Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Former Peruvian President Guilty of Human Rights Abuses

The Peruvian Supreme Court decided on April 7, 2009, that the country's former president, Alberto Fujimori, was guilty of human rights violations, and sentenced him to 25 years in prison (click here to read the story: http://www.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/americas/04/07/fujimori.peru.verdict/index.html). Fujimori, who ruled Peru from 1990 to 2000, has been imprisoned in Peru since 2006, and was already serving a six-year sentence on unrelated charges, involving abuse of power. Interestingly, a significant number of Peruvians still support Fujimori, who is largely credited with aggressive business and economic policies in the early 1990's that stirred Peru away from financial catastrophe. In fact, Fujimori was democratically elected as president of Peru three times (although his last election was critiqued as irregular and plagued with corruption allegations). Supporters of Fujimori, including his daughter, Keiko Fujimori, who is herself running in the 2011 presidential election in Peru, claim that his sentence stands for revenge and hate of the former president. His opponents, however, point to deaths and disappearances of numerous individuals in the 1990's, when Fujimori was fighting a Maoist insurgency in Peru, called the "Shining Path." Fujimori was accused (and convicted) of authorizing paramilitary death squads to operate against the insurgents during Peru's "dirty war" in 1991 and 1992. Fujimori himself has admitted that he had to "govern from hell, not a palace." When his regime crumbled in 2000, Fujimori fled Peru and exiled himself in Japan (he holds Japanese citizenship as well as he was born to Japanese immigrants in Peru), and then infamously faxed his resignation as president to Peru. Peru attempted to persuade Japan to extradite Fujimori to stand trial in his home country, but Japan remained unresponsive to the extradition request. Ultimately, it was Fujimori himself who sealed his fate when he decided to run in Peruvian presidential elections again in 2006. That year, he traveled to Chile where he was arrested and then extradited to Peru. He has been imprisoned ever since, and it is likely that he will die in jail, in light of his age (70) and his 25-year sentence.
Human rights groups and NGO's hailed Fujimori's sentence as unprecedented and extremely significant in the crusade of human rights protection. Fujimori is the first Latin American former head of state to be formally convicted of human rights violations, although many other countries in this region have experienced dirty wars of their own (El Salvador, Argentina, Paraguay, Chile, etc.). In 1998, a Spanish magistrate, Baltasar Garzon, attempted to indict and prosecute Augusto Pinochet, the former Chilean dictator. These efforts however proved unsuccessful as Pinochet was never extradited to Spain. Pinochet has been on various forms of house arrest in Chile, but he had never been tried or formally convicted anywhere else at the time of his death in 2006 (although there were numerous charges pending against him in Chile: click here to read the story: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pinochet). Thus, the fact that Fujimori, a former president, has now been convicted, appears of paramount importance to human rights advocates. This type of conviction of a former head of state signals to the world community that no one is indefinitely immune from prosecution for gross violations of human rights law. Even presidents can one day stand trial if they condone such atrocities. One can only hope that the Fujimori precedent stands and that it serves as a basis for future prosecutions of rogue leaders.

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