Peru | Freedom House

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Freedom in the World 2010

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In April 2009, former president Alberto Fujimori was sentenced to 25 years in prison for severe human rights violations committed during his authoritarian rule. A trend toward increasing social conflict continued during the year, as illustrated by a June incident in which at least 23 police officers and 10 protesters were killed following a months-long standoff over land rights.

Since achieving independence from Spain in 1821, Peru has experienced alternating periods of civilian and military rule. Civilians have held office since a 12-year dictatorship ended in 1980. However, that year, a Maoist guerrilla group known as the Shining Path launched a vicious two-decade insurgency.
Alberto Fujimori, a university rector and engineer, was elected president in 1990. In 1992, backed by the military, he suspended the constitution, took over the judiciary, and dissolved the Congress. A new constitution featuring a stronger presidency and a unicameral Congress was approved in a state-controlled 1993 referendum following the capture of Shining Path leader Abimael Guzman. Congress passed a law in 1996 that allowed Fujimori to run for a third term, despite a constitutional two-term limit.
According to official results, Fujimori outpolled Alejandro Toledo—a U.S.-educated economist who had been raised in one of Peru’s urban squatter settlements—in the first round of the 2000 presidential election. Toledo boycotted the runoff, pointing to widespread doubts about the first-round vote count and a campaign of smears, threats, and assaults by Fujimori supporters linked to the government.
Beginning in September 2000, a series of videotapes emerged showing intelligence chief Vladimiro Montesinos bribing opposition congressmen and other figures. As a result, in late November, opposition forces assumed control of Congress, Fujimori fled to Japan and resigned, and respected opposition leader Valentin Paniagua was chosen as interim president.
Toledo’s Peru Posible party led the April 2001 congressional elections with 25 percent of the vote, and he bested former president Alan Garcia (1985–90) in a runoff presidential election in June. A 2002 decentralization process gave new regional governments almost a quarter of the national budget and a range of powers that had long been concentrated in the capital.
In August 2003, Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CVR) reported that the Shining Path was the “principal perpetrator” of human rights abuses during the 1980–2000 civil conflict, but it also accused security forces of serious and repeated atrocities. The report more than doubled the estimated death toll; of the 69,000 killed, nearly three-fourths were residents of poor highland villages.
In June 2004, a special anticorruption court convicted Montesinos in the first of many cases against him, sentencing him to 15 years in prison. Fujimori, who remained in Japan, declared in September that he would run for president in 2006, despite being banned from holding office until 2011. In November 2005 he flew to Chile, where he was immediately detained as Peru requested his extradition.
Ollanta Humala of the Peruvian Nationalist Party (PNP) won the first round of the presidential election in April 2006, with Garcia placing second. The PNP, allied with the Union for Peru (UPP) party, led the congressional elections with 45 seats, followed by Garcia’s Peruvian Aprista Party (APRA) with 36 and the right-wing National Unity party with 17. The pro-Fujimori Alliance for the Future party won 13 seats. Although 15 of Peru’s 24 regions voted for Humala in the June presidential runoff, Garcia garnered overwhelming support in Lima and won with 52.5 percent of the vote. In November regional elections, locally based independent candidates won in the vast majority of races.
Once in office, Garcia focused on macroeconomic growth and stability. In December 2006 he signed a controversial law requiring nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to register with a state agency and detail their funding sources or face fines or suspension. The Constitutional Court in September 2007 struck down key provisions of the law, but NGOs continued to face harassment and hostility from the government.
Fujimori was extradited from Chile in September 2007, and in December he was sentenced to seven years in prison for ordering an illegal search of the home of Montesinos’s wife in 2000. Also in December, Fujimori began a lengthy trial for murder and other more serious charges. The proceedings were initially disrupted by his supporters, but in April 2009 he was sentenced to 25 years in prison for overseeing death-squad killings and several kidnappings. International observers and local rights groups characterized the trial as fair and transparent, and hailed the verdict as an unprecedented example of a democratically elected leader convicted of human rights violations in his home country. Fujimori also pleaded guilty to corruption charges in September. However, as the year progressed, rights groups expressed disappointment that the Fujimori trial had failed to create momentum in other cases involving rights violations, and that in fact the number of acquittals increased, including in cases where the prosecution’s evidence appeared preponderant.
According to the national ombudsman’s office, social conflict, often involving protests driven by local grievances, reached a peak of 288 active and latent disputesin September 2009 before declining to 260 at the end of the year. The largest share involved environmental issues. Analysts observed that the government’s approach generally relied on reaction rather than mediation and early intervention.
The year’s most serious case of social conflict stemmed from a packet of decree laws issued in June 2008. Indigenous groups in Bagua province said the measures would violate their land rights and lead to environmental degradation, and argued that the government had failed to consult with locals before issuing the decrees as required by law. Two of the decrees were quickly rescinded, but several more remained in force, and Congress failed to meet its own deadlines for reviewing them. Meanwhile, the government resorted to harsh rhetoric, including the accusation that foreign interests were behind the dispute, and vowed to use force against indigenous protesters if necessary.

