Lori Berenson Released from Peruvian Prison Six Years after Sentence Upheld by Inter-American Court

American citizen Lori Berenson has been paroled from Peruvian prison for the remaining five years of her 20-year sentence, stirring the animosity of those who believe she participated in terrorist activity during Peru’s decades-long struggle between government forces and militant leftist groups. [El Pais, Reuters]  After being arrested in 1995, she was convicted—first before the discredited Peruvian military tribunals and later in a civilian court—of belonging to a terrorist organization, namely the leftist rebel group Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement. Berenson has maintained that she neither planned nor engaged in acts of violence and was unaware of her associates’ militant connections.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and Inter-American Court of Human Rights have both heard Lori Berenson’s case, along with those of many others convicted of terrorism charges in Peru in the 1990s (for example, see the Court’s decision in Loayza-Tamayo v. Peru).  In its 1998 admissibility report, the IACHR held it was competent to hear Berenson’s complaint (presented earlier that year) based on her allegation that, during the military proceedings, she had not been informed of the charges against her and could not challenge or cross-examine witnesses or produce evidence, before being convicted of treason and sentenced to life imprisonment by a faceless military court.

As the proceedings before the Inter-American system developed, so did Berenson’s case at the domestic level.  Her first conviction was annulled in 2000 and she was retried by a civilian court, found guilty of terrorism and sentenced to twenty years’ imprisonment.  Later, the Fujimori-era anti-terrorism legislation was declared unconstitutional in 2003 by the Peruvian Supreme Court.  In its 2004 decision in Berenson’s case (Case of Lori Berenson-Mejía v. Peru), the Inter-American Court found Peru internationally responsible for violations of the rights protected by articles 5 (humane treatment) and 8 (due process and fair trial rights) based on the conditions of detention and due process violations in the military proceedings.  However, the Court held that violations of articles 8 and 9 (ex post facto punishment) had not been shown with regard to the civilian proceedings.

Read Chapter IX (Prison Conditions) of the IACHR’s 2000 report on Peru (Second Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Peru) for more on conditions of detention at the prisons—such as Yanamayo—where Berenson was held and which she alleged were inhumane.

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