Fujimori verdict of guilty considered historic in Latin America

Peru‘s former President Alberto Fujimori was found guilty on all charges Tuesday for sanctioning a paramilitary death squad that gunned down 25 people in two notorious massacres during the first two years of his 10-year authoritarian rule.

The verdict is considered a paradigm in the hemisphere, since Fujimori is the only democratically-elected Latin American leader to be tried – and convicted – in his own country for human rights violations.

Chief Judge César San Martín announced the unanimous verdict by the three judge panel at 9:26 a.m., bringing to a close a 15-month trial.

“This court’s three judges have unanimously decided upon the verdict,” said San Martín, “based on the reasonable certainty of the charges”, and “proof beyond all reasonable doubt.”

“Fujimori has been found guilty on all four charges,” added San Martín, as Fujimori, 70, continuously wrote in a notebook, never once looking up at the panel of judges.

The 247 points considered by the judges for their verdict were then read by the court clerk, in a courtroom set up at the special-forces police base where Fujimori is being held, on the outskirts of Peru’s capital, Lima.

Fujimori, who ruled Peru with an iron fist during his 1990-2000 reign, could face up to 30 years in prison when sentence is handed down later in the day.

Fujimori has been held in special facilities in northeast Lima since he was extradited from Chile in September 2007 to face trial.

The verdict includes the kidnapping of Peruvian investigative journalist Gustavo Gorriti and businessman Samuel Dyer during President Fujimori’s “self-coup” in 1992, when he ordered Congress and the courts closed.

Amid a faltering economy and raging guerrilla insurgency, Fujimori justified the self-coup saying, “parliamentary inaction and judicial corruption have taken a clear obstructionist attitude … against the efforts of the people and the government.” A state of emergency was declared. Both Gorriti and Dyer were held in the basement of the army intelligence headquarters. Dyer, who was held for 10 days, testified that he saw Fujimori in the facilities and cried out to him for help.

The Colina group machine-gunned 15 people, including an 8-year-old boy, in the courtyard of a tenement building in Lima’s Barrios Altos district in 1991, and kidnapped and murdered nine students and one professor at La Cantuta University in 1992 — two days after a car bomb ignited by Maoist Shining Path rebels killed more than 40 people in Lima.

During the 15-month trial, the prosecution has presented testimony from a long list of civilian, military and police — including testimony from members of the former Colina Group itself — to support its allegation that Fujimori was well aware of and authorized the death squad’s and military intelligence operations, and helped its members avoid real accountability through an Amnesty Law.

Fujimori enacted a controversial amnesty law in 1995 that exonerated all military, police and civilians from possible accusations of any human rights violations committed between May 1982 and June 1995, if they were associated to the counterinsurgency war. The law, argued to be necessary for “national reconciliation,” led to the release of those convicted for the La Cantuta and Barrios Altos massacres.

But in September 2001, the Human Rights Court, at the request of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, sentenced that Fujimori’s Amnesty Laws had no legal standing.

Serving a Six-Year Sentence

Fujimori is already serving a six-year prison term for abuse of authority, related to orders he gave for an illegal search of his spy chief’s apartments — allegedly to ensure that incriminating videotapes would never see the light of day. Fujimori pleaded guilty to the charge, offering a “sincere confession” in the hope it would earn him a lighter sentence.

Fujimori’s decade-old regime, and only three months into its third term, was crumbling under the weight of corruption scandals, spawned by his intelligence chief, Vladimiro Montesinos. The anonymous release of a video showing a minor congressman receiving graft from Montesinos to support Fujimori’s party, triggered the final landslide. Rumours of more videos to be released led Fujimori to send military officers posing as court officials to Montesinos’ apartment building on Nov. 7, 2000. Using a fake search warrant, they seized more than 50 large suitcases and 50 boxes reportedly full of videotapes secretly recorded by Montesinos, documenting the payoffs and dirty deals that had reinforced the regime’s hold on power.

Two days later, while Montesinos remained in hiding, Fujimori called a news conference to show two of the suitcases, and an impressive array of diamond-encrusted watches and other luxury accessories, were on display.

What is Next

Fujimori still faces trial four other accusations, of the seven accusations that Chile accepted as valid to grant Peru’s request for Fujimori’s extradition from Santiago in 2007. The pending accusations are for embezzlement, crime against public administration and conspiracy, illegal phone tapping, and illegal purchase of a television company with public funds.

In this trial for human rights violations, Fujimori was responsible for:

• The Barrios Altos massacre: on Nov. 3, 1991, Colina Group members killed 15 civilians attending a barbecue.

• La Cantuta massacre: on July 18, 1992, members of the Colina group kidnapped a professor and nine students at Lima’s La Cantuta University, two days after a Shining Path bombing in the capital. Journalists later found unmarked graves of some of the victims. The remains showed signs that the victims had been tortured.

• In 1992, members of the army illegally abducted journalist Gustavo Gorritti and businessman Samuel Dyer. They were held in the army intelligence service offices, known locally as the “SIN basements,” and later released.

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