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U.S. judge rules in Peruvian massacre case

/ Source: The Associated Press

A federal judge has ordered a former Peruvian army officer to pay $37 million for his role in a 1985 massacre in Peru in which 69 civilians were slain, including elderly people and infants.

U.S. District Judge Adalberto Jordan ruled Tuesday in a lawsuit filed against former Maj. Telmo Hurtado by two women — Ochoa Lizarbe and Pulido Baldeon — who were 12 at the time and survived the attack.

Jordan had previously found in the lawsuit that Hurtado had committed torture, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Hurtado, 46, is in federal custody in Miami while fighting deportation to Peru. He did not contest the lawsuit, did not have a lawyer and refused to testify last month when he was brought to court for a hearing on damages.

Jordan said the money can be awarded under a 1991 U.S. law allowing torture victims to collect damages in this country for violations if a foreign government refuses to do so. Neither woman has received any compensation from Peru's government.

It was not immediately clear whether Hurtado has any money or assets to pay the judgment to the two women and the estates of their slain relatives. In similar human rights cases, attorneys have identified assets in the U.S. to satisfy damage awards.

The judge said Hurtado has assumed responsibility for the 1985 massacre, which occurred during the Peruvian military campaign against the leftist Shining Path guerrilla group. Jordan said in his ruling that Hurtado told Peruvian investigators that the killings of children and infants were justified because they would otherwise have been indoctrinated into the Shining Path.

"Significantly, Mr. Hurtado expressed no remorse for his actions," Jordan wrote in his six-page decision.

An attorney for the women, Almuda Bernabeu of the San Francisco-based Center for Justice & Accountability, called the decision "an important success" in the effort to bring to account those responsible for human rights abuses in Peru.

Lizarbe lost her mother and five siblings in the massacre and Baldion's mother and brother were killed.

Hurtado was found guilty in 1992 by a Peruvian military tribunal of abusing his authority but never served any prison time because of an amnesty enacted in 1995 under former President Alberto Fujimori for military personnel involved in the Shining Path conflict. The amnesty was later declared void. Fujimori is on trial in Peru on charges of murder and kidnapping.