Efforts by Peruvian President Alan Garcia to curb human rights abuses by security forces have met with limited success, according to a U.S. human rights group that reported yesterday that Peru's military and police continue to abduct and torture suspects.
The report by Americas Watch depicts Peru as convulsed by wars between government forces and two guerrilla movements -- the Maoist Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path), whose seven-year-old insurgency now reaches nationwide, and the smaller, urban-based Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement. The conflict has placed 29 of the country's 180 provinces under a state of emergency and has complicated moves by civilian authorities to protect the human rights of Peruvians.
Garcia, who at 37 is South America's youngest president, received praise from Americas Watch for preserving press freedoms and trying to discipline the armed forces. But he and his government were criticized for not doing enough to stop disappearances of suspected subversives or to control other abuses, including arrests made without warrants, detainees held incommunicado for days or weeks, and what the report calls "routine" torture to extract confessions.
"We believe," says the 61-page report, "that President Garcia's administration is obliged not only to disavow such practices but also effectively to put an end to them. In this regard, his initiatives are yielding disappointing results. In addition, the Peruvian government deserves criticism for a certain passivity in the face of continuing injustices, and for not doing more to control the actions of the police and military in charge of conducting counterinsurgency operations."
The report notes a substantial reduction in the number of people who have disappeared each year since Garcia took power in mid-1985. The number has dropped to about 100 a year, down from a total of 1,600 between 1982 and 1986.
"Nonetheless," the Americas Watch report adds, "the government has failed to investigate and prosecute such abuses in any meaningful way, and the resulting impunity for those acts is probably the reason why they still take place."
The report complains of "a disappointing lack of progress in the prosecution of the best known human rights violations, particularly when the evidence pointed to members of the armed forces." It says there has been "no progress" in the prosecution of those responsible for "the worst stain on Garcia's record, the murder of almost 300 inmates in two prisons in Lima in June 1986."
Many of the prisoners, who had rioted at Lurigancho and El Fronton penitentiaries, died after surrendering to security forces. Secret military proceedings against some of the military and police officers involved are still in progress. A special parliamentary commission of inquiry has only recently finished a draft report on the killing.