Amnesty International: Peru sends contradictory messages on human rights

Peru’s government has been sending contradictory messages on its human rights stance to the international community, according to Hugo Relva, a legal advisor to Amnesty International.

On the one hand, Peru has shown positive steps by inaugurating the Memory Museum. The museum is to honor the 70,000 people who died during the 20 years of political violence between the Maoist Shining Path insurgency and government security forces.

“I think it is a positive move, it is important that Peru remember the events that occurred in this country in the past,” Relva told Ideele Radio.

One of these events was the 1985 Accomarca massacre of 69  Quechua-speaking peasants in a village in Ayacucho. On Thursday, Peru opened a trial against 29 former soldiers for their alleged role in gunning-down children, women and elderly men.

The army had suspected the village had been cooperating with the Shining Path. The Accomarca raid was part of a larger military operation in the area to rout out Shining Path suspects.

“But the message Peru is sending is contradictory, because just a little while ago, two months back, Peru enacted legislative decrees, one of which was overturned by Congress at the request of President Alan Garcia,” Relva said, referring to Decree 1097.

The decree was one of four legislative orders enacted by Peru’s Executive that raised serious concerns among human rights organizations. In effect, decree 1097, pushed by former Defense minister Rafael Rey, created a grandfather clause for crimes considered so heinous that they normally carry no statute of limitations.

The decision to repeal the decree was made in September after Peru’s acclaimed novelist, and now Nobel Prize winner, Mario Vargas Llosa resigned in protest from his position as the commission president for the Memory Museum. In his letter of resignation to President Garcia, Vargas Llosa said the decree “in all forms, constitutes an amnesty barely disguised to benefit a good number of people connected to the dictatorship and convicted or prosecuted for human rights crimes – murders, tortures, disappearances – among them the ex-dictator [Alberto Fujimori] and his right-hand man [Vladimiro Montesinos].”

Relva agrees, saying the decree was a “hidden amnesty,” but he also added that “in the remaining legislative decrees there are still many doubts, many fears.”

The Legal Defense Institute, IDL, expressed concern at the time that the other decrees were not also repealed by Congress — decree 1094 allows military courts to be involved in human rights and some war crimes cases, and decree 1095 allows the use of military force to suppress social protests.

“It mentions any (hostile) group that might have sharp weapons, but I begin to think of lances, arrows, and that is not considered a hostile group under international law, a hostile group is something else,” Relva said.

“In every country there are different tensions and forces, it is very difficult to describe the state, its attitude.”

In Peru’s case, the judicial branch has shown signs of supporting human rights. This is evident in the case of former President Alberto Fujimori, who was convicted in April 2009 of the crimes of voluntary manslaughter, serious injury and aggravated kidnapping that covered four different events in 1991 and 1992, Relva said.

“The judicial branch has made an important contribution, even though more recently, we have observed with some concern some judicial decisions and  some agreements on the definition of crimes of forced disappearance of people.”

On these decisions, “the Executive has not sent very good signs to the international community regarding the relevance of human rights in Peru,” Relva continued. “I want to give a very precise example, which perhaps Peruvians feel is not so bad, but which creates fear in the foreign observer, and that is the subject of the death penalty.”

Relva was referring to statements made by President Garcia earlier this year in support of capital punishment for some crimes. “I am one of those who believe that certain crimes should be paid for with one’s life and I think the rape of a child, which results in [the child’s] death, is a crime so tremendous that a lesson needs to be taught by not only taking the criminal’s life, but also demonstrating to society that we are severe,” Garcia said.  Garcias added that he was open to “beheading 50 rapists.”

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