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Peru: Court Reduces Sentence for Members of Death Squad

On Friday, July 20, 2012, the Peruvian Supreme Court announced its decision to shorten from 25 to 20 years the imprisonment sentence for top members of the Colina Group, a death squad involved in human rights violations. They were also acquitted of having committed crimes against humanity.

Javier Villa Stein, president of the Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court, stated that the decision to remove the verdict of crimes against humanity was based [es] on the fact that the accused “did not perpetrate their crimes in the form of a widespread attack as established in the Statute of Rome, in force in Peru since 2003″. However, this was immediately met by a series of reactions, mainly against the decision.

Victims of La Cantuta, killed by the Colina group. Photo from Flickr user The Advocacy Project, used under license CC Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

For example, Avelino Guillén, former prosecutor in the case against former President Alberto Fujimori, declared [es] his outrage for the ruling, whilst the Justice Minister called [es] the decision “a shame”. The lawyer Gloria Cano of Aprodeh, a pro-human rights charity, declared [es] she was unhappy and disgruntled at the ruling. And Gisela Ortiz, representative of the victims of the La Cantuta operation stated [es] that the ruling was an insult to the victims’ memory.

President Ollanta Humala rejected [es] the decision and assured citizens that it would be appealed. The Supreme Court's decision has caused concern over the precedent it could set for the proceedings of former President Alberto Fujimori, who is serving a sentence precisely for crimes against humanity. According to [es] Carlos Rivera, lawyer for the Institute of Legal Defence (IDL), the ruling [es] “opens a political path to provide any sorts of benefits”.

The local twittosphere saw reactions mainly of surprise and indignation, such as the psychologist Jorge Bruce (@jotabruce) [es], who states:

@jotabruce: Una colina de vergüenza e impunidad. Nunca hay que bajar la guardia.

@jotabruce [es]: A mountain of shame and impunity. Never let your guard down.

The journalist Zarella Sierra (@ZarellaSierra) [es] shares links to the ruling:

@ZarellaSierra: Aquí sentencia que favorece al Grupo Colina / /

@ZarellaSierra [es]: Here is the ruling that favours the Colina Group / /

While Twitter user @primerafuente [es] declares:

@primerafuente: Los Terroristas de SL y los Asesinos de Colina. No los queremos libres. Ni los Colina, ni los SL, libres. Todos adentro para siempre.

@primerafuente [es]: The Shining Path terrorists and the Colina Killers. We do not want them to be free. Neither Colina nor Shining Path members should be free. All of them incarcerated forever.

And the user Paco Yonki (@pacoyonqui) [es] also showed his surprise:

@pacoyonqui: Aguanta, leo y no lo creo… Días después de conmemorarse 20 años de La Cantuta, soltarán a los “Colina”?

@pacoyonqui [es]: Hold on, I have read it and I do not believe it… Days after we commemorate the 20th anniversary of La Cantuta they will release the Colina group?

The magazine Número Zero (@numerozero) [es] shares the opinion of human rights activist Rocio Silva S.:

@numerozero: @pavese sobre fallo a Colina: Estoy indignada. Contradice sentencia a Fujimori por tema de autoría mediata

@numerozero [es]: @pavese regarding the Colina ruling: I am outraged. It contradicts Fujimori's sentence for autoría mediata* [see editor's note at the bottom of this post]

Among the first bloggers to comment on the Supreme Court's decision were the writers of ¿Estamos jodidos? (“Are we done for?”), who declare [es]:

La reducción de la pena de 25 a 20 años de los miembros del grupo Colina, grupo paramilitar del gobierno de Fujimori y del que por todos es sabido cometieron crímenes aberrantes, es un hecho no sólo indignante, es hundir al país en el fondo de la más oscura ignominia pues la traducción de esto es que en el Perú la corrupción, el crimen y la impunidad son más valiosos que la vida humana y la democracia.

The reduced sentence of 25 to 20 years for the members of the Colina Group, a paramilitary group of the Fujimori government who everyone knows committed heinous crimes, is not only outrageous but also sinks the country  into the depths of the darkest shame since this all translates into the idea that in Peru corruption, crime and impunity are worth more than human life and democracy.

The blog Salvaje Digital writes sarcastically [es]:

El Grupo Colina ya sabe a quién saludará el próximo año en el Día del Amigo. Y el de la DIROES, Alberto Fujimori, ya sabe que tiene asegurada la carne chamuscada para celebrar su cumpleaños. […] Definitivamente estas Fiestas Patrias no se tiñen de rojo y blanco. Solo de rojo sangre. Y de olor a kerosene

The Colina Group already know who they will greet on next year's Friend Day. And the one in DIROES [the penal institution where Fujimori is being held], Alberto Fujimori, knows that there will be enough charred meat for the barbecue to celebrate his birthday. […] These coming national [Independence] celebrations will definitely not be red and white. They will only be blood red. And smell of kerosene.

And in the blog Pensamiento y Productos, Saúl Mandujano speaks [es] about the role and example of the Judicial Power in the country:

El mensaje de Villa Stein es más claro que el agua. Puedes asesinar a cualesquier ciudadano peruano y te reducirán las penas siempre que lo hayas hecho a favor del estado reaccionario, caduco, pervertido y degenerado, haciendo ver a los actos de “justicia” como simples leguleyadas similares a los relacionados a robos comunes y corrientes.

Villa Stein's message is clearer than water. You can kill any Peruvian citizen and they will reduce your sentence if you did it to help the reactionary, decrepit, perverted and degenerate state, making these acts of “justice” look as simple as crimes such as ordinary and common theft.

There are already Facebook events against the ruling. “Vigil – No to impunity – Colina Group no more!!!” [es], organised by Movimiento Peru Diverso [es] and others, is one of them. This vigil was scheduled to take place on Saturday, July 21 from 6pm in the centre of Lima (Plaza Francia). Another event is “Sit-in against freedom of the Colina members” [es], organised by Basta De Impunidad Cci [es], this event will take place on Monday, July 23 at 6.30pm in front of the Palace of Justice.

For more reactions visit this Storify by Gerardo Cárdenas: “Sentence reduced for Colina Group, crimes against humanity verdict removed” [es].

*Editor's note: Jo-Marie Burt, Associate Professor of Political Science at George Mason University, explains [PDF] that autoría mediata, sometimes translated as ‘perpetration by means’, “is attributed to those who have dominion over an ‘organized power apparatus’ and thus have the power to order and direct the individual members of that apparatus to commit crimes or, in this case, human rights violations.”
Original post [es] published in the personal blog of Juan Arellano.

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