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Inter-American Court of Human Rights rules on hostage rescue operation
Latinamerica Press
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The court decided that the state was responsible for the extrajudicial execution of a MRTA member in the Chavín de Huántar operation in 1997.

On June 29 the Inter-American Court of  Human Rights (IACHR) announced its sentence on the case of Nicolás Cruz Sánchez, member of the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA). along with the cases of 13 other members, who occupied the residence of the Japanese Ambassador in Lima on Dec. 17, 1996, and held 72 hostages for more than four months.

On April 22, 1997, about 80 commandos of the armed forces and police stormed into the diplomatic residence and liberated the hostages.  In this operation called Chavín de Huántar, a hostage, Judge Carlos Giusti, two army officials, Raúl Jiménez and Juan Valer, as well as those 14 members of the MRTA, lost their lives.

The official version was that all 14 members of  the  MRTA died during the confrontation with the commandos. However, the Inter-American Court points out that “through statements made to the press in December of 2000 and a letter submitted later to judicial officials in 2001 by the former hostage, Hidetaka Ogura, who at the time of the siege of the residence by the MRTA was serving as the First Secretary of the Embassy of Japan in Peru, doubts emerged regarding the circumstances in which the MRTA members, Eduardo Nicolás Cruz Sánchez, Herma Luz Meléndez Cueva and Victor Salomón Peceros Pedraza died, and whether they were objects of extrajudicial executions.”

The IACHR has recognized the legitimate right of the Peruvian state to use force to liberate the hostages, but always respecting the pertinent legal dispositions of international humanitarian law and human rights.

After evaluating the evidence, the Inter-American Court – just as the Peruvian justice system in 2012 and 2013 –came to the conclusion that the death of Cruz Sánchez occurred when he was under state custody after having surrendered, constituting a separate crime that was not part of the operation and, therefore, was an extrajudicial execution. Regarding the cases of Meléndez Cueva and Peceros Pedraza, the IACHR declared that there was not sufficient evidence to prove that their deaths did not occur in confrontations during the commando operation .

“The Inter-American Court of Human Rights sentence coincides with the decisions issued by the internal jurisdiction in October of  2012 and July of  2013 that established the existence of an extrajudicial execution in the case of Eduardo Nicolás Cruz Sánchez and required to carry out an investigation in order  to identify the perpetrators of  this respective violation,” declared in a joint statement the Pro-Human Rights Association (APRODEH) and the Center for Justice and  International Law (CJIL), organizations that prosecuted the case.

New investigation
Even though the IACHR judgment does not include the payment of economic compensations to the family members of Cruz Sánchez, it does order the Peruvian State the payment of US$10,000 to APRODEH and $20,000 to CJIL in compensation for the procedural costs that both organizations incurred.

The IACHR clarified that “the present case does not refer to the innocence or culpability of the members of the “Chavín de Huántar” command or of the security forces that participated in the hostage rescue mission.”
Nevertheless, it considers that “after 18 years since these incidents occurred,  all the truth about the extrajudicial execution of  Eduardo Nicolás Cruz Sánchez is still not known. Even though the facts have been the object of a statement by the Commission on Truth and Reconciliation and by the judicial investigation, the Supreme Court of Justice of the Republic itself has stated that “details related to the victim, Cruz Sánchez, still exist and  they should and can be clarified within a deeper investigation.”

For that reason, the court ordered to carry out a serious and effective investigation in order to identify, process, and sanction those responsible for the extrajudicial execution of Cruz Sánchez.

Lawyer Gloria Cano, the executive director of APRODEH, indicated in a television interview that the Inter-American Court of Human Rights “recognizes the legitimacy of the operation, it agrees with us in this, but separate from this, it points out that the right to life of the persons that were detained, in this case that of  Eduardo Cruz Sánchez, should have been respected and the court mentions this with absolute clarity.”  In addition, Cano pointed out that APRODEH will donate the compensation money provided by the Peruvian State to a charitable organization.

The IACHR “does not judge persons but States. What it actually orders is that the Peruvian State has to initiate an investigation to determine how Eduardo Cruz Sánchez died,” said Cano. “What is known until now is that two police officers arrested him when he attempted to escape the Ambassador of Japan’s residence and he was turned over to another person.  What happened after that is what the public prosecutor has to investigate.”  —Latinamerica Press

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