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Human Rights Whitewash Won't Win War

There are better ways for US to aid Peru than to give more money to security forces guilty of widespread abuses

PRESIDENT Bush has determined and reported to Congress that Peru has made significant progress in protecting human rights. He has asserted that Peru's armed forces and law enforcement agencies do not consistently violate human rights and are subject to effective civilian control.Under the law, this determination enables the president to provide Peru with $94 million in assistance for fighting narcotics trafficking. We all support the war on drugs, but there is one problem: The president's report is demonstrably untrue. The record in Peru is as clear as it can be. The State Department's 1990 human rights report on Peru states that Peruvian security forces are guilty of "widespread and egregious human rights violations," including "summary executions, arbitrary detentions, and torture and rape by the military." The report calls rape by security force members a "common practice, condoned - or at least ignored - by the military leadership." The situation has not improved. Last month, drunken Peruvian national police shot a commercial airplane out of the sky after they were prevented from boarding. In June, a medical student and two teenagers were videotaped being stuffed into police cars. They later turned up dead, shot in the head. Their crime was that they happened to pass by during a police raid. According to the United Nations Human Rights Commission, no country in the world generates more reports of disappearances following detention by the security forces than Peru does. What explains this violence? The Peruvian government is fighting against a vicious, intractable guerrilla insurgency called the Shining Path, which over the past decade has become a threat to the survival of the Peruvian state. Shining Path is so radical that it considers all existing communist governments too conservative. The Peruvian government's response to this frightening challenge has been to abdicate authority for its counterinsurgency campaign to the military. More than half of the population now lives in "emergency zones," where the security forces operate without accountability to the central government. The result is that Peru has become the hemisphere's worst human rights violator. This should concern all Americans, because our government collaborates with this brutal military in an effort to stem Peruvian production of the coca leaf that becomes the cocaine peddled in the US. The objective is laudable, but Congress understood from the beginning that we could not wage the drug campaign with a war on innocent Peruvian citizens. That is why my colleagues and I voted to require a human rights determination before narcotics assistance could be provided. The war against Shining Path can only be won by a democratic government that acts responsibly against terror with a legal and appropriate response. The war against drugs can only be won by providing people with opportunities to make a living without participating in the drug trade. Both of these wars are better fought with political and economic assistance that will help Peru's government gain control over the military and create a more economically productive and just society. If the president wants to fight the drug war with that kind of assistance, legislative authority exists for him to do so without making a bogus human rights determination that suggests the US condones the carnage. We should be generous with assistance for democracy, economic growth, and social development in Peru. But until they change their ways, the security forces should not get another dime. President Bush should have sent the human rights determination back to his advisers unsigned.

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