Human Rights Developments

Peru experienced its most turbulent year since 1992, when President Alberto Fujimori dissolved Congress and assumed dictatorial powers. The circumstances in which Fujimori was sworn in for his third consecutive term on July 28 were symptomatic of the deep crisis of legitimacy facing his government after a decade in power. Police cordoned off the Congress building and employed water cannon and teargas against thousands of demonstrators. As the president handed over his sash and received it back again from his loyal congressional leader, Martha Hildebrandt, all but six representatives of the opposition staged a noisy walk-out. Flawed from the outset because the president's candidacy was evidently unconstitutional, the April 9 presidential and congressional elections were among the most widely questioned the region had seen in years.

The National Intelligence Service (Servicio de Inteligencia Nacional, SIN), headed by Fujimori's shadowy advisor Vladimiro Montesinos, was widely blamed for harassing opposition candidates, and manipulating the press, the courts, and the electoral bodies to secure Fujimori's re-election. On September 16, to public astonishment, Fujimori announced that he would dismantle the SIN and hold new elections in which he would not be a candidate. The announcement followed the broadcasting on television of a video apparently showing Montesinos bribing an opposition congressman to defect to the government party. A week later, Montesinos left for Panama, where he unsuccessfully sought asylum. He returned to Peru in October, just after the government proposed to extend a 1995 amnesty law to cover human rights crimes committed since 1995, and to write the law into the constitution. At this writing the amnesty had not been extended. Although Fujimori took some measures to distance himself from Montesinos, he nonetheless replaced the chief of the armed forces in October with a general widely considered to be a close ally of Montesinos.

The Fujimori re-election campaign was plagued by scandals and irregularities, and only concerted international pressure applied at the eleventh hour seems to have convinced Fujimori to concede a second round, after inexplicable delays in the announcement of the first round result. He then had fifty days to make reforms detailed by the electoral observation mission of the OAS before the presidential run-off scheduled for May 28. As that date approached, opposition candidate Alejandro Toledo withdrew his candidacy, considering the conditions still to be unfair. The OAS mission, present in Lima since early March, asked the electoral board to postpone the date so that its minimum conditions could be met, but the electoral board refused. Fujimori was then elected as the sole candidate.

During the inauguration, the Lima police used excessive force against protesters. They fired tear gas cartridges from moving vehicles and roof-tops as well as from positions in the street, sometimes at body height and directly at protesters, and also used teargas in enclosed spaces. Several people were seriously injured when struck by cartridges, including Aldo Gil Crisóstomo, who lost an eye, artist and human rights activist Victor Delfín, and U.S. journalist Paul Vanotti. During the morning, unidentified individuals set fire to several public buildings in the city center, including the National Bank, in which six security guards perished. Armed gangs then attacked firemen and destroyed fire-fighting equipment, harassed journalists, and threatened human rights observers, who were prevented from gaining access to the scene. Suspicions of government complicity in the violence were aroused by the failure of the police to protect the buildings or to arrest any of those responsible. On July 29, a pro-Fujimori congresswoman laid charges of "intellectual authorship" of the previous day's violence against opposition leader Alejandro Toledo, and Congress members Anel Townsend and Jorge del Castillo.

Fujimori and Montesinos subjected their actual or potential critics to legal harassment and character assassination. Through his influence over the courts and the taxation office, Fujimori had secured the support of several television channels and radio stations previously critical of him. Bogus criminal accusations were launched against independent media, such as Peru's most respected daily newspaper, El Comercio. The hand of the government in these maneuvers was disguised by their appearance as boardroom disputes between shareholders. In the provinces, journalists suffered physical attacks for their opposition opinions. Popular tabloids widely believed to be sourced by the SIN engaged in a campaign of scandalous allegations against and lampooning of opposition candidates and the media supporting them. Many believed the constant barrage of malicious rumors to have destroyed the presidential chances of former Lima mayor Alberto Andrade. Government supporters shrugged off these attacks claiming they were a legitimate exercise of freedom of expression.

