The Peruvian government should revoke the humanitarian pardon granted to former autocratic President Alberto Fujimori, Human Rights Watch said as it submitted an amicus brief to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR). The IACtHR, the main human rights court in the Americas, will examine Fujimori’s release during a hearing set for February 2, 2018.
On December 24, 2017, President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski granted Fujimori a humanitarian pardon. Fujimori was serving a 25-year sentence for his role in extrajudicial killings, abductions, and enforced disappearances. There are strong reasons to believe that the release was the result of a negotiation in response to growing pressure from Fujimori supporters in Congress, including a recent attempt to impeach President Kuczynski. Fujimori was also granted a “derecho de gracia,” which would shield him from prosecution for any other past crimes.
“The release of Fujimori was a shameful betrayal of the victims of atrocities in Peru and a blow for the rule of law in the country,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “We hope that the Inter-American Court of Human Rights will not allow President Kuczynski to trade away victims’ rights as part of a political bargain.”
Fujimori was sentenced in 2009 to 25 years in prison for human rights violations, including his role in the extrajudicial execution of 15 people in the Barrios Altos district of Lima, the enforced disappearance and murder of nine students and a teacher from La Cantuta University, and two abductions. When the “derecho de gracia” was granted, Fujimori was facing an additional criminal prosecution for the 1992 killing of six men in the Lima district of Pativilca by members of the “Colina” death squad, which was active under the Fujimori administration. Courts have yet to determine whether they will uphold the “derecho de gracia” and close the prosecution against Fujimori.
The Peruvian Constitution grants the president the power to issue pardons. However, it also states that the rights recognized in the constitution should be interpreted in accordance with international treaties ratified by Peru.
Fujimori’s early release appears to be the result of a politically motivated decision that lacked guarantees of fairness and transparency, Human Rights Watch said in its amicus brief. In this context, the release undermines Peru’s duty to investigate, prosecute, and punish human rights abuses.
Human Rights Watch has said that granting a humanitarian pardon to Fujimori would be consistent with international human rights law, so long as he was not granted special treatment and his release was the result of an independent, thorough, and conclusive medical determination establishing the gravity of his health condition.
The pardon Fujimori received does not meet these criteria, Human Rights Watch said. The medical rationale was articulated only in very general and unpersuasive terms, and it is not clear that there has been any kind of thorough and independent medical examination. The pardon states that Fujimori’s illness limits his capacity to “talk fluently” and “pronounce correctly.” Yet no signs of such alleged limitations appear in a video he posted on Twitter two days after his release. This and other aspects of the pardon outlined in the amicus brief further reinforce the impression that the move was in fact part of a political bargain.
On December 31, 2017, Mercedes Araoz, Peru’s vice-president, suggested that the government would not comply with a potential IACtHR ruling ordering the government to revoke the pardon. The Constitution “says clearly that the president has the power to issue pardons,” Araoz told the Peruvian newspaper Correo, adding that the government will make “the Constitution prevail” against a IACtHR ruling that seeks to abrogate the pardon.
“The Inter-American Court of Human Rights is the highest regional authority on rights and their rulings are legally binding on Peru,” Vivanco said. “A decision to ignore the court’s ruling on Fujimori’s release would be an inexcusable setback for the Peruvian government’s commitment to human rights.”