Peru Rights Abuses Threaten Aid
Military response in guerrilla war imperils US and German help for cash-strapped country
DESPITE apparent good intentions, the year-old government of Alberto Fujimori is coming under increasing international pressure because of its inability to improve Peru's human rights record.More than 300 men, women, and children "disappeared" after being detained by the Peruvian security forces last year, according to Amnesty International's annual report, published in July. Last year was the fourth consecutive year that Peru topped the list of disappearances worldwide. Now the human-rights issue is threatening to jeopardize much-needed aid from abroad. Earlier this month the United States Congress blocked, at least temporarily, $94 million in US aid funds approved by the Bush administration. Approximately $34 million of the total was earmarked for the Peruvian military, which has been cited by human rights groups for many of the rights violations. "No democratic nation wants to help a country that violates human rights," says Peruvian Sen. Enrique Bernales, who also heads the United Nations Human Rights Commission. His concerns echo another earlier warning in July from Hans Peter Repnik, Germany's parliamentary secretary for technical cooperation. Projected German economic aid of $165 million would be contingent on an improving human rights performance, he said. During the past year "our concern has increased due to the very high level of human rights violations," said Ian Martin, Secretary General of Amnesty International (AI), last month in Lima. In his July 1990 inaugural address, Mr. Fujimori promised "unrestricted respect and promotion of human rights." But a year later, "the situation in Peru is one of the most worrying in the American continent," Mr. Martin says. "In practice, the Peruvian state is tolerating the systematic violation of human rights."
On verge of civil war Two guerrilla groups - the Maoist Sendero Luminoso, or Shining Path, and the Marxist Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) - have taken Peru to the verge of civil war, according to Gen. Sinesio Jarama and other Peruvian military leaders. Eleven years of armed action against guerrillas have cost more than 20,000 lives, most of them peasants and subversives. The Shining Path called an "armed strike" over the weekend in several provinces of the departments of Ayacucho, Huancavelica and Puno to disrupt municipal elections there. Military losses in the ongoing battle with Shining Path are high, too. More than 250 members of Peru's police and armed forces died in action last year. Terrorists ambush them, pick them off as they patrol, or capture them off-duty from buses to execute them. The Army admits that, on occasion, "excesses" are committed in response, but claims that the level of abuse is low. That explanation is not good enough, says Prudencio Garcia, a Spanish Army colonel in Lima with the Amnesty International mission. "In an anti-subversive war it is difficult not to violate human rights, but possible." An Amnesty commission traveled to the central Andean valley department of Huancayo, where 73 disappearances have been documented in the first six months of this year. According to AI investigations, 68 are attributable to the Army. The commission also heard testimony from inhabitants of San Pedro de Cachi and Chumbivilcas, two Andean villages that were hit by recent Army massacres, according to preliminary reports by the investigating parliamentary commission. Accusations of abuses are primarily leveled at the Army in Peru's emergency zones, but two extraordinary incidents in June shook the last remnants of Peruvians' faith in their police force. In the first, a young medical student and two teenagers were coolly executed by anti-terrorist police in what should have been a routine, late June anti-subversive sweep through a Lima suburb. Television news reporters videotaped policemen beating Emilio Gomez and his brother Rafael, and putting them into the trunk of the patrol car. A second videotape, made the same day, shows policemen punching and kicking medical student Freddy Rodriguez. The bodies of all three were dumped by police at a local hospital. In the second highly publicized incident, a dozen reportedly drunk or drugged police fired on a civilian airliner taking off from a small jungle airfield. The plane crashed, killing 15.
Bad pay, training It is widely accepted that the Peruvian police are ill-trained, badly paid, and poorly motivated. Universidad Catolica professor Cecilia Bakula, in a rare June survey of police perceptions of themselves, found that only 20 percent of the officers and men she interviewed had joined the force out of a sense of vocation or public service - and more than two-thirds would resign immediately if they could find a job of equal or greater remuneration. Peruvian Attorney General Pedro Mendez Jurado, who was appointed less than four months ago, recognizes the problem. "Until recently, investigation of abuses was difficult," he told foreign correspondents in Lima. "But now there is a new attitude of cooperation within the armed forces. They are allowing local judges into their barracks. That is encouraging." Yet, as is often the case in Peru, problems are exacerbated by lack of money. Investigating judges often cannot travel to remote areas to receive reports on abuses. Frequently they must depend on the armed forces for transport to the scene of an alleged violation or massacre. Poorly paid, they may be easily intimidated or corrupted. Mr. Mendez hopes that Amnesty International "might influence countries abroad to give financial assistance in this vital question of investigating and monitoring human rights." Amnesty recommendations include compiling a register of those detained by the Army, and having local judges present to verify a detainee's release. And, says Martin, President Fujimori should set up the promised high-level commission to monitor human rights.