Humala Says State Attorney to Appeal Supreme Court Ruling that Lightens Sentence of Death Squad and Montesinos

President Ollanta Humala has announced that the State Prosecutor will appeal a ruling handed down by the Supreme Court on Friday which reduces the prison sentence for the country’s former spy chief, Vladimiro Montesinos, and members of a paramilitary death squad known as the Grupo Colina.

The Supreme Court’s decision has been met by scathing criticism from legal and political analysts.  Cabinet chief, Juan Jimenez, still minister of Justice on Friday when the decision was announced, described it as a “new dark episode in Peruvian justice.” 

Salomon Lerner Febres, who presided the 2001-2003 Truth and Reconciliation Commission, said the ruling  is “absolutely arbitrary” and “discredits the Peruvian justice system” in the eyes of the international community.

Several legal analysts believe the Supreme Court’s arguments for its decision are the first steps to reducing Alberto Fujimori’s imprisonment, and will open the doors to the release even of Abimael Guzman. 

Montesinos, along with Grupo Colina leaders Nicolas Hermoza Rios, the former chief of the armed forces, Julio Salazar and Juan Rivero saw their sentences reduced from 25 years in prison to 20 years.

Other Grupo Colina members, including former military officer and head of the group, Santiago Martin Rivas, and Carlos Pichilingue, had their sentences reduced from 25 to 22 years.  One member of the squad, Alberto Pinto, sentenced to 13 years, should be released immediately and the others will eligible for reduced sentences for good behavior or working in prison.

The sentences were reduced based on the Supreme Court’s decision to remove the accusation of crime against humanity for the deaths of 25 people in Lima.

The Colina group, wearing masks, 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, tortured and murdered nine students and one professor at La Cantuta University in 1992.  

Other crimes of which they were accused included the murder in May 1992 of 10 small farmers in the Santa valley, north of Lima, allegedly at the personal request of General Hermoza, and the assassination in December 1992 of Pedro Huillca, the influential leader of the national workers’ union, CGTP, who had called for a national strike against President Fujimori’s privatization efforts.  The death and dismemberment of intelligence agent Mariella Barreto also was attributed to members of the squad.

In 2004, investigative journalist Ricard Uceda published Muerte en el Pentagonito, a well-documented report on the human rights violations by the military intelligence service in their fight against terrorism between 1982 and 1993, with key details of the death squads kidnappings, torture and incineration of victims in the basement of the military headquarters in the San Borja district of Lima.  

Released in 2011, a meticulously detailed documentary, La Cantuta en la Boca del Diablo,  traces the work of investigative journalist Edmundo Cruz into the death of the university students and professor, who were pulled out of their dorm rooms at the Chosica campus before dawn and never seen again.  Some of their scattered remains were found near the water treatment plant in east Lima and more remains were found between the hillsides on the road to Cieneguilla.   In some cases, confirmation of their whereabouts was only made by matching keys to their dorm lockers, found buried among the pieces of lime-bleached bones in the desert.

The Supreme Court’s argument to annull the qualificationof crime against humanity was that the squad were acting as part of a chain of command within the army and that they were fighting terrorists.

At the time, Peru was locked in a bloody conflict with the Shining Path, a Maoist-inspired insurgency that sought to topple the government system.

The president of the Supreme Court, Javier Villa Stein, said that while the killings were human rights crimes, they are not necessarily crimes against humanity. 

“In our country, the military are in prison while the terrorists are already out,” Villa Stein said.

In 2009, ex-President Alberto Fujimori, who took office in 1990, was found guilty on charges for sanctioning the death squad.

Reacting to the Supreme Court’s ruling on Friday, President Ollanta Humala said he was “surprised” by the court’s decision.

“I’m surprised that a judge, for whom I have a lot of respect, has reduced the sentence,” Humala told reporters in televised comments. “I’m respectful of the Judicial Branch, but honestly I feel surprised, and not happily, about this news.”

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