The Judiciary

Peru Table of Contents

The Supreme Court of Justice was the highest judicial authority in the nation. The twelve Supreme Court justices were nominated by the president and served for life. The nominations had to be approved by the Senate. The Supreme Court of Justice was also responsible for drawing up the budget for the judiciary, which was then submitted to the executive. The budget could be no less than 2 percent of the government's expenditures. Under the Supreme Court of Justice were the Superior Courts, which were seated in the capitals of judicial districts; the Courts of First Instance, which sat in provincial capitals and were divided into civil, criminal, and special branches; and the justices of the peace in all local centers.

Several other judicial functions are worthy of note. The public prosecutor's office was appointed by the president and was responsible for overseeing the independence of judges and the administration of justice, representing the community at trials, and defending people before the public administration. Public attorneys, who are also appointed by the president, defend the interests of the state. The office of the Public Ministry was made up of the attorney general and attorneys before the Supreme Court of Justice, Superior Courts, and the Courts of First Instance. Public attorneys defended the rights of citizens in the public interest against encroachment by public officials.

The National Elections Board established voting laws, registered parties and their candidates, and supervised elections. It also had the power to void elections if the electoral procedures were invalid. The six-member board was composed of one person elected by the Supreme Court of Justice, one by the Bar of Lima, one by the law faculty deans of the national universities, and three Peru's regional boards.

Although in theory the judicial system was independent and guaranteed at least minimal operating financial support, in practice this was far from the case. The system had been hampered by scarce resources, a tradition of executive manipulation, and inadequate protection of officials in the face of threats from insurgents and drug traffickers. Even without the existence of guerrilla movements, the system was inadequately staffed to deal with the number of cases from criminal violations. It was not uncommon for detainees to spend several years in prison awaiting a hearing. In addition, in the emergency zones, where guerrillas were operating, security forces have had virtual carte blanche in the areas of interrogation and detention, and suspects often have been held incommunicado. Imprisoned suspects awaiting trial have subsisted in medieval conditions. In 1990 the Ministry of Justice recorded 60 deaths from starvation and a backlog over several years of 50,000 unheard cases.

The executive branch traditionally manipulated the judiciary for its own purposes, using its ability to appoint and remove certain judges for its own political ends. For example, when a Superior Court judge ruled that President García's nationalization of Peru's banks was unconstitutional, García merely replaced him with a judge from his party, the American Popular Revolutionary Alliance (Alianza Popular Revolucionaria Americana--APRA), who then ruled in his favor.

It also was common for known terrorists or drug traffickers to be released for "insufficient evidence" by judges with no protection whatsoever but with responsibility for trying those suspected of terrorism. Largely because of corruption or inefficiency in the system, only 5 percent of those detained for terrorism had been sentenced by 1991. Those responsible for administering justice were under threat from all sides of the political spectrum: guerrilla movements, drug traffickers, and military-linked paramilitary squads. Notable cases included the murder of the defense attorney for the SL's number two man, Osmán Morote Barrionuevo, by an APRA-linked death squad, the Rodrigo Franco Command; the self-exile of a public attorney after repeated death threats during his investigation of the military's role in the massacre of at least twenty-nine peasants in Cayara, Ayacucho Department, on May 14, 1988; a bloody letter-bomb explosion at the headquarters of the Lima-based Pro-Human Rights Association (Asociación Pro-Derechos Humanos--Aprodeh); and the March 1991 resignation of an attorney general of the military court martial, after he received death threats for denouncing police aid and abetment of the rescue by the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (Movimiento Revolucionario Túpac Amaru-- MRTA) of one of its leaders, María Lucero Cumpa Miranda. The judicial terrorism was hardly surprising, given the lack of protection for judges dealing with terrorism cases; many of them normally rode the bus daily to work, totally unprotected. Finally, owing to neglect of the judicial system by successive governments, the Supreme Court of Justice lacked a significant presence at the national level.

In the context of widespread terrorism, what was legal in theory and what happened in practice had little to do with each other. As the situation increasingly became one of unrestrained violence, the capability of the judicial system to monitor the course of events was reduced markedly. In addition, the judicial system was unable to escape the loss of confidence in state institutions in general that had occurred among the Peruvian public. The discrediting of the judicial system was a significant step toward the total erosion of constitutional order.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress