Abimael Guzman’s lawyers file claim with Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Shining Path founder hopes for retrial

Defense lawyers for Abimael Guzmán Reynoso, the principal architect and strategist of Peru’s Maoist Shining Path guerrilla, have filed a claim with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to invalidate his life sentence for aggravated terrorism and homicide, insisting that he be retried in an international court.

Guzman’s lead attorney, Alfredo Crespo, contends that his client’s rights have been “systematically violated” since his arrest in 1992.

“We believe that articles of the Inter-American Human Rights Convention, of which Peru is a signatory, have been violated,” he said, “and for this motive, we have demanded that (Guzman’s) life sentence be invalidated.”

But according to the President of Peru’s National Human Rights Coordinator, Ronald Gamarra, Guzman’s civilian retrial in 2006 was open and fair, and in no way violated his rights.

“The trial was absolutely transparent and respectful of international standards,” Gamarra told daily El Comercio last week. “There is nothing that can be questioned as a violation of the rights of the accused, Guzman Reynoso.”

According to Crespo, a civilian trial that sentenced Guzman to life in prison in 2006 was flawed and ignored basic legal protections, and erroneously defined the Shining Path as a terrorist group and criminal organization, rather than an armed wing of the Communist Party of Peru who took arms for political, not criminal reasons. Crespo hopes to win a retrial for Guzman, 74, his partner, Elena Iparraguirre, and several other jailed members of the guerrilla group.

Guzman, a former philosophy professor, was captured by police in a luxurious upper-class Lima residence in 1992, and later exhibited publicly in a cage with a black and white striped uniform. He was then swiftly sentenced to life in prison by hooded military judges under provisions of the anti-terrorism laws that did not allow defense attorneys access to evidence or cross examination. The laws were adopted by jailed former president Alberto Fujimori’s government.

Later, in 2003, more than 5,000 individuals presented an appeal to Peru’s Constitutional Court, requesting that the verdicts against more than 1800 other prisoners convicted of terrorism, including Guzman, be voided. The Court agreed, striking down Fujimori’s anti-terrorism laws as unconstitutional.

In 2006, Guzman and Iparraguirre again sentenced to life in prison, this time by a civilian court. Some of Guzman’s henchmen were sentenced to 25 years.

According to Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, 54 percent of all deaths in Peru’s two decade-long conflict were caused by the Maoist Shining Path insurgency. Peru’s armed forces were blamed for 30 percent, and most of the rest by government-backed peasant militias.

If Peru’s conflict with the Shining Path guerrillas had been largely dormant since the once 10,000-strong Maoist rebel group crumbled in 1992, after the group’s leader and founder was arrested, recent attacks have claimed the lives of more than 20 police and soldiers. This rising death toll is largely attributed to a fresh offensive by the Peruvian military, launched in August by Peru President Alan García.

Crespo has tried to distance Guzman from the recent guerrilla attacks in Peru’s coca-growing regions, arguing that his client has repeatedly called for peace with the Peruvian government and that Shining Path remnants have set their own personal agenda.

Currently, the only high-profile Shining Path guerrilla leader not imprisoned is known as “Comrade Artemio.” He operates the Proseguir, or “to continue” group’s remaining 200-300 insurgents in Peru’s central jungle region.

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