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Fujimori’s release sparks diplomatic dispute between Peru and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights

The government of Dina Boluarte will follow the Constitutional Court ruling that calls for the former Peruvian president, who is convicted of crimes against humanity, to be released from prison

Alberto Fujimori
Alberto Fujimori at a hearing in Lima, October 2013.Martin Mejía (AP)

Peru’s Constitutional Court ordered an immediate humanitarian release Tuesday for imprisoned former president Alberto Fujimori, 85, who was serving a 25-year sentence in connection with the death squad slayings of 25 Peruvians in the 1990s. The ruling has sparked a diplomatic dispute with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR), which Tuesday night requested the state refrain from executing the release order.

The court’s decision comes six years after former president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski granted Fujimori a humanitarian pardon, a move that undermined his government. Tuesday’s ruling has overtones of that pardon, and has been equally divisive. Outside Barbadillo prison, in Ate, northeast of Lima, where Fujimori is imprisoned, his supporters cheered and danced to Ritmo del Chino, a tecnocumbia that he had used for his re-election campaign in the early 2000s. Meanwhile, relatives of the students who died in the death squad killings gathered in front of the Palace of Justice to protest Fujimori’s release, yelling: “A pardon is an insult.”

The court’s ruling has also divided Peru’s parliament, with some lawmakers arguing that the decision must be followed and others warning of the danger of breaking with the IACHR, which opposes Fujimori’s release. A week ago, the IACHR reminded the Peruvian government that its obligation to refrain from releasing him remains in force. It granted Peru a period of six days to issue a report on the matter, a deadline that will be reached on Wednesday, when Fujimori is expected to be released from prison.

On Tuesday afternoon, after the Constitutional Court made its ruling, Peru’s President Dina Boluarte held a meeting with the Minister of Justice, Eduardo Arana. There was some initial suspense about how the government would deal with the issue, but it was soon made clear that they would adhere to the ruling. The IACHR asked for time until the court has “all the necessary elements to analyze whether said decision [the Constitutional ruling] complies with the conditions established” in a resolution from April 2022, when it blocked the release of the former president.

Fujimori’s children met at the home of his daughter, Keiko Fujimori, in the San Borja district. Former congressman Kenji Fujimori was caught by reporters just as he was entering the house. Both Keiko and Kenji Fujimori refrained from commenting on the court’s decision. They said they will make a statement once the administrative process for their father’s release is completed. Elio Riera, Fujimori’s lawyer, said Tuesday night that the process depended on the officials of the National Penitentiary Institute (INPE), specifically the Release Department. “The Constitutional Court decision says that [the release] must take place during the day. It should be adhered to. But it is up to INPE,” he said.

Lawmaker Ruth Luque announced that she will denounce the three judges of the Constitutional Court who signed the order: Francisco Morales Saravia, Luz Pacheco Zerga and Gustavo Gutiérrez Ticse. “It is an illegal release. I am going to denounce them for the crime of prevarication and for constitutional violations,” she said. “Here there is a congressional majority that is not interested in what the Inter-American Court says. They have come with a whole script to impose this pact of impunity and corruption.”

The National Human Rights Coordinator issued a statement maintaining that the Constitutional Court “violates the rule of law by violating the resolution of the Inter-American Court and, in addition, attacks the memory of the victims of the Fujimori dictatorship.” The feminist organization Manuela Ramos also criticized the order and pointed out that Fujimori has never apologized for his crimes. “Fujimori is imprisoned for crimes against humanity. He has not apologized for them, much less compensated the victims,” the organization stated.

In the resolution, the judges of the Constitutional Court argue that Fujimori “has already served approximately two-thirds of his sentence,” and point out that he is 85 years old and in poor health. His supporters have also made this argument, with politician Miguel Torres even going so far as to ask for “humanity from the victims’ relatives.”

For former attorney César Azabache, the court’s order sends a worrying message about Peru’s relationship with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. “It is a very serious turning point in not abiding by an express order of the court and how civil rights protections are configured in the country. It is a drift towards a point of no return.”

Carlos Rivera, a lawyer at the Legal Defense Institute (IDL), who defends the relatives of the victims, expects the IACHR to take immediate action. “The IACHR could denounce the case before the Organization of American States. But I am sure that before that it will call for a hearing.”

While one side celebrates, the other is calling for justice. At this point, reconciliation appears unlikely. And this is all happening on the eve of December 7, one year after Pedro Castillo’s self-coup, which marked the beginning of Boluarte’s government.

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