori´s responsibility in the actions of the Grupo Colina, a military death squad that, according to San Martín, committed a minimum of 50 killings. The ruling brought hope to victims of other human rights violations during the Fujimori regime.

“Being that these [Colina members] are also the ones responsible for the death of my daughter, I feel very good that justice has been done. I feel represented by these cases. We wanted justice and it was served,” said Norma Méndez, mother of Melisa Alfaro, a journalist with the now defunct weekly Cambio, who was killed on Oct. 10, 1991 by a letter bomb. Her case has been in the Attorney General’s Office for four years.

Congresswoman Keiko Fujimori, the former president´s daughter, told supporters outside the police base where the sentence was heard: “We feel proud of the work he has done,” referring to her father.

“If they think this verdict and sentence will weaken us politically, they´re mistaken,” she said. “Fujimorism will continue advancing. Today we´re at the top of the polls and we´ll stay that way.”

More trials to come
Fujimori´s defense has until April 23 to file its appeal of the 25-year sentence. The appeal process could last up to a year, but given the transcendence of the case, the Supreme Court´s final verdict is expected within six months.

Ronald Gamarra, a lawyer for the civil part of the trial, says the fact that Fujimori´s crimes were declared crimes against humanity means a statute of limitations cannot be applied to them, nor can they be pardoned.

Under Peruvian law, Fujimori must serve three-quarters of his sentence — or more than 18 years in prison — before he can negotiate a change to his prison conditions, such as conditional freedom or house arrest.

The former president is also facing other trials for corruption and usurpation of authority, for charges of phone tapping opposition members, payoffs to lawmakers to support his programs, using public funds to pay off media outlets for favorable covers, and for transferring US$15 million in public funds to his security advisor and No. 2, Vladimiro Montesinos, allegedly as “compensation for services lent to the nation.” This latter case will be next on trial, expected to be quick, beginning on May 11. Avelino Guillén, the state prosecutor in the case, has asked for an eight-year sentence.

The case dates back to September 2000, in the final days of the Fujimori regime, following his fraudulent re-election, as his government began to crumble. In November, Fujimori resigned by fax from Japan, which was rejected by Congress, who then found him unfit to rule. He lived in Japan, shielded by strong laws protecting its citizens (Fujimori had dual citizenship) from being extradited. He arrived in Chile five years later, in the run-up to Peru´s April 2006 presidential election. He was extradited in September 2007.

Currently, Peru´s anti-corruption attorneys and the Justice Ministry are preparing a second package of cases to present to Chile against Fujimori. Peru´s justice system can only try Fujimori on charges approved by Chile, since the neighboring country authorized his extradition based on those first cases. The new cases include the massacre of 42 prisoners detained for alleged terrorism in the Miguel Castro Castro prison in 1992, and the sale of 10,000 AKM rifles to the guerrilla Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, in 1992.

Fujimori is already serving a six-year sentence for the illegal search of Montesinos´ wife´s apartment in 2000, to supposedly look for incriminating documents and video cassettes.
—Latinamerica Press.


Victims´ family members applauded the 25-year sentence for Fujimori. (Photo: E.CH. J.)
Latinamerica Press / Noticias Aliadas
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