WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
26 Aug 2003 | News

One Step Closer to Justice

         WASHINGTON, August 26, 2003–On Thursday August 28th the Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) will release the findings and recommendations from its two-year investigation into the serious human rights abuses that occurred between 1980 and 2000, during the presidencies of Fernando Belaúnde, Alan García and Alberto Fujimori.  The report is expected to recommend a comprehensive reparations program to address the abuses documented, and significant reforms to the justice system. "Peruvian society is to be congratulated for taking the first step toward justice and reconciliation by  confronting the legacy of human rights violations," said Kimberly Stanton, Deputy Director of the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). 

When the TRC began its work, it was widely believed that two decades of insurgent violence, acts of terror and counter-insurgency tactics had left at least 30,000 dead.  But in public statements in June, the commissioners suggested that the number of dead could reach between 50,000 and 60,000.  At least 4,236 people detained by Peru's armed forces disappeared, and over half a million were forcibly displaced by the violence.  "In the context of the new global war against terrorism, the Peruvian experience, documented in chilling detail by the TRC report, reminds us both of the impact of acts of terror, and of the devastating effects of state counter-terrorism measures that violate human rights," said Ms. Stanton.

 The TRC was created on June 4, 2001, by interim President Valentín Paniagua, who took office after President Fujimori went into self-imposed exile, and ratified by newly-elected President Alejandro Toledo on September 4th of that year.  Composed of twelve members and one observer, the TRC's mandate has been to analyze the political context that allowed the violence to happen; investigate the resulting human rights abuses and ascribe responsibility for them; draw up proposals for reparations and recommend reforms and preventive measures; and establish mechanisms for follow-up.  One very important objective is to promote reconciliation and peace.  Peruvian society must come to terms with the political violence of the past in order to move forward.

 In recent weeks, the members of the TRC have come under intense political pressure by some in Peru who seek to discredit the highly objective, professional work that has gone into the production of the report.  "The political forces attacking the TRC share the common objective of ensuring impunity," said Ms. Stanton.  "The TRC report has the potential to lead to true justice and reconciliation in Peru.  Those who fear justice must not be allowed to prevail."

 The release of the TRC report reflects the growing recognition throughout Latin America that impunity for gross human rights violations constitutes a major obstacle to the consolidation of democracy and the rule of law.  The Peruvian action comes as President Nestor Kirchner of Argentina has acted decisively to overturn amnesty laws that shielded military leaders from prosecution for abuses committed during the dictatorships of the 1970s.  In Guatemala, civil society groups have garnered the support of the international community for a new investigative commission to gather evidence on crimes allegedly committed since the mid-1990s by many of the same actors who escaped prosecution for gross violations of human rights during Guatemala's civil war.

 The Peruvian TRC is already recognized for its innovative methods.  It has collected some 17,000 testimonies, and is the first truth commission in Latin America to incorporate public hearings into its process.  In addition to hearings for victims, which were completed in October 2002, the TRC held thematic hearings on key issues (anti-terrorism legislation and due process, violence and crimes against women, the university and education communities, forced disappearances and violence in the highlands, and self-defense patrols).  The TRC has broken new ground by recommending specific cases for judicial action and passing cases directly to prosecuting authorities before its mandate expires.  The TRC launched a novel campaign in conjunction with the International Committee of the Red Cross to collect information on the status of the disappeared.

             Several truth commissions now underway in other parts of the world (Sierra Leone, East Timor, and Ghana, for example) are turning to the Peruvian experience as an important model.  In remarks made at an international conference convened last June in Lima to compare truth commission experiences, the Reverend Bongani Finca, a former South African Truth and Reconciliation Commissioner, pointed out that the Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission had “created a paradigm shift in the way the world thinks on these issues."

             "Now that the TRC report has been released, the international community must continue to encourage President Toledo to establish a follow-up mechanism and fully implement all the recommendations," said Ms. Stanton.  "Taking the next steps is critical for the goals we all share in Peru:  achieving justice, promoting reconciliation, consolidating democracy and ensuring the rule of law."