On February 29, El Comercio revealed that a pro-Fujimori councilor had arranged the forgery of more than one million signatures to ensure the registration of the Peru 2000 Front (Frente Peru 2000), a member of the pro-Fujimori electoral alliance, using names from the 1998 municipal election register. The scandal obliged the National Electoral Board (Jurado Nacional de Elecciones, JNE) to cancel the registration of the party. In addition, two candidates implicated in the fraud were forced to resign, and two officials of the National Office of Electoral Procedures (Oficina de Procesos Electorales, ONPE), which is responsible for the vote-tally and the computation of the results, were dismissed. However, the electoral authorities failed to carry out a thorough and transparent investigation. Instead, the JNE handed responsibility to special prosecutor Mirtha Trabucco Cerna, whose investigation was inordinately delayed, and finally accused only one low-level official, as well as some of those who participated in the fraud and later denounced it. On June 28, four months after the scandal broke, a parliamentaryinvestigative commission produced conclusions that amounted, in effect, to a whitewash. The forgery scandal reinforced the lack of credibility of both the JNE and the ONPE.

Peru's ombudsman, Jorge Santistevan, and the nongovernmental monitoring group Transparencia documented other serious irregularities in the campaign. These included the refusal of open-access television channels to sell air-time to opposition candidates (until the very end of the campaign, when a slight improvement was noted); the meager, biased and distorted news coverage of the opposition campaign; physical attacks on, and disruption of, opposition rallies; and the misuse of state resources and personnel in support of the campaign conducted by Fujimori's electoral alliance, Peru 2000. The use of food-aid and other programs of assistance to the poor to garner support for, and deter votes against, Fujimori's election was among the abuses documented.

A quick assessment carried out by Transparencia on the evening of the elections, April 9, indicated that neither candidate had come close to the 51 percent needed for a first round victory. The ONPE, however, delayed twelve hours before giving out its first partial results, which then put Fujimori ahead of Toledo and close to victory with 49.88 percent. It's Lima computing centers remained closed until the afternoon of April 10, preventing the OAS observers from monitoring the vote count. The computing system produced extraordinary anomalies, such as the apparent registration of more than one million votes in excess of the number of registered voters. After firm pressure from the United States, the OAS, and some European countries, the JNE finally announced on April 12 that a second round to the election would be held. Much longer delays affected the calculation of the results of the congressional elections.

The government employed various means to harass and intimidate opposition media. On February 2, 2000, the 30th First Instance Court confiscated the transmitters of Radio 1160, owned by Genaro Delgado Parker, implementing an embargo on behalf of a creditor. The confiscation silenced broadcasts by a popular opposition political commentator, César Hildebrandt. The program went back on the air with a replacement transmitter, but this too was embargoed and removed on the orders of a provisional judge without tenure and consequently vulnerable to political pressure.

Opposition print media that suffered judicial harassment included El Comercio and Liberación, an outspoken opposition paper of which Hildebrandt was director. Liberación narrowly escaped closure when a provisional judge ordered the embargo and seizure of its printing press. Almost simultaneously a Lima judge ordered the seizure of bank accounts and printing presses belonging to the Editora Correo publishing house, which publishes El Correo de Piura, following a U.S. $600,000 defamation suit brought by a pro-Fujimori congressman against the paper. In August, the director of the company that publishes Expreso, a pro-Fujimori tabloid, launched a U.S. $1 million defamation suit against Hildebrandt and two other Liberación journalists.

Opposition journalists also received anonymous death threats. On June 8, Monica Vecco, an investigative reporter for La República, Peru's leading opposition tabloid, received a threatening e-mail message from a group calling itself the April 5 Group (a reference to the date that Fujimori assumed dictatorial power in 1992). La República had published a report that day by Vecco linking officials of Peru 2000 to the SIN. Four journalists from Lima's Santa Rosa radio station were physically attacked or threatened in separate incidents in May. They had reported on attempts by Peru 2000 to pressure attendants at soup kitchens in poor neighborhoods to vote for Fujimori's re-election. Physical attacks and death threats against radio journalists were also common in rural areas.

