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U.S.,U.N. Slow to Right Peruvian Wrongs

By Katharyn Jeffreys
Staff Reporter

Late last month the case of 28-year-old Lori Berenson, a former MIT student, was brought to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States. Berenson was convicted and jailed by a secret Peruvian military court in January 1996 on suspicion that she was linked to the leftist Tpac Amaru Resistance Movement in Peru. In addition, a United Nations special commission is considering her case and those of others imprisoned in Peruvian jails.

Berenson was the first North American to fall victim to the antiterrorism decrees enacted by the government of Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori.

Berenson had exhausted all of her legal channels in Peru, so late last month she took her case to IACHR. Her complaint asks for her immediate release.

If sufficient evidence is brought forth by the Peruvian government to convict her of the charges, the complaint demands that a new, fair trial be held. If her conviction is upheld, the complaint asks that humane conditions be maintained in her prison cell.

A U.N. mission recently spent 10 days visiting Berenson and investigating other cases of arbitrary detention in Peru. They found that the prisoners' cells are unheated, that there is no hot water, and that the windows do not have panes of glass to block out the wind. They will determine whether Berenson's detention is arbitrary at their meeting in Geneva in May.

The entire process, according to her father, Mark Berenson, could take two to seven years. He emphasized that "her biological clock is running out" and that speed is crucial. However, he is sure that his daughter will be vindicated. He chastised the government for not doing more to help Lori Berenson. "I am quite annoyed at the lack of proactive work done on Lori case" by the U.S. government, he said.

Fujimori maintains that she is a terrorist who was helping rebels plan an armed takeover of Peru's Congress and that she should receive no special treatment.

Lori Berenson, however, maintains her innocence. "I am to be condemned for my concern about the conditions of hunger and misery which exist in this country. Here nobody can deny that in Peru there is much injustice. There is institutionalized violence that has killed the people's best sons and has condemned children to die of hunger," Lori Berenson said when she was imprisoned.

"I am being punished for my ideology not my actions," she told her father later.

Berenson left her studies of archeology and anthropology as a sophomore at MIT in 1989 to devote herself full time to human rights activities in Nicaragua and El Salvador. She first visited Peru in 1994 and returned there as a journalist for two publications, Third World Viewpoint and Modern Times.

Lori Berenson was convicted of "treason against the fatherland of Peru" and sentenced to life without parole in a maximum security prison located near the Andean city of Puno, Peru by decree of a secret military tribunal.

The Inter-American Human Rights Commission has condemned the use of such military tribunals as violations of the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man, and the American Convention on Human Rights.