Step backwards on torture in Peru
15 March 2015
Following lengthy delays in ratifying the Peruvian Ombudsman’s Office as the ‘National Preventive Mechanism’ (NPM) against the use of torture, the Humala government has now refused to enact the necessary legislation to enable this to happen.
The official pretext for this was that the resources required had not been factored into the 2015 public sector budget. However, this was refuted by both domestic and international human rights observers. Rather, it appears that political sensitivities surrounding the use of torture have once again intervened to prevent Peru setting up a robust monitoring and prevention mechanism on the use of torture.
Torture and its use
Torture is banned under numerous national and international human rights instruments. It represents one of the most serious and widespread violations of human rights in Peru today. The use of torture has deep roots in Peruvian history, but it became routine practice during the internal armed conflict between 1980 and 2000 as a way of extracting information from detainees. This was documented fully by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).
With the return to democracy in 2000 came a process of significant institutional renovation. However, even today, 15 years after the end of the war, torture is still practiced in police stations against alleged common criminals, in response to bouts of social protest, as punishment for sentenced prisoners or those awaiting trial, and as a form of discipline to youngsters serving voluntary military service (who are often only just over the legal adult age).
Social conflict has become a particular flashpoint in recent times in this respect. The use of torture and arbitrary detention in response to bouts of conflict has reportedly become far more widespread since President Ollanta Humala took office in 2011. Excessive force is often used by the police and army, particularly when ‘states of emergency’ are in place constraining civil rights.
The Ombudsman’s role
A bright spot of functionality within Peru’s flawed domestic human rights framework has been the office of the Human Rights Ombudsman, which recently was officially designated as the NPM under the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (CAT).
The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment (to give it its full name) came into force in Peru in 1988. It governs the international duties of signatory states and declares that all states have a commitment to prevent torture and to investigate claims or complaints about its use.
The Optional Protocol to the CAT was approved by the Peruvian Congress in July 2006. This obliged signatory states to create an NPM for torture within one year of ratification; in Peru’s case this would have been by 14 October 2007. However, the process was beset by political wrangling and lengthy delays.
The Peruvian Ombudsman’s Office was finally designated as the NPM in December 2014, following sustained pressure by civil society organisations and the international community. However, in a surprising development, the Humala administration decided early this month to terminate the enactment of the law.
There has been a good deal of speculation in human rights circles about why the government decided to prevent the Ombudsman assuming this role. Whatever the reasons, it is a significant setback to ending the use of torture in Peru.