Fujimori trial: last leg before court ruling

By Annie Thériault

Former President Alberto Fujimori’s more than year-long marathon trial for human rights violations has begun its last sprint this week, with a sentence expected by mid-March.

Fujimori, 70, has been on trial for more than a year for allegedly sanctioning the Grupo Colina death squad, believed to be responsible for atrocities committed during his 1990-2000 rule. If convicted, he could face up to 30 years in prison and a fine of $3 million.

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.

“The trial of Fujimori, a former head of state, has been a very positive development in international justice and accountability for human rights crimes,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “We hope the Supreme Court panel that is trying him will reach a just decision that takes into account international standards on accountability for human rights crimes.”

Although a ruling is expected by mid-March, both sides could potentially appeal the final ruling, meaning that the trial – which began in December 2007 – could drag on for several more months.

Prosecutor José Pelaez has promised to appeal any sentence under 30 years, and Fujimori’s lawyer, Cesar Nakazaki – who has argued that his defendant is not guilty of crimes against humanity – is surely to contest an unfavorable ruling.

Last week, via his lawyer, Fujimori requested to be acquitted of all charges brought against him, arguing that he neither directly nor indirectly ordered the murder of civilians at Barrios Altos or La Cantuta.

So far, the prosecution has presented a mountain of circumstantial evidence – including hearsay testimony from ex-Colina Group members – to support its allegation that Fujimori was well aware of and authorized the death squad’s 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 for 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.

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

He is already serving a six-year prison term for abusing his authority when he ordered 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 was crumbling under the weight of corruption scandals, spawned by his intelligence chief, Vladimiro Montesinos, when Fujimori sent 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.

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

Once Fujimori’s trial for human rights violations comes to an end, he will face another set of charges for corruption.  Chile granted Peru’s request for Fujimori’s extradition in 2007 based on seven accusations, all of which form separate trials.

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