Fujimori on Trial :: Fujimori procesado

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Amnesty as a means of achieving impunity: Lessons we must not forget

One of the Colina group members recently testified in the trial of former president, Alberto Fujimori, that the government assured they would be given amnesty in order to avoid charges that could be brought against them.

What happened from 1992 until 2000 confirms that the lack of investigation was a political priority of the regime, where the power remained very concentrated, hidden and unchecked. Let’s remember what happened. 

In November of 1991, the senate created a commission in charge of investigating the extrajudicial executions that occurred in Barrios Altos, carried out by the Colina group.  Unfortunately, this commission was not able to finish its mission and was dissolved due to the coup d’état on April 5, 1992.

Four years later, in 1995, a valuable and exemplary prosecutor, Cecilia Magallanes, began an investigation of the events and Judge Antonia Saquicuray decided to begin a criminal trial. 

However, the night of June 13, 1995, the majority political party, Change 90-New Majority, presented to a full Congress, a law that would offer amnesty to military officials, police or civil workers for all of the crimes committed as a consequence of the fight against terrorism from May 1980 to June 1995. 

Having only to rely on the majority of the unicameral Congress, a majority that was in agreement with the surprise laws – no approval was required from any commission of Congress – it enjoyed swift approval. In effect, Law 27479 was approved in the early hours of June 14 and made public the following day.

Despite this, the judges who were investigating the case of Barrios Altos said that the law was inapplicable because of its obvious unconstitutionality. In order to block this courageous decision, Law 26492 was announced, which declared that the previous Amnesty Law was not “revisable in the judicial branch.”

Years later, in 2000, due to questioning of the electoral process, the Organization of American States sent a high level mission to Peru. A Roundtable Discussion and Agreement for the Strengthening of Democracy in Peru were later initiated, where representatives from both the government and opposition took part. 

In a dialogue session in October 2000, after the announcement to shorten presidential mandate and call elections, the then justice minister and government representative presented a proposal for political agreement to be signed by both parties.

One of the central aspects of the proposal was the constitutionalization of the amnesty laws, even amplifying the law’s reach to “the cases of crimes committed in the context of the fight against drug trafficking.” The law offered an unacceptable proposal that was then rejected. However, this frustrated initiative confirmed the government’s interest in avoiding future investigations. 

Concretely, the memory of what happened proves that the attempts for amnesty responded to a clear political strategy from a government that wanted to avoid all types of investigation. What happened leaves us with at least a few lessons. On the one hand, an order or a breach of human rights will always be investigated and amnesty – or a pardon – will not be avoided. The Inter-American Court for Human Rights demonstrated this with the case of Barrios Altos. 

On the other hand, it is imperative to understand that in public policies, the end does not justify the means; respect for human rights is a fundamental component for policies’ validity. These are lessons that we should not forget.  

Samuel Abad Yupanqui