In June 2009, the government mounted an operation to break up a highway roadblock established by the protesters, resulting in violence at two sites that left 10 protesters and 23 police officers dead, with one other policeman missing. Over 200 people, mainly protesters, were injured, including more than 80 with gunshot wounds. Within two weeks the disputed decrees were rescinded, and the government acknowledged its failure to consult with locals, but it maintained its claim—eventually discredited—that outside agitators were responsible for raising tensions. At year’s end, multiple investigations into the deaths were ongoing. A commission appointed to produce an official report on the incident was unable to reach a consensus; a version backed by only four of the seven members blamed nonindigenous groups for radicalizing the protests and faulted the government merely for communication failures rather than what domestic and international rights groups described as a fundamentally misguided and inhumane strategy.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Peru is an electoral democracy. Elections in 2006 were generally free and fair, according to international observers. Complaints focused on poor logistics and information distribution in rural areas, as well as the disenfranchisement of the roughly one million Peruvians who lacked identification documents.
The president and the 120-member, unicameral Congress are elected for five-year terms. Congressional balloting employs an open-list, region-based system of proportional representation. A measure introduced in 2006 required parties to garner at least 4 percent of the total vote to win seats. Checks on campaign financing are weak, particularly at the local level.
A lack of programmatic coherence and occasional party-switching by politicians have discredited political parties in the eyes of voters, reinforcing a broader trend toward political fragmentation.
Corruption is a serious problem. Public officials and judges are often dismissed or prosecuted for graft, but in 2009, 20 percent of Peruvians reported that they or a family member had paid a bribe in the previous year. In October 2008, evidence of favoritism in the awarding of oil exploration blocks triggered a major corruption scandal, dubbed Petrogate, that led to the resignation of Prime Minister Jorge del Castillo. The evidence, which consisted largely of illegally recorded telephone conversations, suggested a broader pattern of improper deals between officials and private interests. Investigations continued at a slow pace in 2009, with the focus shifting from the alleged corruption to the illegal recordings themselves. Meanwhile, a wave of graft scandals in Congress affected scores of legislators, further tarnishing the institution’s credibility and prompting calls for structural reforms including midterm elections. Peru was ranked 75 out of 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index.
The lively press is for the most part privately owned. Journalists are at times intimidated and even attacked by officials and private actors angered by negative coverage. Low pay leaves reporters susceptible to bribery, and media outlets remain dependent on advertising by large retailers. Following the June 2009 clashes in Bagua, the government closed the radio station La Voz de Bagua, accusing it of inciting violence. Media watchdog groups condemned the move as censorship. In December 2009, President Alan Garcia stirred controversy by pardoning former television station owner Jose E. Crousillat, who had been serving a prison term for selling his station’s editorial line to Vladimiro Montesinos.The government does not limit access to the internet.
The constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the government generally respects it in practice. However, the Roman Catholic Church receives preferential treatment from the state. The government does not restrict academic freedom.
The constitution provides for the right of peaceful assembly, and the authorities uphold this right for the most part. However, in 2007 the executive branch issued decrees that limited police responsibility in the event of injury or death during demonstrations. Freedom of association is also generally respected, but Garcia and other APRA leaders allege that NGOs hinder economic development and lack transparency. Antimining activists have faced questionable legal charges in recent years, and NGOs accuse the government’s international cooperation agency of selective investigation. Several prominent activists faced harassment in 2009, including lawyer Carlos Rivera, who was temporarily arrested on a years-old charge, and former CVR head Salomon Lerner, who received death threats following his efforts to create a Museum of Memory to honor victims of the internal conflict.
Peruvian law recognizes the right of workers to organize and bargain collectively. Although workers exercise the right to strike, they must notify the Ministry of Labor in advance, with the result that nearly all strikes are categorized as illegal.Less than 10 percent of the formal-sector workforce is unionized, reflecting a legacy of free-market reforms and antiunion hostility by the Alberto Fujimori regime. Parallel unionism and criminal infiltration of the construction sector in Lima led to several murders in 2009.
The judiciary is widely distrusted and prone to corruption scandals. The Constitutional Court, once seen as independent, has been accused of favoring the government in recent years; civic groups criticized its December 2009 decision to close a corruption case against a former army general based on a procedural violation. A 2008 Judicial Career Law improved the entry, promotion, and evaluation system for judges, and the judiciary’s internal disciplinary body has been highly active in recent years. Access to justice, particularly for poor Peruvians, remains problematic.
An estimated 70 percent of inmates are in pretrial detention, and as of November 2009 the inmate population had reached nearly 200 percent of the system’s intended capacity. Since 2006, an adversarial justice system has been gradually introduced with the hope that it will speed up and ensure greater fairness in judicial proceedings.
In 2009, journalists and civic leaders denounced over 45 cases of extrajudicial killings of presumed criminals by policein Trujillo. The military has improved its human rights training, but it continues to stall on providing information to investigators regarding past violations. The Garcia government has not prioritized justice for cases of human rights abuses by state actors during the 1980s and 1990s. In 2006 it initiated a policy to provide legal defense to all state agents accused of human rights violations, even though many victims lack legal representation; rights advocates in 2009 complained of delays in the disbursement of funds to the Council of Reparations.
Remnants of the Shining Path, whose ideological motivations are increasingly fused with the economic incentives of the cocaine industry, continue to carry out attacks against security forces in the Apurimac-Ene River Valley (VRAE) zone. Citizens there have reported cases of abuse by the military. Meanwhile, the government’s anticoca efforts and alternative-crop programs in other regions failed to halt overall increases in coca production in 2009.
Discrimination against the indigenous population remains pervasive, and the government’s calls to step up exploitation of natural resources have raised indigenous groups’ concerns about the environmental effects of mining, logging, and hydrocarbons exploration.

In recent years, women have advanced into leadership roles in various companies and government agencies. Although legal protections have improved, domestic violence is epidemic, with over half of Peruvian women reporting instances of physical or emotional abuse. Forced labor, including child labor, persists in the gold-mining region of the Amazon.