Despite a law outlawing torture promulgated in 1998, the practice remained widespread and perpetrators were rarely convicted. In one incident, police belonging to the Division of Special Operations (División de Operaciones Especiales, DIVOES) detained Alejandro Damián Trujillo Llontop on the evening of March 1, 2000 in Lima while he was in the company of some friends, and took him away in a personnel carrier. On March 14, his father denounced his "disappearance" to the district attorney, but DIVOES denied having arrested anyone on March 1. On May 8, Trujillo's relatives were informed that the body of a twenty-five-year-old man had been found on the beach in Callao on March 2. Fingerprint and other tests confirmed that it was Trujillo's body. An autopsy indicated that his death occurred within four hours of his arrest on March 1, and that the body bore injuries consistent with torture.

The mandate of the commission set up by President Fujimori in 1996 to recommend presidential pardons for hundreds of innocent prisoners wrongly charged or convicted under the draconian anti-terrorist laws was not renewed when it expired at the end of 1999. Although the commission had secured the release of 481 prisoners, more than fifty applications approved for release by the commission awaited decision by the president, while four or five times that number had been presented by nongovernmental human rights groups. Those released received no compensation for the serious abuses they had suffered. At the end of August, the Supreme Council of Military Justice accepted an appeal by U.S. citizen Lori Berenson, convicted by a "faceless" military court to life imprisonment for treason. In what was widely interpreted as a gesture to U.S. opinion, Berenson was to be retried in a civilian court on a charge of terrorism.

Defending Human Rights

Human rights ombudsman Jorge Santistevan de Noriega was attacked in the pro-Fujimori media in early March when he transmitted allegations about the forgery of signatures to the JNE and the ONPE and asked them to investigate. Cabinet ministers and pro-Fujimori congressmen claimed that Santistevan had sought to discredit the elections by leaking information to El Comercio, and hinted that they might press for his impeachment. However, as President Fujimori later acknowledged, the constitution empowers the ombudsman to monitor the actions of public entities, including those of the electoral authorities. Santistevan's office, together with Transparencia, played a key role in monitoring irregularities during the election campaign. His comment that the elections had a "factory defect" – a reference to Fujimori's unconstitutional candidacy – irritated the government, but after the firm intervention of the OAS, the U.S. State Department and several European ambassadors, the sniping at Santistevan ceased.

On June 12, the wife of Jesús Agreda Paredes, president of the Tacna Association for the Defense of Human Rights, received a telephone call from an unidentified man who said, "Tell your husband not to meddle in the Pachia case, because if he does we'll kill him." Agreda was acting on behalf of the widow of Nelson Díaz Marcos, a detainee who had died in custody allegedly as a result of torture.

During the second week of August, members of the Legal Defense Institute (Instituto de Defensa Legal, IDL), a well-respected human rights NGO, received anonymous death threats by e-mail. One of the messages, also received by political commentator Carlos Ivan Degregori, said, "Die, bastard!"According to Degregori, friends of his had received a warning that "you are being watched and we know all your movements. We know who your friends are and what they are keep away. You are in time.... First warning." The message came form a group calling itself Colina 2000 (The Colina group was a notorious army death squad that operated in the 1990s).

The Role of the International Community

The Organization of American States, the European Community, the European Parliament, and individual states, including the United States, Canada, Japan, and several European countries, issued statements expressing concern about irregularities in Peru's elections.

Organization of American States

The OAS electoral observation mission led by former Guatemalan foreign affairs minister Eduardo Stein conducted a forthright, transparent, and proactive observation of the electoral process. Unlike earlier OAS missions, whose shortcomings had been widely criticized, Stein's team covered pre-electoral conditions for a full month before the April 9 vote, met continuously with the electoral bodies in an effort to obtain fairer conditions, and reported publicly on progress in periodic bulletins. The mission served as a model for future regional election observation.

An extraordinary session of the Permanent Council, held in Washington, D.C. on May 31, rejected a proposal by the United States and Costa Rica for an ad hoc meeting of foreign ministers under Resolution 1080 – regarding the OAS's response to the interruption of democracy in member countries – to discuss sanctions against Peru. The vote against the motion showed that most member states opposed taking punitive measures against another member state because of an unfair election, so revealing the limits of the OAS's effectiveness in responding to interruptions of the democratic process that fall short of a coup d'etat.

