Presumed Guilty, Many Live in Legal Limbo
Rofino Roque will never forget the day his troubles began. During the years of internal war between the Shining Path leftist guerrilla group and Peru's military from 1980 to 1992, his rural Andean town was caught in the cross-fire.Skip to next paragraph
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"The Shining Path came one day and they asked me to give them what they call 'collaboration,' " Mr. Roque says. He refused their request of a sheep and left town in fear. Upon his return, neighbors said the guerrillas had been looking for him.
"They wanted to kill me because I couldn't be trusted; [they thought] that I was a snitch. So when they came back, I gave them the ram.. . . They came to my house a few more times. But I never had anything to do with them afterward. Never."
Nearly six years since the threat of the Shining Path subsided, Peru is well on track toward peace. But for Roque, and others, the fear continues. This time, however, it is the law he fears.
As a result of his "collaboration," Roque is one of 5,000 to 8,000 people on a wanted list for terrorism. While some are guilty of crimes, many are like Roque. In some regions of Peru where the Shining Path was most active, entire communities are on these lists. According to human rights lawyers, innocent people have spent as much as a year in jail waiting to be cleared of charges.
As a result, these people live in a legal limbo, in a state of semi-liberty. With collars up and hats pulled down low, they walk close to walls in the shadows of overhanging roofs and avoid the glances of passersby. They take back-alley routes from the mountains into town and don't stay long. They travel with fake documents, or simply don't travel. They are caught in a cycle of paying bribes to unscrupulous police officers to avoid being hauled into jail.
"There are people who had to leave their homes because of the violence, and now they want they want to return . . . but they don't because they are afraid of being caught," says Gloria Cano, a human rights lawyer.
SINCE there is no public, uniform list, many people don't even know they are wanted. "We know of two cases of people ... who . . . returned to their homes as a part of the official government's resettlement program and as soon as they got there, they were arrested by the police. If the government really wants to achieve peace . . . then this problem has to be resolved," Ms. Cano adds.
Peru has set up a pardon commission to review cases of possibly innocent people serving time on terrorism charges, but "the commission has taken the decision not to look at the cases of the people on the wanted lists until we deal with reviewing the cases of jailed innocents," says Gino Costa, a director of the pardon commission. "Having innocent people wanted for terrorism is a serious problem, but it's less serious than having innocent people in prison."
The commission is studying the wanted lists and will report to the government at year's end. Determining exactly how many people are on the lists is a first concern. According to Eduardo Vega, who is heading the study, the commission wants to propose a universal solution rather than examining each case - something that could take years.
Mr. Vega cautions against granting amnesty to everyone on the lists, as many of these people are guilty. One option would be to establish a legal mechanism by which judges can review and possibly dismiss these cases without having to arrest the suspects and formally try them.
Until there is a resolution, people like Roque will continue to walk in the shadows and miss the town's fiestas, market days, and bull fights. "I don't know what I'm supposed to do anymore," he says. "This has to be resolved. How much longer am I supposed to go on being wanted?"