Chile OKs extradition of Fujimori

The Baltimore Sun

SANTIAGO, Chile -- Chile's Supreme Court approved yesterday the extradition of Peru's former president, Alberto K. Fujimori, on charges of human rights abuses and corruption related to his time in power during the 1990s.

The ruling, which cannot be appealed, could set an important international precedent for extradition cases of former heads of state wanted for atrocities, according to human rights advocates.

After the ruling, Fujimori, 69, could be transported to Peru as early as next week, Chilean government officials said.

"It was easier than expected to get to this point," said Justice Alberto Chaigneau, who announced the ruling, pointing to the court's unanimous decision on the human rights charges.

Those charges were related to the activities of the Colina Group, a secretive squad of military intelligence officers believed to have carried out more than two dozen extrajudicial killings in the early 1990s. Massacres carried out by the squad resulted in the deaths of 25 people in 1991 and 1992.

Fujimori, who was president of Peru from 1990 to 2000, has denied the charges against him, despite videotaped evidence of the death squad's operational head saying Fujimori specifically approved policy creating the group.

After faxing his presidential resignation from Tokyo in 2000, he received citizenship from Japan, from which his parents had emigrated to Peru.

In 2005, Fujimori unexpectedly ended a self-imposed exile in Japan and traveled to Chile, apparently intending to return to Peru and try for a political comeback. But he was arrested soon after he arrived, and Peru quickly sought extradition.

The attempt to extradite him has been closely followed in Peru, where he remains a highly polarizing political figure, and by international human rights advocates.

Chile's Supreme Court had been reviewing the case since July, when a single Supreme Court judge ruled against extraditing Fujimori.

Under Chilean law, the case was appealed to the full court. The court said last week that it had reached a decision, but it delayed revealing its ruling until after a national holiday that ended on Wednesday.

Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director for Human Rights Watch, said the ruling fit within an international trend that started when the British House of Lords ruled that former Chilean dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet could be extradited to Spain to face charges of torture.

Former heads of state have been turned over to international tribunals in two other cases in recent years. Serbia delivered Slobodan Milosevic to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, and Nigeria handed over Charles Taylor, the former dictator of Liberia, to face trial by the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

But the Chilean decision stands in contrast to these cases because it was a domestic court and not the executive branch in negotiation with other governments that ruled to extradite a former head of state. The Supreme Court here was acting on an extradition request filed by Peruvian government prosecutors.

The decision also holds significance for Chile's judicial institutions, given the court's previous hesitance to grant extradition of a Nazi war criminal and the perception that the court lacked independence during and after the dictatorship of Pinochet, who presided over a history of human rights abuses.

"This is a significant historical decision for both Chile and Peru," Vivanco, the Human Rights Watch official, said. "It involves the workings of domestic institutions, not political negotiations between governments."

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