The internal armed conflict
Peru held in 1980 its first free elections after 12 years under authoritarian regimes. However, the elections saw the beginning of terrorist actions by the Communist Party of Peru, better known as Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path), promoter of a revolution by means of armed violence. In 1982, another extremist formation, called Movimiento Revolucionario Tupac Amaru (MRTA), joined the fight against governmental forces.
In 1990, the election of Alberto Fujimori as President of Peru marked a turning point in the conflict. On 5 April 1992 Fujimori suspended the Constitution and dissolved the Congress, accused of being too slow to approve anti-terrorism legislation. The army was given new powers, and military courts were instituted to try those suspected of being members of terrorist groups.
On 12 September 1992 Sendero Luminoso’s leader Abimael Guzmán Reynoso was arrested in Lima. The event significantly downgraded the movement’s operational capacity, though violent acts continued to be committed throughout the country.
The Colina group
At the beginning of the 1990s, a military unit known as “Grupo Colina” or “Colina Detachment” was established within the ranks of the Peruvian Army and Intelligence Service as an anti-communist death squad. The creation of the group was part of the so called “Plan Cipango”, launched in August 1991 as a low intensity war strategy in response to the activities of Sendero Luminoso and the Movimiento Revolucionario Tupac Amaru.
Members of the Colina group have been accused of several human rights abuses and notably of arbitrary executions, torture and enforced disappearance. They allegedly followed directives from the highest commanders in the government, including former President Fujimori. Among the “special actions” attributed to the group there were the Barrios Altos and La Cantuta massacres and the disappearance of the journalist Pedro Yauri Bustamante.
Following an anonymous denunciation in April 1993 by a group of Peruvian military officers calling themselves “Sleeping Lion” and the discovery of the burial site of victims of the La Cantuta massacre, the military authorities began an investigation in May 1993 and on 21 February 1994 sentenced to prison several members of the Colina group.
On 14 June 1995, the Peruvian Congress passed an Amnesty Law to cover all crimes committed by government officials and civil servants in the fight against terrorism. As a result, all members of the Colina group previously condemned were freed.
In 2000 Fujimori fled to Japan, fearing to be prosecuted in Peru for crimes committed during his Presidency. The new Peruvian Government immediately repealed the 1995 Amnesty Law. In the following years, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, in the cases “Barrios Altos v. Peru” (2001) and “La Cantuta v. Peru” (2006), declared the amnesty law incompatible with the American Convention on Human Rights.
The truth and reconciliation commission
In 2001, the Peruvian Government established a Truth and Reconciliation Commission aimed at investigating crimes perpetrated during the armed conflict by both governmental forces and rebel groups.
The Commission released its final report in 2003, pointing out that between 1980 and 2000 about 70’000 Peruvians were killed or disappeared because of the war. According to the Commission, about half of the casualties is attributable to Sendero Luminoso, whilst about a third is attributable to State agents.
Between 2008 and 2012, members of the Colina group, military leaders of the Peruvian Army and Intelligence Service, have been condemned in several proceedings for their role in the Barrios Altos and La Cantuta massacre and for the disappearance of the journalist Yauri.
On 7 April 2009, Alberto Fujimori was declared guilty by a special court in Lima of human rights abuses, of murder by an army death squad and kidnapping and was sentenced to 25 years.