Albion Monitor /News

Torture Routine and Institutionalized in Peru, Report Finds

on terrorism and torture by Peruvian army
(IPS) WASHINGTON -- Torture against suspected insurgents and common criminals is "routine" and "institutionalized" under the government of Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori, according to a new report released last month by Human Rights Watch/Americas.

The 41-page report, "Torture and Political Persecution in Peru," charges that the government with systematically undermining independent institutions, such as the attorney-general's office and the court system, apparently encouraging attacks against politicians and journalists who have denounced them.

"Well-documented episodes of torture have been accompanied by a steady erosion of the powers of key constitutional bodies entrusted with the defense of human rights," according to Jose Miguel Vivanco, the Washington-based group's director.

"In addition, the press and politicians have come under attack for criticizing human rights abuses committed by the Fujimori government."

Torture has even been used against the regime's own security agents, such as Leonor La Rosa, whose hands and feet were scarred by the use of a blow torch
The report calls on the United States to suspend all assistance to Peru's National Intelligence Service (SIN) and to publicly distance itself from SIN's chief and prominent Fujimori advisor, Vladimiro Montesinos, who is widely believed to have worked with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Torture has even been used against the regime's own security agents, according to the report. Last April, Channel 2 television, known as Frecuencia Latina, broadcast film of the scarred and inflamed fingers and ankles of Leonor La Rosa, an army intelligence official suspected of leaking to the press secret plans to intimidate journalists and opposition party members. Her wounds were apparently inflicted by the use of a blow torch.

The body of a colleague of La Rosa's, Mariela Lucy Barreto Riofano, also suspected of leaking information, was found the previous month at the side of a road -- missing the head, hands and feet.

After the broadcast, the government launched a tax and customs fraud investigation against Frecuencia -- a tactic also used against a radio station and the private clinic which treated La Rosa -- then deprived La Frecuencia's majority shareholder of the station, a naturalized Israeli, of his Peruvian nationality and forced the sale of the station to its minority owners.

The use of torture by the armed forces and police -- as well as summary killings an disappearances -- was already well-documented during Peru's counter-insurgency campaigns against Sendero Luminoso and the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA), both of which have committed serious abuses of human rights.

Human Rights Watch notes that much of this abuse has tapered off as the government gained the upper hand against the guerrillas in recent years. It also commends the government for abolishing the so-called faceless courts which were used to try terrorist cases.

Despite these positive steps, however, the rights group insists that torture persists, as do other facets of the government's counterinsurgency operation that both facilitate torture and discourage prosecution of torture cases.

For example, anti-terrorist laws permit suspects to be detained incommunicado for up to 10 days without a court order. They also prevent members of the police who conducted interrogations of suspects from appearing in court for cross-examination. And cases of torture can only be prosecuted as the relatively minor crime of "battery."

Human Rights Watch, which based much of the report on investigations carried out by local rights groups, cites a particularly egregious example of torture carried out last year as evidence that the practice remains an integral part of counter- insurgency efforts.

Last March, before the military liberated 71 hostages held by the MRTA at the Japanese ambassador's residence in Lima, it detained more than coffee growers in Alto Yurinaki where they believed the MRTA column which held the hostages had originated.

Subsequent interviews with victims and witnesses revealed that the army had tortured virtually all of the detainees in an effort to force them to incriminate themselves and their neighbors as members of the MRTA. Methods included beatings, submersion in tanks of water, electric shock, and long period in which they were forced to stand in the sun without being fed. In the end, all but one of the detainees was released for lack of evidence, according to the report.

The report also concludes that Fujimori has compounded the situation by depriving institutions which would normally be counted on to curb such practices of their independence. Civilian judges still occupy provisional posts in many parts of the country subject to removal by a committee dominated by a government appointee.

Journalists who have covered torture cases have received a variety of threats
In recent months, Fujimori's party, Change 90-New Majority, has tried to maintain its control over agencies like the Public Ministry, which works within the Office of the Attorney General to prosecute crimes, and the Constitutional Court. Three judges of that Court, who ruled that Fujimori's planned run for a second re- election were unconstitutional, were dismissed by the ruling party, which has a substantial majority in congress.

The media, meanwhile, has found it increasingly difficult to draw attention to abuses as suggested by the Frecuencia case. In addition, individual journalists who have covered torture cases have received a variety of threats, including physical violence.

The report urges the government to undertake "an immediate and impartial investigation" into the use of torture in Alto Yurinaki and to prosecute those found to be responsible and it calls on the government to sponsor legislation that would ensure that the crime of torture was included in the Penal Code.

While it commends U.S. Ambassador to Peru Dennis Jett for making increasingly forceful statements to the Peruvian media on the use of torture, and the weakening of democratic institutions, it says Washington should do more to distance itself from such practices, including cutting off a covert anti-drug aid program to SIN.

"This apparent liaison with a unit deeply involved in human rights violations undermines the impact of public statements made by Jett and the State Department," the report declares.

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Albion Monitor January 12, 1998 (

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