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Attorneys File Briefs for Peruvian POW's

By Paul Wright

On October 5, 1993, National Lawyers Guild (NLG) president Peter Erlinder and attorney Leonard Weinglass filed petitions with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on behalf of Abimael Guzman, the imprisoned chairman of the Communist Party of Peru (PCP) and several hundred PCP prisoners of war. The petition was originally filed in the human rights court by attorneys in Lima, Peru. Erlinder and Weinglass were requested to serve as co-counsel in the case.

The Lima attorneys filed three petitions which were later consolidated into one case. The issues being presented to the court are: 1) events occurring during and after the arrest of Dr. Guzman and other members of the PCP's central committee on September 12, 1992, where Dr. Guzman was publicly displayed in a cage in a striped suit. All the prisoners were denied the right to present a defense, they were tried by an anonymous, hooded tribunal of military judges with no civilian witnesses. The "trial's" verdict was announced by the president of Peru, Alberto Fujimori, before it even began. It also charges that arbitrary sentences of life without parole were imposed and the denial of health care, legal counsel, visitation and reading materials while confined. The prisoners are held completely isolated in solitary confinement without access to counsel, medical care, family or any outside observer such as the Red Cross. 2) The petition charges the government of Peru with violating the POWs' rights by subjecting them to mass genocide, beatings, rape, torture and confining them in subhuman conditions which will eventually kill them, i.e. the denial of adequate food, medical treatment and clothing appropriate for the weather. 3) This petition concerns the attacks on the attorneys who defend people accused of political crimes. For example, Dr. Guzman's attorney, Dr. Alfredo Crespo, was himself arrested, charged with treason, convicted and sentenced to life without parole for attempting to represent Dr. Guzman! Many other attorneys have been imprisoned for defending clients accused of political crimes and still others have been murdered, kidnapped, tortured and "disappeared" by government security forces for having political clients.

The chilling effect this has on attorneys willing to represent defendants accused of political crimes is obvious. More so when one considers that in a small, underdeveloped country like Peru there are relatively few attorneys compared to the industrialized nations. It is a tribute to the dedication and bravery of individual attorneys, many of whom are members of the Association of Democratic Lawyers, that political defendants have counsel and that this petition was filed at all.

As relief, the attorneys request that the Commission adopt measures to protect the life and well-being of Dr. Guzman and the other POWs. This includes that the POWs conditions of confinement meet the minimum required standard set by the Geneva Convention and the United Nations for the treatment of captured combatants. Including inspections by international humanitarian groups and such.

Erlinder and Weinglass recently returned from Peru along with other attorneys assisting on the case. They were denied permission by the Peruvian government to meet with Dr. Guzman or any other POW, including the imprisoned attorneys . The international delegation that accompanied the attorneys issued a statement denouncing the human rights abuses occurring in Peru and the fact that their clients, Dr. Guzman and the POW's, had been denied the right to meet with their counsel or even communicate with counsel.

The legal project to assist the Peruvian POW's needs financial help as well as letters to be sent to the Human Rights Commission. The attorneys are generously donating their time but other expenses associated with international human rights litigation such as this, i.e. travel, phone, translations, mail, copying, etc., are enormous.

Readers are encouraged to write the Commission and ask that they rule in favor of the POWs and seek standards of confinement comporting with minimal international standards for the POW's. Be sure to include the case number which is 11.015. Letters should be sent to:
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
Organization of American States
Washington D.C. 20006 USA

Recent copies of the IEC Bulletin have carried interviews with former PCP POWs as well as interviews with the family of Dr. Crespo and the other imprisoned lawyers. If you would like more information on the legal and political campaign to defend Dr. Guzman and the many other PCP POWs please contact:
International Emergency Committee
27 Old Gloucester St.
London, WC1N 3XX, England

The committee has a variety of materials and information on the campaign available, including the legal briefs filed. Also available are booklets on the campaign, videos, a regular bulletin, T-Shirts, buttons, etc.

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