“This tribunal declares that the four charges have been proven beyond a reasonable doubt and that [Alberto Fujimori] is found guilty,” stated Peruvian Supreme Court Judge Cesar San Martin today in a small, packed courtroom in Lima. With that, the historic sixteen-month trial of the disgraced former president came to a fitting end. With the verdict, Fujimori becomes the first democratically elected president to be extradited from abroad back to his own country and successfully tried and convicted on human rights crimes. A victory for the Peruvian families of those killed by death squads during Fujimori’s controversial decade in power (1990-2000), his conviction on charges of using illegal means to fight terrorism is sure to reverberate as far away as Washington, DC.
Fujimori now stands convicted for two massacres that took place early in his administration, known as Barrios Altos and La Cantuta. On November 3, 1991, members of the La Colina Group, an elite death squad organized by Fujimori’s closest advisor, Vladimiro Montesinos, executed fourteen people at an outdoor barbeque in the neighborhood of Barrios Altos; an 8-year-old boy who witnessed the atrocity was also murdered. In the early morning hours of July 18, 1992, the Colina death squad entered the dormitories of the La Cantuta university, kidnapping nine students and a professor. They were subsequently executed and secretly buried on a desolate hill in the Cieneguilla district. In addition to these two atrocities, the special tribunal found Fujimori guilty of kidnapping a prominent journalist, Gustavo Gorriti, and a businessman, Samuel Dyer, in 1992.
The challenge for the prosecution team, led by public prosecutor José Palaéz Bardales and Gloria Cano, the lead lawyer for Peru’s pre-eminent human rights group, APRODEH, representing victims’ families, was to show that Fujimori knew of the existence of the La Colina group, and to establish “command responsibility”–the president’s position as the ultimate authority in a chain of command that led directly to those who actually carried out the crime. Documents found on a computer disk from the Servicio de Intelligencia National (SIN) appeared to show that Fujimori approved a budget for clandestine operations in the war on terrorism. According to the indictment against him, after the Barrios Altos massacre, he publicly–if obliquely–acknowledged the military leaders of La Colina for their “special projects.” A series of witnesses, including members of La Colina and high-ranking military officers, testified to the command-and-control structure of the military and paramilitary units, demonstrating that these were not rogue operations but tightly controlled missions. When a combative and uncooperative Montesinos, who oversaw much of Fujimori’s apparatus of repression, took the stand last June, his courtroom camaraderie with his former boss proved a damning testament to their close relationship.
Declassified US government documentation also played a role in the trial. The court drew on twenty-one State Department records, many of them originally classified secret, provided by my organization, the National Security Archive. Among the documents was an embassy intelligence report based on an advisor to SIN, sent only a few weeks after Fujimori took office. “President Fujimori will support a two-tiered anti-subversion plan,” according to the cable. “The first tier will be public and will include a strong human rights emphasis. The second tier would be secret and include army special operations units trained in extra-judicial assassinations.”