This Day in International Law – April 22
By: Grace Gohlke
April 22, 1997 marked the end of the Japan embassy crisis in Peru and the start of a controversy that would lead to a case before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
The Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA), a leftist militant movement, had ambushed and seized the Japanese ambassadorial residence in Lima, Peru on December 17, taking 600 people hostage. Most hostages were released in the following weeks, but when negotiations over the release of the remaining 72 dignitaries broke down, Peru’s president, Alberto Fujimori, planned a military rescue operation.
The raid, which killed all fourteen MRTA hostage-takers, was initially met with celebration and a surge in Fujimori’s popularity. However, reports soon began to surface that several militants had been summarily executed after the residence had been secured. A report by the US Defense Intelligence Agency from later that year claimed that Fujimori issued the order to “take no prisoners.” In 2002, the Peruvian special prosecutor brought criminal charges against twelve commandos who were part of the raid, but the Supreme Court of Peru ultimately decided that the matter was under military jurisdiction. A military court dismissed the case in 2004, claiming no violation of human rights had occurred.
With all domestic remedies exhausted, family members of three MRTA members, Eduardo Nicolás Cruz Sánchez, David Peceros Pedraza and Herma Luz Meléndez Cueva, filed a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights against the Peruvian state. The Commission filed a case with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and on April 17, 2015, the Court found Peru responsible for violations of articles 4 (right to life), 8 (judicial guarantees), and 25 (judicial protection) of the American Convention on Human Rights.
The case was important in asserting that extrajudicial executions, even in situations of terrorism and hostage taking, are violations of international law. Two human rights groups who acted as co-petitioners in the case asserted that while they condemned MRTA’s takeover of the Japanese residence, the case was about the state’s obligations to guarantee the rights to life and due process in all situations.
Grace is a JD candidate at Berkeley Law. She is a student contributor for Travaux.