Peruvian system of justice called corrupt, inefficient
By LUCIEN O. CHAUVIN
Special to The Herald
LIMA, Peru -- Peru's justice system is in trouble. So say opposition politicians,
human rights groups, the U.S. State Department and even President Alberto
At the inauguration of a recent meeting of the hemisphere's attorneys general
justice ministers in Lima, Fujimori said reforms to the justice systems in Latin
America lag well behind other political and economic reforms.
``This is certain in the case of Peru, and we are not going to deny it,''
Although Fujimori admits to lagging reforms, critics are much harsher in
analysis of Peru's administration of justice.
The U.S. State Department's annual human rights report on Peru is particularly
harsh this year.
``Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, in practice
judicial system is inefficient, often corrupt, and has appeared to be easily
manipulated by the executive branch,'' the report said.
Station owner targeted
In 1997, the government bypassed judicial procedure to rescind the citizenship
Baruch Ivcher, an Israeli-born owner of a local television station, who was then
stripped of his ownership of the station. Last December, Congress extended the
reorganization of the judicial system for an additional two years, effectively giving
Fujimori allies control over the hiring and firing of judges and prosecutors.
Nearly two-thirds of Peru's 1,531 judges, including 19 of the 33 Supreme
justices, have only provisional or temporary status. Instead of being appointed by
the National Judiciary Council, the temporary judges are appointed from within the
judicial system or by the Public Ministry, both of which are controlled by Fujimori
allies. Temporary judges carry full case loads and many have been in charge of
some of the most controversial cases before the courts.
``What we have seen over the past few years has been the progressive erosion
bodies organized to protect rule of law in Peru,'' said Sebastian Brett, a researcher
for Human Rights Watch/Americas. ``It isn't just us, but the Organization of
American States, the U.S. State Department, press freedom groups. It's
unanimous. Everyone is saying the same thing -- administration of justice does not
work in Peru.''
World Bank loan
The government's meddling in the justice system cost it a $22.5 million
judicial reform from the World Bank in 1998, and there are cases pending against
the country in the Inter-American Human Rights Commission and the
Inter-American Court, both part of the Organization of American States.
The Human Rights Commission has ruled that the government should reinstate
three members of the Constitutional Tribunal who were fired by Congress in 1997
after they voted that it was unconstitutional for Fujimori to run for a third term in
2000. Congress is dominated by members of Fujimori's Change 90/New Majority
On Feb. 26, the commission gave the government 60 days to reinstate the
If it fails to do so, the case goes to the Inter-American Court, where the
government will most likely lose.
Delia Revoredo, one of the three magistrates fired, said Fujimori's government
``carried out a series of `administrative coups' '' against the justice system.
``The government knows it cannot use the tanks to remain in power, as it
1992. Instead, it has a series of laws to manipulate the justice system and electoral
systems to ensure continuance in power,'' Revoredo said.
In the case of Ivcher, the Human Rights Commission decided to send the
the court March 31, after negotiations between lawyers for the Peruvian
government and Ivcher failed. The government offered to restore Ivcher's
citizenship, but refused to drop criminal charges and arrest warrants against him
and members of his family.
Ivcher rejected the offer.
Two additional cases set to be heard by the Inter-American Court later
will be particularly difficult for the government, and legal experts give Peru little
chance of winning both cases.
One case involves Lori Berenson, a U.S. citizen arrested in late 1995 and
of helping rebels of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) plan a
foiled attack on the Peruvian Congress. She was tried by a military court under
Peru's anti-terrorism laws, found guilty of treason and sentenced to life without
parole. MRTA jumped to international fame a year later with the four-month
hostage crisis at the Japanese ambassador's residence in Lima.
The other case involves Jaime Castillo Petruzzi and three other defendants,
Chileans who were arrested, tried by a military court for treason and sentenced to
life in prison for ties to the MRTA rebels.
In both cases, the Peruvian government is accused of violating due process,
lawyers arguing against a military court trying civilians and saying a sentence for
treason cannot be applied to non-Peruvians. The court has been asked to nullify