New amnesty bill could be “major step backwards” for human rights in Peru, critics say

A bill intended to grant amnesty to military and police officers facing trial for human rights violations has sparked a heated debate in Peru and concern abroad.

“If approved, this bill would be a major step backwards for the rule of law in Peru as it would effectively grant impunity to individuals who could be responsible for human rights violations,” said Irene Khan, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, in a report published in London.

“We’ve witnessed the negative impact amnesty laws have had in Chile and Peru and across countries in the region in the past. The illegality of such amnesty laws has been recognized by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.”

The bill, initially launched as a trial balloon, has gained momentum. If approved, it would grant direct and immediate amnesty to military and police involved in Operation Chavín del Huantar, a team of 140 commandos who ended the 1997 Japanese embassy hostage crisis perpetrated by the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, MRTA.

The MRTA is best known for its December 1996 raid on a diplomatic reception in the Japanese Ambassador’s residence in Lima, and an ensuing four-month standoff that ended with a daring commando raid that killed all 14 of the rebels and saved all but one of 72 hostages.

The success of the operation was tainted by subsequent revelations that at least three and possibly eight of the rebels had been summarily executed by the commandos after surrendering.

“The people who saved us from terrorism were the Peruvian soldiers,” said APRA Congressman Edgar Núñez, chairman of the congressional defense and internal order committee and author of the bill. “However, (the idea of) granting amnesty to troops, underlings who gave their lives by obeying orders from the State and in the name of the law, (has already caused) the defenders of human rights to hit the ceiling. I consider that ignoble and unjust.”

“It doesn’t seem that Congressman Núñez has understood that history has moved forward and that projects like these are politically and legally unviable,” said Ronald Gamarra, secretary general of the National Human Rights Coordinator, CNDDHH, and lawyer for the victims of the Barrios Altos and La Cantuta massacres in the trial against former President Alberto Fujimori.

“The Inter-American Court, our Constitutional Court and Peru’s Supreme Court have all stipulated that an amnesty cannot be granted when human rights violations have been committed.”

These amnesty projects are “unviable and ridiculous,” Gamarra added. You can’t have an amnesty law that isn’t general.

According to José Robles Montoya, of Peru’s legal Defense Institute, IDL, it is very strange that Núñez has targeted the Chavín de Huantar Operation. Núñez says he is basing his amnesty proposal on the unjust accusation against 19 officers in the operation. In fact, only four officers are being tried for the killing of the rebels, and the rest have only been summoned to testify.

Those that could potentially benefit from the amnesty law are Fujimori’s once-feared spy chief Vladimiro Montesinos, former Army Chief of Staff Nicolás Hermoza Ríos and retired army colonels Jesús Zamudio Aliaga and Roberto Huaman Azcurra, who was Montesinos’ right-hand man, daily El Comercio reported.

A second proposal, made by APRA Congresswomen Mercedes Cabanillas, entails the creation of an ad hoc commission empowered to grant amnesties to “active, available or retired military and police currently under investigation for human rights violations.”

The commission would be headed by an representatives nominated by Peru President Alan García, the Ministries of Justice, Interior and Defense, as well as Peru’s Ombudsman and the Catholic Church. The cases of approximately 3,000 military and police could potentially be reviewed, said Cabanillas.

Núñez and Cabanillas’ proposals come on the heels of accusations of torture, disappearances and murders by soldiers in joint army, navy and air force operations allegedly against remnants of the Shining Path in the Apurimac and Ene River Valley.

Peru’s Ombudswoman recently reported that four corpses had been recovered in the region. All, inculding a pregnant woman, were shot dead and identified as members of a local peasant community. The armed forces claim that they were armed terrorists.

And, though APRA party spokespersons have insisted that the draft law is Núñez’s personal initiative, it has been supported by more than 20 members of Congress — from a variety of parties — who are in favor of preferential treatment for military and police facing prosecution for crimes committed during the 1980-2000 counterinsurgency war.

Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission estimated that more than 69,000 Peruvians were killed during the nation’s 1980−2000 armed conflict, in which thousands of poor campesinos were caught in the crossfire between a bloody Maoist Shining Path insurgency and brutal government backlash.

Human rights violations were widespread and systematic.

Nonetheless, in 1995, the Peruvian Congress passed Law N°26479, Article 1 of which granted a general amnesty to all those members of the security forces and civilians who were the subject of a complaint, investigation, indictment, trial or conviction, or who were serving prison sentences, for human rights violations committed between May 1980 and June 15, 1995.

On June 15 1995, the day the law came into effect, Judge Antonia Saquicuray, in charge of investigating the 1991 Barrios Altos massacre, argued that the amnesty law was inapplicable to the case. However, on June 28, 1995, before her ruling reached the High Court for ratification or veto, Congress passed a second amnesty law — Law N°26492 — which reinforced and extended the scope of the first.

The law, argued to be necessary for “national reconciliation,” led to the release of those convicted for the La Cantuta and Barrios Altos massacres.

The Colina group death squad machine gunned 15 people, including an 8-year-old boy, in a 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.

But in September 2001, the Human Rights Court, at the request of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, made an interpretative sentence in which it announced that Fujimori’s Amnesty Laws were without any legal force.

Peru’s Constitutional Tribunal is currently reviewing a judicial decision to close the trial of those responsible for the murder of more than 100 suspected terrorists in Lima’s El Frontón prison in 1986.

If the Court rules that the case be reopened, charges could be brought against García, who ordered the intervention, and his Vice President and former Vice Admiral Luis Giampietri, who took part in the military operation to put down the prison riot.

Already facing trial are former Interior Minister and García’s former personal secretary Agustín Mantilla, as well as other prominent APRA members, for forming part of a right-wing paramilitary death squad known as the Comando Rodrigo Franco.

Active during García’s first term, Comando Rodrigo Franco is blamed by Peru’s Attorney General for the murder of union leader Saúl Cantoral, two MRTA members and Manuel Febres, the defense lawyer of Shining path leader Osmán Morote.

García, Giampetri, Defense Minister Antero Flores Araoz and Army Chief of Staff General Edwin Donayre have repeatedly complained of alleged “abuses” and “persecution” against military and police who carried out counterinsurgency operations.

“This only confirms impunity,” said Director of Aprodeh, Francisco Soberón. “If military (and police) are sentenced, there’s a reason. We reject the amnesty (draft law), it would be illegitimate.”

Of the 360 security forces personnel being prosecuted, only 53 are facing arrest warrants or are under arrest. And of the 53 facing arrest, only 14 are in jail as the rest are fugitives from justice.

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