Lima, December 15, 2007
Colombian lawyer and international observer, Uribe talks about his experience as an observer in the trial against Fujimori, comparing it with his previous experience in Peru, and analyzes the current progress of human rights law in Colombia and Peru.
You have already been to Peru as an international observer for other trials. Which trials have you previously observed here and do you see any substantial change in the Peruvian justice system?
When I was in Peru as an observer, it was for the trials that developed against lawyers who had initially been condemned to life sentence by ‘faceless’ military tribunals [whose identity was concealed from the defendants] for terrorism-related crimes for exercising their profession and enacting criminal defenses. These were arbitrary trials with arbitrary sentences that were given in a context of criminalization that existed in society — the criminalization of lawyers, in this case, in some quasi-administrations of justice that violated all rights.
Fortunately, these military sentences were annulled, new sentences were given within an ordinary jurisdiction and the lawyers were absolved, so it was a completely different context. For us it was terrible knowing that here [in Peru] a law to pardon innocent people had to be made as a result of all the abuses committed through emergency laws and legislative decrees that permitted the incarceration of innocent people.
This phase has been overcome and today we are in a different trial with a transition process, and I think that today we have a strong Judicial Power, which seems to have the backing of authorities and other public powers, and at the same time has earned credibility from Peruvian society.
They are very different contexts, it greatly amuses me and seems very important that today Peruvians want justice done to those most responsible for the acts constituted as crimes against humanity. I think it is very important that after certain Inter-American Court decisions — even when Fujimori announced his withdrawal from the Inter-American System — today trials are being held that have already been sentenced by the Inter-American Court, such as the case of Barrios Altos or La Cantuta, and that now they are trying to hold those who committed the acts responsible. In this way there has been great progress.
How do you view the current government’s announcement to publish lists of the people released from prison for terrorist related crimes?
It would be a big step backwards. I assumed that those were parts of Peruvian history that had been overcome and it’s a shame that they are going to try to put all of those people in the limelight again — after all those trials were revised, after verifying that they weren’t really involved in terrorism. It would be a shame — now that there have been so many political and judicial changes — for them to return to old practices.
Within international human rights law, how would the international community be affected by the criminal trial held against Fujimori for human rights violations?
I think that the case of Fujimori is very important for the human rights community — as important as all that happened with García Meza in Bolivia, or what was attempted by way of universal jurisdiction against Pinochet and what was done in Chilean tribunals in the Supreme Court, what they tried to do in international tribunals against the president of Chad in Africa, or what happened with the former president of Yugoslavia.
For those of us worldwide who try to view the issue of impunity, we think it is a great challenge for the Peruvian people — for the human rights movement and for the victims of Peruvian tribunals — that they themselves have to be the natural judges to try these kinds of crimes and have due impartiality: the logistical capacity to be able to carry out a trial against a head of state in an impartial and independent manner — above all, a head of state who was reelected, had a lot of popularity and was socially accepted, but now as it has been demonstrated that there was an abusive army in power and that there was a lot of corruption and serious humans rights violations. Then society can overcome that and can make judgments in order to assume responsibility. I think this trial is watched with high expectations and that it could create insight as to how to prosecute those principally responsible and how to judge those bodies of organized power.
In fact, international cases, such as what happened in Peru with the Inter-American Court sentences, have helped to energize national tribunals. So I think that the case of Peru is like an effect of international decisions that today permit the opening of real possibilities for investigation and sanctioning those responsible for serious crimes.
Do you see any similarities between what happened in Peru in the 1990s and what is currently happening in Colombia?
Of course. At one time, when Fujimori was in his golden age, in Colombia we always talked about how what we needed was a Fujimori and, in fact, Fujimori was viewed as a model for Latin America; as a strong, decisive hand that finished with terrorism. In fact, the current Colombian president made references to Fujimori when he was in the first phases of his campaign. Later, when Fujimori fell from grace, fled from the country and all that happened happened, he never mentioned Fujimori again in the Latin American context as a model. But if you remember, Fujimori had all the backing of the OAS [Organization of American States], the international community and the United States until his last moments of being strong in power.
