Monday, March 23, 2009

Human Rights: Peru - Military officers accused of human rights violations await trial in the comfort of their homes

By Ángel Páez - IPS

Republished permission Inter Press Service (IPS ) copyright Inter Press Service (IPS) and

- Retired military officers facing prosecution in Peru for cases of corruption or human rights violations allegedly committed during the 1980-2000 civil war are awaiting trial in the comfort of their homes.

Retired army lieutenant Juan Rivera, who headed a platoon accused of taking part in the massacre of 30 women, 23 children and 16 old men in the highlands village of Accomarca, was let out of jail after less than three months. He is facing a 30-year sentence.

Rivera was deported to Lima by the U.S. government for immigration law violations on Aug. 18, and was immediately arrested and imprisoned in the Canto Grande prison.

But in his appearance before Judge Teófilo Salvador, he argued that his active participation in the massacre has not been proven, and said that although he was involved in the military operation that day, he did not fire a single shot because he was not even near the scene of the crime.

According to witnesses, Rivera’s men blocked the escape route out of the village while another officer and his troops gathered the villagers in buildings, shot them, and set the houses on fire.

Judge Salvador granted him house arrest, which is reserved for suspects over 70, those suffering from serious health problems, or those who have spent more than six years in pre-sentencing detention – none of which apply to Rivera.

Nor did the judge take into consideration the fact that Rivera had never shown up in court when he was cited in the Accomarca case, or that he deserted from the army and fled to the United States, where he lived as a fugitive from justice for 17 years.

When he was deported, Rivera refused to board a commercial flight, and was sent back to Lima on a Customs and Border Protection airplane.

"It took a huge effort on our part to get the United States to deport Rivera to Peru, to respond to the extremely serious charges he is facing," Karim Ninaquispe, the lawyer for the Accomarca victims’ families, told IPS.

"Regrettably, without taking into account that this is a person who has always evaded justice, Judge Salvador opened the prison doors for him, to let him await his sentence comfortably at home. If Rivera escapes, the judge will be solely responsible," said Ninaquispe.

But Rivera is not the only officer to receive preferential treatment.

Also under house arrest are several former members of the so-called "Colina Group", a death squad made up of Army Intelligence Service (SIE) agents that killed 15 people - including an eight-year-old boy - at a neighbourhood barbecue in the Lima district of Barrios Altos in November 1991, and murdered nine students and a professor from La Cantuta University in July 1992.

Retired colonel Víctor Silva, a former SIE chief, has been under house arrest for six and a half years.

Another retired colonel, Fernando Rodríguez Zabalbeascoa, who was the Colina Group’s liaison with the National Intelligence Service (SIN) – the secret police apparatus run by Fujimori’s powerful security adviser Vladimiro Montesinos – has also been awaiting his sentence at home for a little over four years.

And a former sub-director of army intelligence, retired General Federico Navarro, who has been implicated in the Barrios Altos and La Cantuta cases, has been under house arrest for five months.

Silva, Rodríguez and Navarro are all facing charges of aggravated homicide.

So are non-commissioned officers César Alvarado and Pedro Santillán, former members of the Colina Group, and retired General Luis Pérez Documet, who played a key role in the La Cantuta killings.

Alvarado has been under house arrest for five years, Santillán for four years and Pérez Documet for five months.

Retired General José Valdivia, accused of ordering the May 14, 1988 murder of 25 peasant farmers in the village of Cayara in reprisal for an attack on a military convoy by the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) Maoist guerrillas, also enjoys the benefit of house arrest.

Colonel Flavio Gallegos, another of the officers accused in connection with the Cayara massacre, has been under arrest in his home for the past seven months.

Retired Generals Ricardo Sotero and Luis Cubas – Montesinos’s brother-in-law –, who held high-level posts during the Fujimori regime and are facing corruption trials, have also been under house arrest, for five and a half years and 11 months, respectively.

"In some cases, the courts granted house arrest because the accused had spent 72 months (six years) in prison without receiving a sentence," said Gloria Cano, legal representative of the families of the victims of the Barrios Altos and La Cantuta massacres.

"Several of the members of the Colina Group were released from prison for that reason. But the judicial system has not taken any steps to resolve the problem of the delays in sentencing," she complained.

According to Cano, the slow pace of justice is due to the delaying tactics used by the defendants, with the aim of being granted house arrest after six years in prison.

"This is a blow to the victims’ families, because the defendants, who are facing up to 30 years in prison, are living with their loved ones at home, calmly awaiting the outcome of the trials. It is an unacceptable form of impunity," said Cano.

Retired General Pérez Documet, charged with helping the Colina Group abduct and kill nine students and a professor, had consistently refused to respond to court summonses.

But shortly after he was arrested, he requested and received the benefit of house arrest, for a supposed injury to his arm.

Former navy chief and head of naval intelligence, retired Admiral Américo Ibárcena, an associate of Montesinos who was convicted of illicit enrichment, wiretapping and corruption of public officials, among other charges, asked for house arrest on the grounds that he suffered from hypertension.

For the past two years, Ibárcena has been in a comfortable room in the naval hospital – the institution he took advantage of to amass a huge ill-begotten fortune.
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