IACHR admits lawsuit from MRTA guerilla leader alleging abuse by Peruvian State

By September 1, 2023

Lima, Peru — The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) admitted a lawsuit filed by the former leader of Peru’s Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) guerrilla group on Thursday, which alleges that the leader has suffered human rights abuses while serving a prison sentence for terrorism. 

The IACHR stated that former MRTA leader Víctor Polay Campos’ judicial guarantees were violated.

The MRTA was a left-wing guerrilla group in Peru that operated from the late 20th century. It aimed to establish a socialist state through armed struggle. Polay was a prominent leader of the MRTA, playing a significant role in the group’s activities, including kidnappings and attacks. He was eventually captured, tried, and convicted of terrorism-related charges by the Peruvian State.

In the lawsuit submitted to the IACHR, Polay’s defense has alleged that his basic rights were violated during his period of detention, and argued that his confinement at the El Callao Naval Base violated his rights to religious freedom, educational pursuits and others. According to the defense, acts of torture were also committed during his detention.

Arrest of Polay Campos in 1989. Credit: El Comercio

The news of the IACHR admitting the case raised controversy in Peru, with government officials commenting on the matter. 

Minister of Justice and Human Rights Daniel Maurate stated that the Executive Branch will provide all the tools to the State Attorney General’s Office to have the best defense.

“The government’s position is to defend the State. We are against all forms of terrorism and we will provide all the facilities to the State Attorney General’s Office so that, in case this issue reaches the Inter-American Court, we have the best defense,” he said to the Peruvian media.

In addition, the Permanent Representative of Peru to the Organization of American States (OAS), Gustavo Adrianzen, stated that the IACHR does not have the authority to annul or modify a sentence.

“On other occasions, Polay’s defense has argued that the prison conditions are not in line with human rights and they were told ‘no’ (…) But nothing will alter the 35-year sentence against him,” Adrianzén told RPP.

The lawsuit’s admission means that future hearings will take place between the plaintiffs and the Peruvian state. At the end of this process, the IACHR will issue a non-binding statement. If the recommendations of the IACHR are not followed, this organization will be able to bring the case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Who was Víctor Polay Campos?

Polay, also known as “Comrade Rolando,” founded the MRTA in 1980. The group’s activities included kidnappings, assassinations, extortion, and the infamous takeover of the Japanese ambassador’s residence in Lima in 1996, which concluded with the hostages’ release by the “Chavín de Huántar” commandos.

Photograph of Polay Campos when he was a leader of Peru’s Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) guerrilla group.

On March 22, 2006, Polay was found guilty by a court for nearly 30 crimes committed between 1980 and 1990, receiving a 32-year prison sentence. Two years later, this sentence was increased to 35 years.

He is currently serving a sentence at the Callao Naval Base, where he shared confinement with the late Abimael Guzmán, leader of Peru’s other main leftist guerrilla insurgency, the Shining Path, and Vladimiro Montesinos, former head of the National Intelligence Service (SIN), who warred against the MRTA and is serving a sentence for corruption. 

The MRTA has been identified by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as responsible for approximately 1.5% of the over 69,000 victims recorded during the period of violence in Peru between 1980 and 2000.