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Japan's Favorite Terrorist Alive and Well in Tokyo

For immediate release

Wednesday, October 10, 2001


Japan's Favorite Terrorist Alive and Well in Tokyo

· Koizumi government frustrates Peru's battle against state-sponsored terrorism

· Increasingly tense standoff between the two nations heightened by Japan's disregard for an international arrest order issued from Lima against Peru's disgraced ex-president, Alberto Fujimori, now in exile in Tokyo

· Recent indictments underscore former President Fujimori's network of state-sponsored terrorism and represent "crimes against humanity," which qualify him to be tried by an international judicial body

· Tokyo's obstinacy in thwarting Fujimori's extradition further confirms Japan’s international image as single-mindedly caring about trade, irrespective of with whom, which threatens to undermine its legitimacy in any multinational coalition against terrorism

As U.S. and British aircraft bomb locations in Afghanistan associated with Osama bin Laden and the Taliban, officials in Lima continue their campaign to bring Peru's discredited ex-president, Alberto Fujimori, and his network of death-squad operators, accused of being responsible for a decade of state-sponsored terror, to justice. Just as Washington's desire to apprehend bin Laden has been hindered by Taliban obstructionism, an increasingly tense standoff is emerging between Peru and Japan over attempts to extradite Fujimori. The stalemate threatens to undermine economic and political ties that the two nations have forged in recent years, as well as diminish the prospects for a Washington-led international campaign to dispense justice to those throughout the world who have been victimized by terrorism.

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Japan's tarnished image

During Fujimori's decade-long tenure as president, trade with Japan became vital to the Peruvian economy, with commerce between the two nations increasing from $423 million in 1991 to $740 million in 2000. Even at this late date, the well-evidenced corruption charges and the numerous allegations of brutalities leveled against Fujimori and his confederates are almost never discussed in Japan. Further augmenting public ambivalence over Peru's extradition requests is the fact that the Japanese media has failed to effectively convey the gravity of the charges issued from Lima. Fujimori's largely-invented reputation there as a strong leader has been a source of pride for many, particularly among affluent Japanese nationalists, who have traditionally been indifferent to human rights abuses wherever or whenever a profit could be made. In the past, such insensitivity was clearly displayed by Japanese businessmen in their dealings with Brazil under the military dictatorship after 1964, Chile during Augusto Pinochet's brutal military rule from 1973 to the early 1990s and Argentina, where tens of thousands were murdered by the armed forces during the era of military rule from 1976 to 1983.

As the devastating effects of terrorism on innocent civilians have been witnessed in the U.S., the international debate over whether mega-human rights violators should be prosecuted in the name of justice or pardoned to promote national reconciliation, may likely take on a new dimension. President Bush's call for a "global offensive against terror wherever it might be found" has a potential ally in Peru, where newly-elected President Alejandro Toledo appears eager to present Fujimori as an example that terrorist crimes against Peruvian nationals are unacceptable and must be punished, no matter how elevated the culprit. Japan's international image as a commercialist society which frequently subordinates human rights considerations to economic concerns risks further degradation in light of Tokyo's deportment throughout the Fujimori case. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi could set an important precedent and project a more humane image of Japan abroad by wholeheartedly cooperating with Peruvian authorities as they attempt to revitalize their deeply crippled democratic society.

Evading justice

Despite allegedly being born in Peru (it has been widely reported that either Fujimori or his family may have in fact backdated papers to fraudulently establish Peruvian birth once he was elected), Fujimori’s name had been placed in a family registry in Japan soon after his birth, allowing Tokyo to justify the recent granting of citizenship to him. Since Japanese law prohibits the extradition of its citizens, and Peru has no treaty with Japan that could countermand it, international arrest warrants against Fujimori have been ignored by local officials. Tokyo’s efforts to protect Fujimori are based on the misguided belief that Peru's extradition requests are facile and based on an ethnic issue, while they are in reality a question of elementary justice. The Koizumi government's stand has frustrated attempts of President Toledo to prosecute former officials responsible for state terrorism against Peru's population, as well as adequately cope with the rampant corruption that Fujimori sired, which today has tarnished public confidence in government. Further damaging to Peruvian-Japanese ties is the fact that Japanese authorities have blocked Lima's inquiries into Fujimori's personal Tokyo bank accounts which, according to his ex-wife, may contain millions in embezzled funds siphoned off from donations intended for impoverished Peruvian children. This charge of Fujimori living off the plight of thousands of school-age children surely deserves very close scrutiny.

As Washington seeks a universal license to hunt down terrorists, the shrinkage of sovereignty allowing any country to harbor them with impunity appears irreversible. If Toledo can convince the international community that Fujimori commissioned state-sponsored terrorism, then prospects for extraditing accused conspirators of terrorist crimes, such as Peru's ex-president, are certain to increase. What remains to be seen, however, is whether Washington's new-found anti-terrorism zeal will include backing Toledo's efforts to snare Fujimori from Japan. This prospect is highly dubious, since the Clinton administration supported Fujimori's successes in the anti-drug and anti-guerrilla battles, even as he faced charges of being venomously anti-democratic.

Crimes against humanity

In Peru, evidence of Fujimori's sundry past crimes accumulates almost daily. The gravest charges against him now include aggravated homicide and forced disappearance, which, under the new principles of international law, constitute "crimes against humanity." Fujimori is currently under indictment for "co-authoring" and "knowing in detail [the] operations" of a paramilitary death squad known as the Colina group, run by Fujimori's now-disgraced right-hand man and former CIA asset, Vladimiro Montesinos. That sinister figure, allegedly under Fujimori's instructions, was responsible for repeated state-sponsored acts of terror in the early 1990s.

In one particularly notorious event, armed men infiltrated a barbeque at a Lima tenement and murdered 15 residents allegedly affiliated with the Shining Path guerrillas. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled last year that this massacre could not be expunged by an amnesty granted by Fujimori to his military confederates in 1991. While continually praised by Washington for eradicating leftist groups, these recent charges, which had been long-known privately, suggest that Fujimori's successes were linked to a strategy of unabatedly terrorizing civilians in order to foment a climate of fear.

Although Fujimori now is widely despised in Peru, he is held in high esteem in Japan, and rarely is the target of any criticism by that country's national media. His status as a favorite ethnic son leading another nation titillated many Japanese citizens from the first day he took office. That image was further cemented as a result of his masterminding the 1997 "rescue" of the hostages being held at the Japanese ambassador's residence in Lima, even though he broke his promise to Prime Minister Hashimoto that a peaceful resolution of the embassy takeover would be achieved. Rather, Fujimori ordered all of the surviving guerrillas — including a teenage girl — to be summarily executed upon laying down their weapons, with hardly any disapproval from Japan.

Towards a balanced war against terrorism

As Toledo strives to maintain good relations with Japan, and simultaneously obtain basic justice for hundreds of victims of state violence at the hands of a tyrant currently enjoying the good life in Tokyo, the international community, led by Washington's now-public commitment to wage a war against terrorism wherever it is found, must be prepared to back the prosecution of terrorist actors worldwide. Otherwise, the war against terrorism runs the risk of becoming merely a pick-and-choose process and one of selective indignation, instead of a balanced campaign against all categories of terrorists, regardless of whether they operate out of a desert bunker near Kabul or a presidential palace in Lima.

COHA Research Group, Jeremy Gans, lead researcher

The Council on Hemispheric Affairs, founded in 1975, is an independent, non-profit, non-partisan, tax-exempt research and information organization. It has been described on the Senate floor as being “One of our nation’s most respected body of scholars and policy makers.”

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