The former president of Peru, Alberto Fujimori, was sentenced last Tuesday to 25 years in prison for the deaths of 25 people. The trial lasted for fifteen months but did not get much press in the US. During Fujimori’s administration governement forces fought a brutal battle against the leftist group Tupac Amaru and Maoist Shining Path insurgencies. Atrocities were committed on both sides. Fujimori’s government is generally credited with bring economic stability back to Peru. However, during the course of the struggle 70,000 Peruvians were killed or disappeared. The case against Fujimori involved the killing of 25 civilians in two different attacks by “La Colina” a military death squad. He was also charged with the kidnapping of two journalists. During the course of the trial Fujimori repeatedly stated he was innocent because he did not order the deaths of anyone. He was clearly more defiant in the earlier stages of the trial, not acknowledging any human rights abuses. As the trial wound up, he took the stand in his own defense and acknowledged that some human rights abuses had occurred and that he was sorry for them but did not order them. He implored the court to remember that he bought peace and stability to 22 million Peruvians.

The people in Peru are split as to whether he should have been convicted. The relatives of the disappeared and killed pressed for his conviction while others hail him as a hero, including his daughter who is a possible presidential candidate for 2011.

Of course, in law, one can be guilty of a murder, even if they did not order it themselves. Fujimori had a responsibility as head of the state to prevent his army from abusing, killing and torturing civilians. If he did not actually order the killings, he should have punished offenders when it became known that the killings were occurring. His failure or unwillingness to do so, exposed him to criminal liability. If the Fujimori conviction withstands the appeal process, it will be a milestone, a signal to heads of states. One cannot use any and all tactics to fight insurgents. The rules of war fare apply even when the fight is a protracted one. We are living in interesting times, a former head of state found guilty of atrocities committed under his watch, a second on trial (Charles Taylor, former President of Liberia), and a sitting head of state under indictment for similar kinds of crimes. Perhaps these cases signal a real shift in the world’s acceptance of impunity for crimes committed against civilians. Now that would be revolutionary!!

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