Barrios Altos massacre

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The Barrios Altos massacre took place on 3 November 1991, in the Barrios Altos neighborhood of Lima, Peru. Fifteen people, including an eight-year-old child, were killed, and four more injured, by assailants who were later determined to be members of Grupo Colina, a death squad made up of members of the Peruvian Armed Forces. The victims were partygoers, mistaken for Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso) rebels, a Maoist organization.

The murders became a symbol of the human rights violations committed during the presidency of Alberto Fujimori (28 July 28 1990 – 22 November 2000). The case was taken to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. In August 2001, in conformance with the judgment of the Inter-American Court, the Peruvian government agreed to pay $3.3 million in compensation to the victims and families.[1] The case was also part of the material reviewed by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (Peru) after the fall of the Fujimori government in 2000.

The Barrios Altos massacre was one of the crimes for which Fujimori was extradited from Chile to Peru on 20 September 2007. The killings at Barrios Altos were cited in the request for his extradition submitted by the Peruvian government to Japan in 2003.

Background[edit]

Peru had been struggling to control the rebellion by the group known as Shining Path. For more than a decade, they had committed acts of terrorism against government officials, community leaders and innocent bystanders: assassinations, car bombings and other violence.

Massacre[edit]

On the evening of 3 November 1991, a neighborhood barbecue was being held at 840 Jirón Huanta to collect funds to repair the building. People from the community were gathered on the first floor. At approximately 23:30, six heavily armed individuals burst into the building. They had arrived in two vehicles, found to have been stolen. These were said to be equipped with police lights and sirens, which were turned off when they reached the location.

The assailants, who were said to range from 25 to 30 years of age, had their faces covered with balaclava masks and ordered the victims to lie on the floor. They fired at them for about two minutes, killing 15, including an eight year-old boy, and seriously wounding another four. One of the injured was permanently disabled. The assailants quickly fled in their vehicles, sounding their sirens as they left.

During their investigation, the police found 111 cartridges and 33 bullets of the same caliber at the scene. They determined the assailants had used sub-machine guns equipped with silencers.

Aftermath[edit]

Judicial investigations and newspaper reports revealed that those involved worked for military intelligence; they were members of the Grupo Colina, which was known for conducting an anti-terrorist program including direct attacks on suspects. The assailants appeared to have intended to attack a meeting of Shining Path rebels, which was being held at the same time on the second floor of the same building.

Several weeks later, Congress convened an investigation committee to look into the massacre. In December, the Committee conducted an inspection of the building where the events took place, interviewed four people and performed other tasks. It was unable to complete its investigation, because of Fujimori's "palace coup" on 5 April 5 1992, in which he dissolved Congress. The Democratic Constitutional Congress elected in its place in November 1992 did not take up the investigation again nor publish the senatorial committee's preliminary findings.

Amnesty[edit]

Judicial authorities were unable to launch a serious investigation of the incident until April 1995, at which time the military courts responded by filing a petition before the Supreme Court for jurisdiction over the case. Before the Court ruled on the petition, the case was effectively closed by Congress' passage of law No. 26479, which granted a general amnesty to all those members of the security forces and civilians who were the subject of a complaint, investigation, indictment, trial or conviction, or who were serving prison sentences, for human rights violations committed after May 1980.

Prior to the amnesty law being passed, investigations had revealed compromising information. In May 1993, and again in January 1995, some officers from the Peruvian army stated publicly that members of Grupo Colina were responsible for the Barrios Altos massacre. The officers also stated that the head of the Joint Command of the Armed Forces and of the National Intelligence Service (SIN) had full knowledge of the massacre.

Inter-American Court of Human Rights[edit]

Advocates, survivors and victims' relatives filed a suit in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights against the Peruvian government for violation of human rights. Established in 1979 by the Organization of American States (OAS), the court made its judgment of 14 March 2001, finding that the government was in the wrong and ordering compensation be paid to the victims. Because the Peruvian government underwent a change in administration that year, the court agreed to postpone signing the settlement agreement until a new government was elected and had taken office.[2][3]

Case reopened[edit]

After the fall of the Fujimori government in 2000, Congress repealed the Amnesty Law. The Barrios Altos case was reopened, and a number of suspects were taken into legal custody. On 21 March 2001, the Peruvian Attorney General Nelly Calderón presented charges against Fujimori in Congress, accusing him of being a "co-author" of the massacre. She presented evidence that Fujimori, acting in concert with Vladimiro Montesinos, head of the SIN, exercised control over Grupo Colina. The charges allege that the group could not have committed crimes of this magnitude without Fujimori's express orders or consent, and that the formation and functioning of the Colina group was part of an overall counter-insurgency policy that involved systematic violations of human rights. According to the report, Fujimori went to SIN headquarters to celebrate with intelligence officers after the massacre took place.[4][5]

As a result of the August 2001 ruling of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights of the OAS, which had heard the case, the government of Peru agreed to pay USD $3.3 million in compensation to the four survivors and the relatives of the fifteen people murdered. It waited until the new government had been elected to sign the ruling later that year.

On 13 September 2001, Supreme Court Justice José Luis Lecaros issued an international warrant to Interpol for the arrest of Fujimori, then living in Japan. In August 2003, the Peruvian government submitted a request for the extradition of Fujimori from Japan; among the crimes it cited was the Barrios Altos massacre.[6] Initially Japan had resisted extradition because Fujimori's parents had emigrated to Peru from Japan and it considered him a national of Japan. Its laws prohibited extradition of nationals; in addition, Japan and Peru did not then have an extradition agreement. Peru finally gained his extradition when Fujimori traveled to Chile. He was tried and convicted for his role in the massacre.

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