Could convicted human rights abuser Alberto Fujimori remain free forever after recent prison release? 

By December 21, 2023

Lima, Peru — On December 6, Alberto Fujimori, Peru’s former president who was convicted of human rights violations in 2009, was released from prison early, sparking international backlash. 

Fujimori was convicted of homicide for his involvement in the Barrios Altos and La Cantuta massacres, as well as the kidnapping and forced detention of journalist Gustavo Gorriti and businessman Samuel Dyer.

This month, Peru’s Constitutional Court ruled 3 to 1 to grant Fujimori a “humanitarian pardon,” releasing the 85-year-old authoritarian leader 14 years into a 25-year sentence. (Two other members of the Court were reportedly not notified of the vote, according to Human Rights Watch). 

After the pardon, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR), which was established by the Organization of American States’ (OAS) 1969 American Convention on Human Rights to which Peru is a signatory, rejected the Constitutional Court’s decision, stating that it violated Peru’s international obligations and disregarded the orders issued by the IACHR.

The Constitutional Court argued that the international body has no authority to deprive national bodies of executing their rulings.

Read more: Peru’s Constitutional Court orders the immediate release of former President Alberto Fujimori

The Constitutional Court’s decision, and subsequent reaction from the international community, pose questions about Fujimori’s future as a free man, as well as the implications the decision may have for Peru on the international stage. 

Liberation of Alberto Fujimori. Image courtesy of ANDINA.

‘The inter-American human rights system has been violated’

Fujimori’s release violates international law, according to Ronal Hancco Lloclle, a constitutional law expert and professor at the National University of San Marcos (UNMSM) and the Technological University of Peru (UTP).

He told Peru Reports that “while the Supreme Court sentenced former President Fujimori for the crime of aggravated homicide, it is also true that it classified the acts as crimes against humanity (pages 617 to 624). 

“Therefore, under international law, through the judgments of the IACHR, it is prohibited to grant penitentiary benefits, amnesty, and pardon for these types of acts.” 

Hancco said, therefore, that granting a pardon to Fujimori “violates international law.”

He added that “by granting a pardon for a crime classified as a crime against humanity, the inter-American human rights system has been violated, as the victims see their rights violated since their perpetrator is not serving a sentence.”

The IACHR’s role 

According to Hancco, the actions of the IACHR “do not go beyond issuing resolutions” and if the resolutions aren’t complied with, this would be “communicated to the Organization of American States (OAS), which will take political action against the country.”

He said that the real consequences to Peru’s decision will reside in the actions the OAS decides to take against the country. “The consequences will be seen in Peru’s position as a member of the OAS, regarding nominations, positions in secretariats, joining economic and legal blocs, etc.,” said Hancco. 

Two other South American countries, Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuela, have denounced the American Convention on Human Rights before. 

Will Fujimori remain a free man for long? 

On December 12, Constitutional Court Judge Manuel Monteagudo requested that the Court annul the decision to free Fujimori, citing that not all of the six judges on the Court were consulted for the decision. 

According to Hancco, it is unlikely that the Constitutional Court will voluntarily reverse course on its own decision. Even though the legality of the Court’s decision has been called into question, Hancco doesn’t believe the body will change their decision. “Legally, it cannot do so; it will never admit to having made a mistake,” he said.

However, said Hancco, Judge Monteagudo’s request could come into play down the road when the IACHR reviews whether or not the Constitutional Court complied with international norms when issuing the decision to release Fujimori.  

“In this way, it will be demonstrated that the pardon is riddled with flaws … with which the IACHR, in addition to other legal reasons, has sufficient grounds to declare that the judgment issued by the [Constitutional Court] violates the human rights of the victims,” he said.

Whether or not Fujimori will return to prison will be influenced by the international pressure placed on Peru, and how the country decides to respond to it. 

According to Hancco, it is likely that the IACHR will determine that the Peruvian state failed to ensure the fulfillment of Fujimori’s sentence for his victims. 

“Once that happens,” he said, it remains to be seen “whether [Peru] will obey the mandate.”

Who is Alberto Fujimori?

Alberto Fujimori was president of Peru from 1990 to 2000. He was born on July 28, 1938, in Lima, Peru, and is of Japanese descent. His presidency was marked by a combination of economic measures, the fight against Peru’s leftist insurgency, and later, human rights violations and acts of corruption.

Fujimori was re-elected in 1995, but in 2000, amid a corruption scandal and accusations of human rights violations, he fled to Japan while on an official visit. From there, he submitted his resignation by fax.

He was arrested during a visit to Chile in 2005, and extradited to Peru two years later to face trial for his crimes. 

Fujimori’s 25-year prison sentence is mainly related to two emblematic cases:

Barrios Altos (1991):

• On November 3, 1991, a paramilitary group known as the Colina Group carried out a massacre in the Barrios Altos neighborhood in Lima. They killed 15 people, including a child, during a social gathering. The Colina Group was linked to Fujimori’s government, and the perpetrators were military and intelligence agents. Fujimori was accused of being responsible for this act.

La Cantuta (1992):

• On July 18, 1992, nine students and a professor from the National University Enrique Guzmán y Valle, known as La Cantuta, were kidnapped and murdered by the Colina Group. Again, these acts were attributed to Fujimori’s government.

In 2007, Fujimori was arrested in Chile and later extradited to Peru. In 2009, he was sentenced to 25 years in prison for human rights violations related to the Barrios Altos and La Cantuta cases. Additionally, he was convicted of corruption and other crimes during his government.