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A Letter to Human Rights Activists and Intellectuals in the Western Hemisphere

by LORI BERENSON

Dear ladies and gentlemen:

Along with my most respectful greetings, I send my acknowledgement for the work that you do to protect human rights as well as your efforts to make this world a more just place for all who inhabit it.

At the end of November 2004, the Inter-American Court for Human Rights issued its ruling on my case. Contrary to all precedents and in a truly contradictory ruling, the Inter-American Court decided in favor of the Peruvian State. The Inter-American Court determined that it had not been proved that my fundamental rights were violated in my second (i.e., civilian) trial in 2000 – 2001.

We have had a month to absorb this situation, analyze what happened, and arrive at some conclusions. An “undefined monster” with a fuzzy legal definition hounds the “post-September 11” world. This “terrible being” can be found in any third world country, particularly if the country has natural riches which obviously need to be “protected” so that they cannot be used against humanity, especially against those who today present themselves as the defenders of humanity. This surreal image is now summarized in the slogan of the “war against terrorism” which is launched from the North and used to repress any opposition to the ruling powers which becomes unpleasant. Today, the so-called “war against terrorism” has become the central theme in international politics; abuse and wrongs are justified in its name. Obviously, the Inter-American Court could not be on the margin of the world stage. In fact, in almost all recent bilateral and multilateral events, independent of the real reasons for their being convened, it’s almost obligatory that “someone” proposes introducing a declaration to commit those present in this “war against terrorism.”

The Inter-American Court’s acknowledgement that I was judged by legislation that does not comply with the standards of the American Convention on Human Rights is one of the most controversial aspects in my case. Specifically, in Point No. 1 of the section which contains the judgment, the Inter-American Court orders the Peruvian State to adapt its internal legislation to meet the American Convention’s standards. Yet the Inter-American Court concludes that it was not proved that the due process norms established in this American Convention were violated and the Inter-American Court did not even consider the fact that my trial began during the regime of the now fugitive ex-president Fujimori whose antiterrorism laws the Inter-American Court had always criticized.

The politicizing of my case has been a long-standing issue. From the time of the Fujimori government, it is obvious that my case has been converted into the symbol of the “war against terrorism.” Clear proof of this is when the Court agreed to hear my case, particularly as the date of the ruling approached, the Peruvian government began arduous media campaigns that invoked the constant fears which surround the sensitive issue of the experience of political violence in Peru, and related these to what a positive ruling in my favor might imply.

A few weeks before the Inter-American Court was to render its ruling in my case, the public trial of the leadership of the Communist Party of Peru (known as the Shining Path) began in Lima. The Peruvian State created conditions in the trial so that an incident before the press could occur, which then served as a pretext for the political class to unite behind the government and support its series of repressive measures against incarcerated subversives currently facing new trials. With this, they re-launched the cry of alarm about the then awaited ruling in my case: if it were favorable to me, it would mean the subversive leadership and, in general, all the “terrorists” would be released.

Many years ago, rather than working to comprehend the political violence, Peru initiated a psychosocial campaign containing many falsehoods, designed to confuse things to achieve a political objective – to politicize the issue. In the May 2004 public hearing in the Inter-American Court, the Peruvian State representatives did not have any better arguments for the central part of their defense than their invention of new and fallacious accusations against me. From my perspective, one does not need to resort to lies and psychosocial campaigns if one has firm, coherent arguments and the truth on one’s side. The Inter-American Court’s unexpected and contradictory ruling leads me to reflect on the weight of diplomatic and press pressure. I most regret the precedent that this creates and what it means in the future for people like myself who turn to this international authority in search of justice. Despite the adverse results for me, the subject of due process and the respect for the principle of legality are, and will continue to be, issues that at some moment the Court will have to resolve and weigh on the conscience of those who ruled in my case. I continue to believe that in my case, like many others in Peru, the right to due process was not respected. I was judged under laws that, in part, the Constitutional Court of Peru has since declared unconstitutional long after my trial had ended.

On this ground, there is not much to do. We received an undeniable and very hard blow. With the ruling, we lost; there are 11 more years of imprisonment. Lamenting this or lamenting recently legislated restrictions on Peruvian political prisoners’ lives will not change this reality. In a world in which horrors like destructive bombings are our daily bread, or torture in Guantanamo or in Iraqi prisons is justified by the hegemonic world superpower, what can we expect if we are labeled not simply “political prisoner” but also with the epithet “terrorist”?

The situation is definitely complex. Nonetheless, I have begun to think that if the intellectual and material authors of so much human suffering want to label those who disagree with them as “terrorists,” then it does not bother me to be labeled as such, despite its inaccuracies, if it distinguishes me from so much barbarism.

How did we get to where we are and what needs to change are the questions at this topic’s core on a global level. In the Peruvian case, this is related to an understanding of the causes of the violent era. These are not things that one is obligated to explain, rather they require the entire society’s reflections and, even more so, all of society’s will to change. Even before the formation of nation states, people have risen up against injustice. Bombs, slaughter, torture, or long prison sentences do not erase the injustice. These measures may be useful to momentarily distract public opinion, but they do not resolve any situation. I think that there is much to do globally about social, legal and political injustice. I believe that although these walls might impede me from being in the streets marching alongside other men and women who hunger for justice, they definitely do not diminish my vision of the need to work to build a different, more just, supportive – in the end – more humane world. Regardless of how much I can do in my situation, be assured that I am, and always will be, with you in your work to make this world a place in which we can all live with justice and dignity.

I thank you for your concerns and efforts on my particular case. I am fully convinced that you will succeed as you continue working towards a better world.

Respectfully,

LORI BERENSON Huacariz Prison Cajamarca, Peru

More information is available at www.freelori.org.

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