Human rights groups applauded the Chilean Supreme Court’s decision Friday to extradite former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000) to be tried in his country for gross human rights abuses, noting that it sets an international legal precedent.
“We are very pleased. We were confident (in the Chilean justice system) because we have always seen this as a perfect opportunity for the Chilean Supreme Court to set an important precedent by extraditing a former civilian president accused of human rights violations,” Sergio Laurenti, executive secretary of Amnesty International Chile, told IPS.
“Although it was a split verdict, it establishes two principles of international law: the responsibility of command and the principle of extradition,” said the activist.
José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director for Human Rights Watch, who was in the Palace of Justice in Santiago Friday to hear the verdict, said the decision to extradite Fujimori is unprecedented, because it is the first time that a court has ordered the extradition of a former head of state to be tried for human rights violations in his home country.
“After years of evading justice, Fujimori will finally have to respond to the charges and evidence against him in the country he used to run like a mafia boss,” said Vivanco.
As reporters from around the world anxiously awaited the verdict, Supreme Court Justice Alberto Chaigneau announced just after 8:00 AM local time that the Court had decided to extradite Fujimori in connection with seven of the 13 cases presented by Peruvian prosecutors, including two human rights cases and five corruption cases, overturning the first-instance ruling handed down by Justice Orlando Álvarez.
The two human rights cases involve the Barrios Altos and La Cantuta massacres, and the case of Sótanos S.I.E,, in which Fujimori is accused of ordering the abduction and torture of suspected opponents of his regime.
In the first massacre, 15 alleged members of the Maoist Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) guerrillas were killed in the central Lima neighbourhood of Barrios Altos on Nov. 3, 1991. The victims, who included an eight-year-old boy, were at a neighbourhood barbecue when heavily-armed and masked members of a death squad burst in, ordered everyone to lie down on the floor, and opened fire on them.
It was later reported that the assailants had been targeting a Sendero meeting, which apparently took place on another floor of the same apartment building.
And on Jul. 18, 1992, nine students and a professor at La Cantuta University were kidnapped and murdered, as suspected members of Sendero.
In one of the corruption cases, Fujimori is accused of bribing members of Congress to persuade them to defect from their parties and join the governing party. The other four corruption cases involve charges of illegal searches, phone-tapping, payoffs to the media, and the misuse of 15 million dollars in government funds.
However, the magistrates upheld Álvarez’s July ruling, which denied extradition, for six of the 13 charges presented by Peru.
The Peruvian courts can only try Fujimori for the cases in which extradition was approved, unless the Peruvian government of Alan García decides to ask Chile to reconsider and grant extradition for other cases, said the representative of the Peruvian state in the extradition trial, lawyer Alfredo Etcheberry, who added that he was “very satisified” with the ruling.
Justice Chaigneau said it “was much easier than expected” for the five-judge panel to reach a decision, and dismissed speculation that the Court had been under any pressure.
In his first statements to a Peruvian radio station, Fujimori, who is accompanied by his daughter Sachi in a posh condominium on the northside of Santiago where he is under house arrest, said the ruling was not a surprise.
“My plan was to come through here (Chile) and substantially reduce the number of accusations,” said the former president, who fled to Japan in 2000 as his government collapsed amidst a major corruption scandal, but inexplicably flew to Chile in late 2005, where he was immediately arrested..
The 69-year-old former president was under preventive detention in Chile from Nov. 7, 2005 to May 18, 2006, when he was released on bail. He was then placed under house arrest in June.
Fujimori’s Chilean defence attorney, Gabriel Saliasnik, also said he was not surprised by the verdict. He underlined, however, that the number of charges faced by Fujimori have been sharply whittled down from the original 60 to just seven.
In July, Fujimori, who holds dual Japanese-Peruvian nationality, ran in Japan’s parliamentary elections for the far-right People’s New Party. However, he was not elected. His attempt to gain a seat in the Japanese Senate was widely interpreted as a strategy to gain support from Japan in case he was extradited to Peru.
On Friday, President Michelle Bachelet’s spokesman Ricardo Lagos Weber underlined Chile’s “commitment to human rights” and said the government would make sure the ruling was enforced.
“As a government, we do not comment on legal rulings. But I would like to say that I am satisfied that the justice system has been able to carry out its job in tranquillity,” said Bachelet.
The five justices reached their decision on Sept. 10, but waited until it was drawn up and reviewed before announcing it. Although the local press had heard that the magistrates had ruled in favour of extradition, nothing was certain until Friday’s official statement.
“I believe this is a great joy for the entire continent,” a visibly moved Raúl Paiba, the president of the Committee of Peruvian Refugees in Chile, told IPS. Paiba left Peru 15 years ago, fleeing political persecution.
“Until last night we had doubts (about the extradition). It was unpredictable, but in the end the people’s struggle against impunity won out,” said the activist. He added, however, that he fears that the trial of Fujimori in Peru will not be rigorous, because of the alliance that he said has been formed between the García administration and Fujimori’s supporters.
A press release issued by the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a non-governmental organisation that promotes human rights, democracy, and social and economic justice in U.S. policy towards Latin America, said the verdict was “a landmark for the defence of human rights.”
“This is a grand day for Peru, for Chile, and for all of the Americas,” said WOLA senior associate John Walsh. “Today’s ruling is a major blow against impunity, which has bedeviled Latin America for so long.”
And Vienna Colucci, director of Amnesty International’s International Justice Programme, said in a statement that “The decision sends a strong message that no one stands above the law. Tens of thousands of people were affected by the crimes committed while Alberto Fujimori was head of state. No one can undo the suffering they endured.”
“But today, we are one step closer to seeing justice served. Amnesty International USA joins our colleagues and allies in Peru and Chile in celebrating this victory. Their persistence ensured that Fujimori would not escape accountability.”
Human Rights Watch’s Vivanco said “This landmark ruling is a huge step forward for Chile. After years of wrestling with Pinochet’s legacy of atrocities, Chile is now building a positive record on human rights and justice.”
Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990) died last year at the age of 91, without ever coming to trial for the thousands of human rights violations committed by his regime. IPS-Inter Press Service