So yes, Colombians and those of us who work on the issue of impunity in Colombia, including victims and family members, would all like to see trials in the future similar to those transpiring in Peru.
We think there has been responsibility up to the highest levels, including the president himself, in these crimes. In Colombia now there are some criminal cases developing in the Supreme Court which are very interesting, dealing with what they call in Colombia ‘parapolitics.’ It includes more than 90 active and inactive members of Congress, almost all from the ruling party, who are being investigated by the Supreme Court for belonging to paramilitary groups. It’s called ‘conspiracy to commit crimes.’ Of these, there are more than 20 in prison and it is expected that others will be arrested in the future. There is a cousin of the president, brother of the former Secretary of State and a member of Congress.
That is to say that there are indeed some similarities that can make us think there will be trials in Colombia in the future against those greatly responsible. Colombia is under the study of the International Criminal Court [ICC]. This is one difference with Peru, because [in Peru] the crimes happened before the competence of the ICC, but we undoubtedly watch the situation in Peru with great optimism.
Coming from a human rights perspective in Colombia, how do you think the criminal trial against Fujimori is perceived in Colombian society?
Well I think that there is very little information. The newspaper El Tiempo had an entire page on Sunday, September 9, 2007, on the trial of Fujimori, when he fled from the country, when he sought refuge from the Japanese government, on his stay in Chile, but there is not very much information in Colombia.
Unfortunately in Colombia, we are egocentric and almost everything is dominated by internal dymanics, by the trials we have now in Colombia, by everything happening with “Justice and Peace” (Justicia y Paz), that there hasn’t been a look at what’s happening on the outside. So I couldn’t say what the Judicial Power in Colombia thinks about the Fujimori trial or what society is watching. There are others who are specialists on the issue who are watching with great expectations, but there is a lack of information, I think, not only in Colombia, but in Latin America as well as globally. I think it is the responsibility of the organizations in Peru to get this issue more into the international scene, to do a campaign so that people know the case. And I think that people got accustomed when they said that Fujimori was going to be tried in Peru. There was more international attention when Fujimori was in Japan and there was an expectation for him to be extradited. Once extradited, international pressure went down because the most important issue was already resolved and it then entered the national realm.
You mentioned the “Justice and Peace Act.” Could you comment on what this law deals with and if it has anything in common with the amnesty laws issued here in Peru?
The philosophy of President Álvaro Uribe was the philosophy of President Fujimori. What Fujimori tried to do at the time with the amnesty laws of 1995 was to protect all those who had worked in the anti-terrorism effort and to protect all the military personnel of the Colina group who were implicated in serious human rights violations.
In Colombia, there is a “Justice and Peace Act” being made, which is a similar process for the paramilitary groups who are from the extreme right and have exercised a dirty war method in Colombia, with economic benefits and with political benefits. What the president has done is try to pardon them, guaranteeing that in some way all these people are removed from justice. Then various legal norms were invented, one for the privates and another for the highest commanding officers. The latter is called the ‘Justice and Peace Act,’ which is for those who are implicated in serious crimes of massacres, disappearances and executions. Privates have already gone through a process of impunity and now are doing trials of ‘Justice and Peace’ for this small group composed of no more than 5 percent of the inactive soldiers, who are aspiring to have 5 to 8 years in prison — very small sentences.
So that is where the difference lies: in Colombia, in theory, [military personnel] will be judged and will have sentences, but in Peru there were point blank laws where investigations were archived. In Colombia, it’s being done in a more intelligent manner; obviously 12 years have passed and there is international jurisprudence, so they are trying to do apparent trials with the same goal as Fujimori, but in a more elegant manner, with greater backing from the international community.