Heeding a call by President Alberto Fujimori, Peru's Congress voted overwhelmingly today to withdraw the country from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The move seemed likely to add to international criticism of Fujimori, especially in the United States, over his record on human rights and freedom of the press and his determination to seek a third term as president.
The court is a legal arm of the Organization of American States (OAS), designed to give people in the Americas who feel they have been denied their human rights a neutral body to appeal to beyond their own judicial systems, which are often corrupt or government-manipulated.
"This is bad news for Fujimori's international reputation and for the people of Peru," said a high ranking OAS official. "More than anything, it shows that Peru has a big problem with human rights."
In the past, Peru has tried to comply with court decisions--even freeing one prisoner after a not-guilty verdict from the court. But Fujimori told reporters Tuesday that the court is infringing on Peru's sovereignty, saying Peru "will withdraw from the jurisdiction of the court and will not abide by any of its decisions."
Fujimori's allies have cited a ruling in June to grant a new trial to four Chileans imprisoned in Peru on treason charges as evidence of interference in domestic affairs. The court ruled that the Chileans, accused of belonging to a leftist guerrilla organization, did not receive due process in a 1995 trial in which anonymous military judges sentenced them to life in prison.
The Chileans were among thousands here arrested and sentenced by the "faceless courts" during Fujimori's largely successful campaign to combat powerful guerrilla groups in the early 1990s.
However, several political analysts believe Fujimori decided to withdraw now because of the pending case of Baruch Ivcher, an Israeli-born Peruvian immigrant who controlled a crusading television station here that embarrassed Fujimori's administration with its reporting. In 1997, Ivcher was forced into exile and has taken his case to the court.
Fujimori, whose reputation was enhanced when he ordered a dramatic rescue mission of hostages held by Marxist rebels at the Japanese ambassador's residence here in 1997, has been elected twice. But he has come to be defined as a "democratic dictator" for his heavy-handed manipulation of the judicial system--including the firing from a constitutional tribunal of three judges who refused his request to change the constitution to permit a third presidential term.
His intelligence service, headed by the shadowy Vladimiro Montesinos, has also been implicated in cases of torture and corruption.
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights was founded in 1979 and is headquartered in Costa Rica. It is very selective about which cases it handles and has dealt with only a handful from Peru--although some have been very high profile. Nations are not obliged to follow the court's decisions but are pressured to do so under agreements with the OAS.