Chile Opts to Extradite Alberto Fujimori

Sympathizers of former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori struggle with riot police on Saturday in front of the Peruvian police Special Operations Directorship compound in Lima. (Photo: Ernesto Benavides / AFP-Getty Images)

Chile's Supreme Court brought the nearly two-year-old Alberto Fujimori extradition case to a dramatic and in many ways historic end on Friday, ruling in favor of Peru's request that the former head of state be sent home to face human rights and corruption charges.

The much-anticipated verdict was delivered just after 8 a.m. by Supreme Court Judge Alberto Chaigneau, who denied there was any government pressure behind the decision. Chaigneau and the other four judges responsible for the ruling—Nibaldo Segura, Jaime Rodríguez Espoz, Rubén Ballesteros, and Hugo Dolmestch—found there to be enough evidence in seven of the 12 cases originally presented against Fujimori to warrant extradition.

Among the seven are two emblematic human rights abuse cases—the Barrios Altos and La Cantuta massacres, which took place in 1991 and 1992 respectively. Twenty-five people, including a small child and a professor, were murdered in the two massacres. The killings are believed to have been carried out by an infamous, government-backed death squad known as the Colina Group. Prosecutors contend that Fujimori had direct knowledge of and may have even ordered the group's anti-subversion operations.

The five judges agreed unanimously to include the Barrios Altos and La Cantuta cases. Chaigneau and his colleagues also voted unanimously that Fujimori be brought to trial over the so-called "Turncoat Congressmen" case, which alleges that the former president paid for political backing from members of Peru's legislature.

Authorities in Peru and Chile reacted positively though cautiously to the announcement. While refusing to comment on the content of the decision, President Michelle Bachelet nevertheless expressed "satisfaction" with how the Supreme Court handled the proceedings. "[The court] has made what it determined to be the best decision, determining there was enough evidence in seven of the cases to merit extradition," she said.

Peruvian Foreign Affairs Minister José Antonio García Belaúnde said the ruling met his government's expectations. "We were confident that the decision would be made in favor of extradition. We're satisfied that the Supreme Court carried out its responsibility and maintained its independence in opting for extradition," he said.

Influential human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, which have followed the Fujimori case from its inception, were far less muted in praising the Supreme Court decision.

"We're very happy about the decision. We're happy that they included the two human rights cases—Barrios Altos and La Cantuta," said Helena Marambio, head of Amnesty International Chile's Fujimori campaign. "From an international law standpoint, they found [Fujimori] to be responsible for the character of his time in office. Let's hope they continue to process him in Peru."

Human Rights Watch described the decision as both "welcome" and "unprecedented," especially considering that former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, whose regime was responsible for countless human rights abuses, passed away last year without ever being convicted of a single crime.

"This is a landmark ruling," Human Rights Watch Americas Director José Miguel Vivanco told The Santiago Times. "There is no precedence of a court granting the extradition of a former head of state to face [charges] of human rights violations in his home country. That is why this ruling is so unprecedented."

"It's a turning point, no question about it," he went on to say. "The Supreme Court in Chile had a very appalling record of not paying attention to the protection of fundamental freedoms and the commission of massive violations of human rights under Pinochet. And then, after Chile recovered democracy, before Pinochet went to London, the judiciary and particularly the Supreme Court was consistently reluctant to provide effective remedies for victims of human rights abuses."

The former Peruvian president, who has spent the past several months under house arrest, was handed over to Peruvian authorities on Saturday.

Fujimori governed Peru from 1990 to 2000 until internal pressures forced him to seek refuge in Japan. From a Tokyo hotel room, the beleaguered president famously tendered his resignation via fax. For the next five years he stayed in Japan, taking advantage of the Japanese citizenship he inherited from his immigrant parents 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 he was subsequently arrested and detained. Peruvian authorities originally asked that Fujimori be 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.

In June, Supreme Court prosecutor Mónica Maldonado—in making an official recommendation on the case—found there to be enough evidence in most of the 12 cases originally presented against Fujimori to justify extradition. Exactly one month later, however, the Supreme Court made a complete about-face. On July 11 Judge Orlando Álvarez dismissed all 12 cases, ruling soundly that Fujimori not be extradited.

From The Santiago Times.