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Peru: Third Attempt on Life of Key Torture Witness

Government Must Implement More Effective Witness-Protection Program

(Lima, Peru, June 3, 2005)—An attempt to kill a key witness in an upcoming torture trial highlights the Peruvian government’s failure to provide adequate protection for those planning to testify against military officers, Human Rights Watch said today. The shooting attempt was the third such attack the witness, Luis Alberto Ramírez Hinostroza, has suffered in the last 15 months.

" The Peruvian government must fully investigate the attack on Luis Alberto Ramírez and bring to justice whoever is responsible. "
José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch

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Several shots were fired at Ramírez from a moving car on Wednesday evening, June 1, as he was crossing the Mariscal Castillo park in Lima accompanied by a police bodyguard. The park is close to the office of a Peruvian human rights group, the Legal Defense Institute (Instituto de Defensa Legal, IDL), where Ramírez had just held a meeting with his lawyer. The police guard covered Ramírez with his body to protect him and both luckily escaped injury.  
“The Peruvian government must fully investigate the attack on Luis Alberto Ramírez and bring to justice whoever is responsible,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “This attack might have been prevented had earlier ones been properly investigated.”  
In previous attacks on March 13 and August 30, 2004, unidentified gunmen tried to kill Ramírez in Huancayo, the city where he lived until recently. In the second incident, Ramírez received a gunshot wound to the stomach and had to undergo surgery. After international appeals he was assigned two police guards and he moved with his family to Lima. But Ramírez has continued to notice that cars were following him.  
Ramírez is due to testify in the trial of retired General Luis Pérez Documet, who was military chief of Junín province in the early 1990s, during Peru’s armed conflict. At least nine university students were forcibly disappeared during this period after being held at the “December 9” military base in Huancayo, under the command of Pérez Documet. In March 2004 the Fourth Criminal Court of Huancayo charged the former general with kidnapping.  
Ramírez testified before Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission about the brutal torture he suffered at the base. He also witnessed the torture of others who subsequently “disappeared.” He is expected to provide crucial evidence of their detention in the trial, which is expected to begin in six weeks’ time in Huancayo.  
Last year Ramírez received anonymous letters calling him a “big mouth” (bocón) and warning him to abandon the trial.  
The proximity of the attack to the IDL office also raises concern about the safety of IDL’s legal staff who represent Ramirez in the case.  
The Peruvian government has provided Ramírez with a police guard in response to requests for his protection by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. However, the authorities have failed to determine who has been responsible for the attacks, or to take effective measures to stop them.  
“This incident shows that the Peruvian government must urgently implement a more effective witness-protection program in politically charged cases,” said Vivanco. “The attack on Ramírez is likely to intimidate others who are coming forward to testify.”

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