Former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori’s 25-year prison sentence for severe human rights violations may be coming to a premature end as current President Ollanta Humala contemplates granting the Fujimori family’s petition for a humanitarian pardon on behalf of the ex-President due to his health status.
During his time in office from 1990 to 2000, Fujimori was lauded by some for his economic reforms and anti-terrorist stance that eventually crippled the “Shining Path,” a domestic terrorist organization. However, the Fujimori administration was also notorious for corruption, bribery, and human rights violations that ultimately led to the President’s imprisonment in 2009. The Peruvian population is divided between those who remember the former leader as moving the economy forward and eradicating domestic terrorism, and those who remember his authoritative rule that led to a self-imposed coup d’état, kidnapping, murders, and other human rights violations. On October 10, 2012, Fujimori’s family formally sent a request for a humanitarian pardon to President Ollanta Humala. The family cited tongue cancer and other health issues as a humanitarian justification for his release. Family members have requested that President Humala consider Fujimori’s medical condition in granting the pardon. The Peruvian Constitution grants the President the power to pardon and to reduce a prison sentence if the prisoner has a terminal illness. A panel of medical examiners assesses the prisoner and informs the President of its recommendation, but the President makes the final decision.
Despite this constitutional power, many Peruvian politicians have pointed to Law 26478 as an argument against the pardon. This law denies pardon of anyone found guilty of aggravated kidnapping, a crime for which Fujimori was convicted in 2009. Other politicians have remained open to the possibility of a pardon if doctors, after their thorough investigation, confirm that Fujimori’s illness is terminal. A recent poll has shown that seventy percent of the Peruvian public supports a move to house arrest or a pardon for the former president. While some senators and other allies of Fujimori continue to advocate for his release on medical grounds, Dr. Juan Postigo of the Instituto Nacional de Enfermedades Neoplásicas (National Cancer Institute) recently issued a statement declaring that Fujimori’s treatments have been ongoing for 12 years and he remains in stable condition.
The Peruvian Constitution acknowledges that a pardon must comply with the international treaties that Peru has ratified. Human Rights Watch has pointed out that Peru’s duty to prosecute violators of human rights cannot be undermined by amnesties, pardons, and other domestic provisions that grant immunity for these crimes.
Peru has ratified the American Convention on Human Rights, which is dedicated to protecting the rights of all citizens in the Western Hemisphere and is crucial in establishing the framework created domestically to determine the violations for which President Fujimori was convicted. The UN Human Rights Council, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR), and other international bodies of which Peru is a member have expressly condemned pardons for those who committed grave human rights violations. In Gutiérrez-Soler v. Colombia (2005), the IACtHR declared that “the State shall refrain from resorting to amnesty, pardon, and statute of limitations, and from enacting provisions to exclude liability, as well as measures aimed at preventing criminal prosecution or at voiding the effects of a conviction.” Similarly, in the Barrios Altos Case of 2001, the Court overturned Peru’s amnesty laws protecting all civilians and members of the State’s security forces who had been “accused, investigated, prosecuted or convicted, or who were carrying out prison sentences, for human rights violations” associated with the Barrios Altos massacre.
If the medical examiners determine that Fujimori’s cancer is terminal, President Humala faces the difficult task of reconciling the powers given to him by the Peruvian Constitution to pardon a criminal due to terminal illness with the international legal restrictions that prohibit a pardon for violators of human rights in nearly all instances. Reducing the prison sentence for a violator of human rights for reasons outside of the “humanitarian” sphere would have deep implications for the relationship between Peru and the Inter-American Court, whose decisions are binding on the country. For now, the decision rests solely with President Humala and while some remain optimistic of a pardon, the domestic and international legal parameters are leaning toward President Alberto Fujimori completing his prison sentence.