Death Penalty Talk Revives Criticism of Human Rights Court

The arrest of a man who has confessed to raping and killing an 11-year-old girl, and burning her remains, has revived the call among some members of Congress to reinstate the death penalty.

Under the 1979 Constitution, the death penalty was abolished except for crimes of treason during times of war, and in 1993 Congress added the crime of terrorism. The last death sentence was issued in 1979, against a non-commissioned Air Force officer charged with spying.

The president of the Judiciary, Duberli Rodriguez, said the global trend shows that the death penalty is not the answer to crime, and  instead there should be stronger emphasis on the need for prevention and for stiffer sentences.  He also noted that reinstating the death penalty would require amendments to the Constitution and to the Criminal Code.

It would also affect the country’s standing in the hemisphere’s legal institutions.

“We would have to leave the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, and I believe that is not legally convenient,” Judiciary president Rodriguez said.

That fact is not lost on some of the lawmakers proposing the death penalty.

Daniel Salaverry and Hector Becerril, leading members of Keiko Fujimori’s Fuerza Popular party, believe opting out of the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, IACHR, should be part of the death penalty debate.

Salaverry said he hoped “this generalized indignation that we feel” would drive the Congress to seek solutions to “aggressions against children.” Admitting this would jeopardize the country’s standing with the Inter-American Court, he questioned the value of its work. “What is the point of this institution? Only to liberate terrorists,” he said to RPP radio.

Becerril also criticized the Court.  “It has only caused economic and moral harm to the country by approving the liberation of terrorists.”

The IACHR held a hearing last week to review President Kuczynski’s pardon of former President Alberto Fujimori, which is considered unjustified by the United Nations, by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.  The review is at the request of the families whose spouses, children or siblings were murdered by the Colina death squad at the teaching university in La Cantuta and in the low-income district of Barrios Altos in 1992. Both assassinations were known and approved by Fujimori.

Meanwhile, and even though reinstating the penalty would not be a speedy process that could be done in the heat of the moment, the enthusiasm for harsh treatment has led several news sources to bring up the once-famous case of a death sentence gone wrong.

In 1954, a black pickpocket was charged and convicted of the murder of a three-year-old boy who had been found in the Armendariz ravine, between Miraflores and Barranco (now the access road from the expressway to the Costa Verde beaches). Jorge Villanueva was dubbed by the press as the Monster of Armendariz, which became a household name.   He had only been known as a petty thief but one witness, an ice cream vendor, had seen him near the  ravine. He claimed he was innocent even when he stood to face his firing squad.  Years later, he was proved innocent when forensics found that the child’s fatal injuries were consistent with being run over by a vehicle and not from violence caused by another human.

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