Chile: Torture Victims File Criminal Suit Against Fujimori

Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori salutes during his inauguration on July 28, 2000, in Lima. (Photo: Jaime Razuri / AFP-Getty Images)

Two Chilean lawyers last month filed a criminal suit against ex-Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori, demanding that the former head-of-state be held accountable for the torture of two Peruvians currently living in Chile as refugees.

To make things worse for Fujimori, he was also badly defeated in Japanese Senate elections on July 29, making it impossible to claim special legal privileges he might have enjoyed as a legislator.

The lawyers, Hugo Gutiérrez and Hiram Villagra, presented the suit on behalf of María Elena Loayza and César Mamani Valverde.

In early 1993, according to the lawsuit, Loayza was apprehended, raped and tortured by Peruvian government counter-terrorism agents, who accused her of membership in the Shining Path guerrilla organization. A university professor at the time, Loayza denies any such association.

A year earlier, in May 1992—just weeks after Fujimori's April 15 "self-coup"—Mamani Valverde was also arrested. Peruvian authorities held him in the infamous Castro Castro prison, where he claims he was repeatedly tortured. Valverde lost an eye as a result of the brutal treatment. That same month, government forces massacred some 42 inmates in the prison, located in the town of San Juan de Lurigancho.

"In the wake of the self-coup, they were victimized by security forces of the Fujimori dictatorship," Gutiérrez told the Santiago Times. "They're refugees in Chile, and they understand that their human rights were violated, that they were subjected to torture. Since [torture] is a crime that can be prosecuted wherever the torturer is, they've asked that the Chilean state pursue this as a criminal case."

The lawyers and their clients are hoping the suit will serve as a backup measure should Chile's Supreme Court ultimately decide to deny Peru's request that Fujimori be sent home to face charges of corruption and human rights violations. "If Fujimori isn't going to be extradited to Peru, [Loayza and Mamani Valverde] want him to at least be tried here in Chile for his crimes," said Gutiérrez.

Meanwhile, according to the Tokyo Broadcasting System, Fujimori garnered only 8,225 votes in the Japanese Senate election. That figure only sufficed for a fourth-place finish among the candidates from Fujimori's party, the N.P.C. In spite of his recent legal troubles, Fujimori had decided to launch an all-out bid for the Japanese Senate from within Chile.

Fujimori governed Peru from 1990 to 2000 before internal pressures forced his flight to Japan, where he famously tendered his resignation via fax. He remained in Japan for five years, taking advantage of his Japanese citizenship—something he inherited from his parents, both Japanese immigrants to Peru—to protect himself not only from requests that he be extradited to Peru, but also from two separate international arrest warrants.

Then, on Nov. 6, 2005, for reasons that are not entirely clear, Fujimori flew to Chile, where, once his presence became known, police arrested and detained him. The ex-president has been in legal limbo ever since.

Peruvian authorities originally asked that Fujimori, who's been indicted on various charges in his native Peru, be immediately surrendered to them. Chile, however, opted to place the decision in the hands of its Supreme Court, following protocol set by a 1932 extradition treaty between the two countries.

Prosecutors in Peru accuse Fujimori of numerous crimes ranging from illegal telephone tapping, to inappropriate use of state funds, to state-sponsored massacres. They suggest, among other things, that the then-president had direct knowledge of and may have even ordered anti-subversion operations carried out by the so-called Colina Group. An infamous death squad, the Colina Group is thought to be responsible for at least two group killings: one in 1991 in the Barrios Altos neighborhood of Lima, the other in 1992 at the University of La Cantuta. Twenty-five people, including a small child and a professor, were murdered in the two massacres.

Fujimori's extradition case crept forward at a snail's pace for more than a year, regaining momentum early last month when Supreme Court prosecutor Mónica Maldonado finally made public her much-anticipated "official" recommendation. Maldonado endorsed the extradition request, judging there to be sufficient evidence in most of the 12 cases originally presented against the ex-Peruvian president.

On July 11, however, Chile's Supreme Court did a complete about-face. Judge Orlando Álvarez ruled against extradition, dismissing all 12 charges against Fujimori. "In all 12 of these cases, the (evidence) does not sufficiently demonstrate that Alberto Fujimori participated to the extent that the extradition request suggests. It's therefore possible to deduce that in this case the defendant hasn't committed the crimes for which he's been accused," the Supreme Court judge concluded.

The ruling came as a shock for many here in Chile—particularly as it ran so counter to the Court's own official recommendation.

"I think he did a poor job of handling the elements that needed to be considered, and he caused tremendous damage to the credibility of Chile's justice system," Socialist Party Senator Naranjo told the Santiago Times. "He also very much hurt our country's international image, because anyone who's even somewhat informed can draw from this ruling [the conclusion] that in our country human rights violators and state terrorists like Fujimori enjoy impunity."

The extradition case, currently under appeal, now returns to the Supreme Court, where it will be examined by a panel of five judges. Analysts expect the upcoming ruling—which will be binding—to be issued within the next two to three months.

From The Santiago Times.