Peru:  Congress’ ouster of President Vizcarra sets off crisis of rule of law

The removal of Peru’s President Martin Vizcarra by the country’s Congress has undermined respect for the principle of separation of powers and precipitated a rule of law crisis, the ICJ said today.

On 9 November, Peru’s Congress used the seldom-used article 113(2) of the country’s constitution to ‘vacate’ Vizcarra’s term on the ground of “permanent moral incapacity” for office and swore in the President of the Congress, Manuel Merino, as President of the country.

The underlying justification for Vizcarra’s removal was allegations of corruption stemming from the time when he was Governor of Moquequa state in 2011-2014. Those allegations are already under investigation by the Office of the Prosecutor.

The ICJ notes that Peru’s Constitutional Court has a pending case to review the constitutional consistency of the use of the grounds of “permanent moral incapacity” clause for ordinary crimes. The Peruvian Constitution contemplates a separate procedure of impeachment that has not been followed in this case. Yet Congress applied the clause of “moral incapacity” in hasty proceedings with that decision pending.

“Peru’s congress has preempted the decision of the Constitutional Court and applied an overly expansive and highly contested legal interpretation of article 113(2) to oust a president, thus implicating the authority of the Judicial branch as well as the Executive,” said ICJ Secretary General Sam Zarifi.

“This overreach by the Legislative branch has launched the country into a rule of law crisis that also threatens respect for human rights in the country,” he added.

Protesters demonstrating against Vizcarra’s removal have faced ill-treatment and arbitrary arrest by police and security forces.

The ICJ calls on the Peruvian authorities to respect the right to freedom of assembly and peaceful protest and to desist from any form of unlawful use of force.  Allegations of violations of ill-treatment and other human rights violations must be investigated promptly, thoroughly and impartially. The ICJ also urges respect of the independence of the judiciary, particularly as concerns the Constitutional Court and its functions.

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