Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Peru's high-noon of democracy and rule of law?

Last week, in a less publicised event, a three judge panel of the Peruvian Supreme Court convicted former President Alberto Fujimori to 25 years in jail for human rights abuses, including the killing of 25 people by a military death squad and series of kidnappings and murders.

The charges against Mr Fujimori revolve around the counter-insurgency methods used by his government during his 10-year presidency, from 1990 to 2000, to successfully combat and eliminate the decades long insurgency by two Maoist guerrilla groups - the Shining Path Movement and the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement. The conviction marks the culmination of a fiteen month long trial, that climaxed with Alberto Fujimori becoming the first democratically elected President to be tried and convicted in his own state.

The poignancy in the outcome cannot be missed, and is an enduring dimension in the debate surrounding governance and rule of law when administering civil strife or terrorist militancy prone polities. On the one hand, the conviction is a triumph of judicial oversight and rule of law, a testimony to the strength of Peru's fledgling democracy and its institutions. One the other hand, one cannot but wonder whether Fujimori, who did more than anyone else to bring a corrupt, civil war and hyper-inflation prone Latin American backwater to today being one of the most democratic, politically stable, and economically vibrant countries in the region, deserved better.

The Fujimori verdict should spotlight attention on similar examples of well-documented and widely acknowledged instances of human rights violations in counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism operations by governments and their functionaries across the world, including in and by accomplished democracies. Are the institutions of democracy in these leaders of the free world not strong enough to bite the bullet? Or are the opinion-makers and the establishment in these countries living in a state of self-denial?

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