Speaking before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) last week, petitioning organizations from Peru formally highlighted problems within Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC)—an agency established in 2001 to address human rights abuses committed during the internal conflict of the 1980s and 1990s.
The TRC was created after the fall of President Alberto Fujimori in order to investigate crimes committed by both the guerrilla groups Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) and the Movimiento Revolucionario Túpac Amaru (Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement—MRTA), as well as by government forces. The TRC focuses on massacres, terrorism, forced disappearances, violence, and human rights abuses committed during the armed conflict.
While petitioners and members of the Commission recognized last week that concrete advances have been made since the TRC’s inception, they agreed that significant challenges remain and hope to generate a set of specific actions to be taken in four main areas: the judicial process, missing and disappeared persons, the current state of reparations for victims, and historic memory.
Representatives from the Instituto de Defensa Legal (Institute of Legal Defense—IDL) and the Coordinadora Nacional de Derechos Humanos (National Human Rights Coordinator—CNDDHH) described problems within the TRC budget, inadequate reparations for victims and the sluggish speed of human rights court cases in Peru.“No civil conviction has been made under autoría mediata—the concept that an individual may be held responsible for crimes he/she used other people as instruments to commit—with the exception of Alberto Fujimori and Abimael Guzmán,” said Carlos Rivera of IDL, implying political interference with the human rights cases pending in Peru’s courts.
Rivera said that the human rights abuses in Peru were not individual crimes, but rather collective actions committed as part of a systemic pattern. Yet he noted that bureaucratic complications and a backlog of cases keep Peru’s judicial system in a constant state of delay. Meanwhile, Rivera said, the location of judicial administration in the capital city of Lima also limits the participation of witnesses from Peru’s rural countryside where many of the crimes took place.
Dr. Rocío Silva Santisteben of the CNDDHH echoed Rivera’s concerns regarding administrative changes and inefficiencies. She stated that only 27,000 victims have been recorded in the public registry—which was recently closed due to a “lack of information” regarding the persons and events being investigated—although many more victims exist. The registry is a concrete mechanism to recognize victims, an instrument to design programs of reparation, and an important piece of Peru’s historic memory of the internal conflict.
Meanwhile, she said, the Peruvian government has delivered just 34 percent of promised reparations funding, which has not been adequate for victims and their families.
A new law to extend reparation payments to victims of sexual violence, passed by congress in June of 2012, was ultimately blocked by executive leadership. Reparations have also been limited to just 10,000 soles (approximately $3,500), without explanation of how this amount was determined. In the cases of collective reparations made to communities, the participation of women in development projects has been severely limited, and several of these projects were abandoned altogether.
In their closing remarks, petitioners criticized Peru’s general lack of formal policies concerning the country’s historic memory. There are no public plans to exhume more bodies from massacre sites, no mechanisms to protect document archives, few public memorials, and no university classes dedicated to the decades-long period of terrorism in Peru.
The issue of memory has become even more critical in the context of the growing popularity of the Movimiento por Amnistía y Derechos Fundamentales (Movement for Amnesty and Fundamental Rights—Movadef), which is considered to be a new political arm of the Shining Path and has gained significant support in Peruvian universities and from the teachers’ union.
State officials assured petitioners that the TRC is not “designed for impunity.” Yet representatives avoided answering specific questions about reparations, focusing instead on past successes—such as the almost 30,000 individual reparations that were successfully allotted.
The Commissioners, meanwhile, acknowledged TRC’s accomplishments, including the re-opening of forced sterilization cases, but they also asked for more information regarding the decision to close the public registry. Officials stated that the registry was closed only with respect to economic reparations, but that other aspects remain open while information continues to be collected.
At the end of the hearing, Commissioner José de Jesús Orozco Henríquez noted contradictions in the information presented by the petitioners and the State, and called for petitioners to present written recommendations to State officials.
Although these recommendations are nonbinding, they do provide a set of concrete actions that are then monitored by both the IACHR as well as civil society organizations. The hearing process could help to apply international political pressure on State officials and to help strengthen political will. However, Commissioner Rosa-Marie Belle Antoine’s suggestion that both parties “look toward domestic processes to iron out differences” may signify that the IACHR may not get directly involved at this time.
Carlos Rivera of IDL noted that when the TRC was formed, Peru was lauded for its exemplary efforts in the creation of a specific body dedicated to the investigation of severe human rights abuses. “What worries us now,” he said, “Is that over 10 years have passed. How much longer will we keep raising these same issues?”