Country’s highest court orders freeing of Alberto Fujimori as Inter-American court points to conviction of human rights crimes
Peru risks being ranked alongside authoritarian states like Venezuela and Nicaragua, lawyers have warned, if it flouts international law by freeing former president Alberto Fujimori from jail after its highest court ordered his “immediate release”.
In the latest chapter of a drawn-out legal saga, Peru’s constitutional court ruled on Tuesday to free the former authoritarian leader who, since 2009, has been serving a 25-year sentence for corruption and ordering massacres committed by an army death squad in the early 1990s.
In response, the Inter-American court of human rights asked the Peruvian state to “refrain from executing the order”. The international court, of which Peru is a signatory, has repeatedly told the country that Fujimori, 85, cannot be pardoned due to his conviction for human rights crimes.
Fujimori remains a highly divisive figure in Peru. His autocratic leadership in the 1990s left an enduring legacy. His supporters credit him with stamping out the Maoist Shining Path movement and putting the economy back on track after rampant hyperinflation. Many others believe he ruled as an iron-fisted dictator during his decade in power, which was marked by widespread human rights abuses and rampant corruption.
The constitutional court’s decision upholds its own 2022 appeal to restore a controversial humanitarian pardon granted to Fujimori on Christmas Eve in 2017, which was later overturned due to pressure from the Inter-American court of human rights.
“As relatives of victims, we are … in between anguish, anger and the feeling of being second-class citizens,” tweeted Gisela Ortiz, whose brother, a university student, was killed in a 1992 death squad massacre that Fujimori was convicted of ordering.
“Our rights have been [subordinated] to the undeserved freedom of a criminal,” she added.
The UN human rights office called the court’s ruling “a concerning setback for accountability”, adding: “Any humanitarian release of those responsible for serious human rights violations must be in line with international law.”
The decision over what happens next lies with the government of president Dina Boluarte, which itself faces accusations of human rights violations and employing “excessive and lethal use of force” following its deadly response to more than two months of anti-government protests in December and January, which claimed at least 60 lives.
The Inter-American commission on human rights released a report on Peru following an official visit in May.
“Boluarte, Otárola [her prime minister] and several ex-ministers of state are directly implicated in human rights violations,” said Carlos Rivera, a human rights lawyer for the Legal Defense Institute.
He said the government’s efforts to show the world that it does, in fact, respect human rights and international treaties will be put to the test by how it deals with the court ruling on Fujimori.
“They do not want to appear along with Venezuela and Nicaragua as countries in contempt of international norms,” Rivera said.
At the same time, he said, the weak government will be under intense political pressure from the powerful coalition in Peru’s congress which favours the ruling to release Fujimori.
His daughter Keiko Fujimori, a three-time presidential candidate, remains a leading rightwing figure on the political scene.
2023, The Guardian