Advancing Judicial Reform in Peru: An Opportunity Lost?
Tom Pegram | Update 108. 31 March 2005
The task of modernising the judicial sector was high on the reform agenda that accompanied Peru's return to democracy in 2000. Yet achievement of judicial reform that addresses low public confidence in the judicial system, and, as outlined in the National Agreement of 2001, the need to strengthen Peruvian democracy, continues to prove elusive.
On 8 March 2005 the chair of the Parliamentary Commission for the National Plan for the Integral Reform of the Justice System, Congressman Fausto Alvarado, made a 'Declaration for Justice'. He reiterated his 'commitment to continuing the process of reform as laid out in the CERIAJUS plan'. The plan, published in June 2004 by the Special Commission for the Integral Reform of the Justice System (CERIAJUS), represents the most recent attempt to push forward the stalled process of judicial reform.
The manipulation and bribery of the Fujimori years, graphically illustrated in the 'Vladi videos' (where Vladimor Montesinos, Fujimori's Chief of Intellegence, filmed politicians receiving bribes), fuelled public discontent with a judiciary viewed as elite and corrupt. The task of building judicial reform was inherited by President Toledo following initial measures taken by the interim leader, Paniagua. But any enthusiasm for the job has dwindled, and judicial reform currently exists outside the perameters of political debate.
Now an opportunity to revive this debate risks being squandered. The CERIAJUS plan, negotiated with a wide array of governmental and civil society institutions, including the judiciary, is impressive in its scope. It offers a comprehensive diagnostic of the institution and a blueprint for reform. Yet the plan has been met with apparent disinterest on the part of the Executive and Congress - and outright hostility from traditionalist quarters within the judiciary who claim it is a politically motivated attempt to meddle in its internal affairs. This stalemate illustrates the dilemma at the heart of judicial reform in Peru today. Namely, in what manner is reform to be achieved? If the idea of external reform imposed upon the judiciary is politically unviable, given the recent negative experiences under Fujimori, then reform can only be achieved from within the institution itself. It is doubtful this will occur, however, in light of the response from the judiciary towards the CERIAJUS plan.
On 3 March the leader of Congress, Antero Flores-Araoz, signalled that judicial reforms were a priority. This is a welcome reprioritising of an issue largely neglected by Congress, but is unlikely to inspire new momentum towards meaningful reform. For many commentators in Peru, 2004 was a lost year, and the outlook for 2005 is fairly bleak. The most pressing concerns, including military court jurisdiction, increased judicial transparency and accountability, improving access to justice for low-income citizens and the implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's recommendations, persist.