Saturday, 21 July 2012

Peru: Montesinos & co. have sentences reduced; "not crimes against humanity"

In a ruling which will dismay human rights activists in the country and beyond, the Peruvian supreme court has cut the sentences of Vladimiro Montesinos and other key perpetrators of state terrorism. The decision affects the so-called "Grupo Colina" responsible for the massacres of La Cantuta and Barrios Altos.

Montesinos and the former generals Nicolás Hermoza Ríos, Julio Salazar and Juan Rivero had their sentences reduced from 25 to 20 years, death squad heads Santiago Martin Rivas and Carlos Pichilingue had theirs cut from 25 to 22 years and other members of the group had their jail terms cut from 20 to 17 years.

One reason given for the reduction was the excessive delays in the trials .

Moreover, the court ruled that the crimes of the Colina group "were against human rights, but were not crimes against humanity". It judged that the group was targeting "terrorists" and not the civilian population as a whole.

Rebajan pena a miembros del grupo Colina (Peru 21)
Poder Judicial disminuyó de 25 a 20 años condena al grupo Colina (El Comercio)
¿Por qué la Corte Suprema rebajó las condenas de Montesinos y el grupo Colina? (El Comercio)
Sala Suprema abre las puertas de la impunidad al grupo Colina (La Republica)

In my view, the ruling is unfortunate for several reasons:
- It sends a message that the human rights abuses were not as serious as previously thought.
- It also seems to be reverting to a war/two equal enemies theory which positions the killing of civilians as "collateral damage" or crimes by a few "bad apples" among the military. This ignores the entrenched racism in Peruvian society and institutions which contributed to the extreme violence suffered by the indigenous population during the conflict.
- It may raise questions about the sentence of former president Alberto Fujimori himself, as he was convicted of crimes against humanity and the court has now cast doubt on whether there was such a thing. Supreme court judge Javier Villa Stein merely said that the case of Fujimori would have to be looked at separately.
- Finally, there are possible repercussions for other trials involving Colina group members which are still pending.

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