The political situation in Peru was discussed intensely at the annual General Assembly of the OAS. On June 5, the General Assembly agreed unanimously to send immediately a high-level mission to Peru, consisting of OAS Secretary General César Gaviria and Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy, to explore options for reforming the electoral process, restoring the independence of the judiciary, and strengthening freedom of the press. Reflecting the reluctance of the General Assembly to confront the illegitimacy of the election, both delegates made clear on their arrival in Lima on June 27 that they did not intend to propose a timetable for new elections. The mission left two days later, having agreed with the government and opposition a list of twenty-nine reforms to be implemented. The OAS established a permanent mission in Lima, headed by Eduardo Latorre, former foreign minister of the Dominican Republic, to broker the reforms and assist in their implementation. The September bribery scandal, however, abruptly changed the picture. Following President Fujimori's surprise announcement of new presidential and congressional elections, OAS-sponsored talks between the government and the opposition led to an agreement at the end of October to hold the elections by April 8, 2001.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights's Second Report on Human Rights in Peru, published in June, noted that "the electoral process in Peru clearly constitutes an irregular interruption of the democratic process," and called for new elections.

United Nations

In November 1999, the United Nations Committee against Torture published its concluding observations on the report submitted by Peru under article 19 of the Convention against Torture. It expressed concern about continuing allegations of torture, the authorities' failure to investigate and prosecute those responsible, and the lack of independence of members of the judiciary who lacked security of tenure. In January 2000, the Committee on the Rights of the Child published its conclusions on Peru's report under the Convention on the Rights of the Child. It regarded laws enacted to protect children from domestic and sexual violence as positive steps. However, it criticized decree laws passed in 1998 that lower the age of criminal responsibility for children to below the limits permitted in the convention.

United States

The Clinton Administration played a key behind-the-scenes role in the negotiations at the meeting of the OAS General Assembly that resulted in the Gaviria-Axworthy mission. But the decision to send a mission was a weaker response than expected, given the strong nature of the first White House and State Department reactions to the May 28 election result. "Free, fair, and open elections are the foundations of a democratic society. Without them, our relationship with Peru will inevitably be affected," President Clinton warned, while a State Department spokeswoman stated, "we do not see the election as being valid. The manner in which the Fujimori regime handled these problems is a serious threat to the Inter-American system and its commitment to democracy." In Congress, both Democrats and Republicans backed firm action if Fujimori continued to defy international opinion. On April 7, Congress passed Joint Resolution 43, which warned that if the international community judged the elections not to be free and fair, "the United States will review and modify as appropriate its political, economic, and military relations with Peru and will work with other democracies in this hemisphere and elsewhere toward a restoration of democracy in Peru."After the unwillingness of other OAS members to support the U.S. proposal to apply Resolution 1080, however, the Clinton Administration did not persist.

On March 9, U.S. officials detained Maj. Tomás Ricardo Anderson Kohatsu, a Peruvian army intelligence agent implicated in gross human rights violations. After a lightning operation by U.S.-based human rights groups to gather evidence, immigration officials arrested Anderson at Houston airport before he could board a flight back to Lima. Overwhelming evidence implicated Anderson in the torture in 1997 of Leonor La Rosa Bustamante, a former intelligence agent who was left paraplegic as a result of the torture. The Department of Justice was preparing to prosecute Anderson under the Torture Act 18 USC 2340A, that allows for the extraterritorial prosecution of individuals implicated in torture. However, in a regrettable decision, the Department of State blocked the arrest, claiming that Anderson enjoyed immunity because he had been brought to the U.S. by the government of Peru to participate in a hearing before the OAS Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Anderson was released and allowed to leave the U.S. after being held for questioning for twelve hours.

European Union

The European Union (E.U.) withdrew its election observers from Peru after the JNE announced that it would not accept recommendations for a postponement. The E.U. stated that the elections would not be credible or satisfy international standards, and that acceptance of democratic principles was a pre-condition for the development of its political and economic ties with Peru.

This report, Human Rights Watch's eleventh annual review of human rights practices around the globe, covers developments in seventy countries. It is released in advance of Human Rights Day, December 10, 2000, and describes events from November 1999 through October 2000.

This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.