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International Cooperation for Human Rights and Peru’s Fight Against Impunity

Catherine Binet | Posted September 17th, 2011 | Latin America

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In 1985, while serving as a second lieutenant in the Peruvian Army, Telmo Hurtado ordered soldiers under his command to gather and kill 62 unarmed villagers, including 23 children, from the remote Ayacuchan community of Accomarca. After torturing the men and sexually abusing the women, the military locked the villagers into various houses, shot at them and set fire to the houses. They then threw grenades at the houses to destroy them entirely.

When news of the massacre spread and an investigation was undertaken, Hurtado personally led back a group of soldiers and proceeded to kill seven additional people who either witnessed or survived the initial crime. Nevertheless, weeks after the massacre, he openly admitted responsibility for it in front of the investigating commission. He justified the execution of children with the assetrtion that they were terrorists.

What followed is a classic case of Peruvian-style impunity. Hurtado was absolved of the charge of qualified homicide in 1993 by a Peruvian military council, and was sentenced to a mere six years in prison for abuse of authority; a sentence he never served. Rather, he rose in the ranks of the military, and was decorated during the government of Alberto Fujimori.

In 1995, he benefited from Fujimori’s controversial law that granted amnesty covering all human rights violations committed by state forces, and remained in active service of the military. In 2002, after the amnesty law was annulled following a ruling of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the possibility of a new trial for the Accomarca case was renewed, Hurtado fled to the United States.

The Accomarca case was finally brought to court in 2010, 25 years after the events. Hurtado is one of the 29 accused in the case, consisting of military of all ranks. He was apprehended in Miami in 2007 and prosecuted on criminal charges related to visa fraud and making false statements. His arrest was part of a program to detain and deport torture suspects from abroad that are found in the United States.

In 2008, Peru requested his extradition on criminal charges of murder, abduction and forced disappearances. Following a long judicial process, Hurtado was finally extradited back to Peru a few months ago to face justice. He is currently facing a maximum sentence of 25 years of prison.

International cooperation was also instrumental in the arrest and sentencing of ex-President Alberto Fujimori for human rights violations. The latter fled to Japan in 2000 when corruption scandals led the Peruvian Congress to relieve him of his functions.

Many Peruvians see Fujimori's conviction as a symbol of the fight against impunity
Many Peruvians see Fujimori's conviction as a symbol of the fight against impunity

A review of the Fujimori administration led to Congress authorizing charges against him in 2001. Upon demand of Peruvian authorities, Interpol issued an arrest order on charges that included murder, kidnapping, and crimes against humanity. A request for his extradition was also submitted by the Peruvian government to Japan in 2003, but Japan proved unwilling to accede to the request.

In 2005, Fujimori was finally arrested and detained in Chile on order of a Minister of the Supreme Court following a request by the Peruvian embassy. Two years later, the ex–President was extradited to Peru to face various accusations. That same year, the trial for his role in killings and kidnappings by the Grupo Colina death squad during his administration began.

In 2009, Fujimori was convicted of human rights violations and sentenced to 25 years in prison for his role in the Barrios Altos and La Cantuta massacres, in addition to the kidnapping of two individuals. The verdict marked the first time that an elected head of state has been extradited back to his home country, tried, and convicted of human rights violations.

The cases of Telmo Hurtado and Alberto Fujimori have much in common. Both tried to evade Peruvian justice by fleeing to other countries, and both ended up being extradited back to Peru to face the charges against them. Yet for every extradition, there are countless violators of human rights living comfortably in foreign countries. International cooperation and legally-binding international human rights instruments can play a crucial role in remedying the situation.

One such instrument is the UN’s 2006 International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. Thus far, 88 states have signed the convention and 29 have ratified it. In South America; Peru, Guyana and Suriname are the only countries that have yet to sign.

In a meeting between state representatives, civil society actors and victim’s representatives last September 5th, which included EPAF members, Second Vice-President Omar Chehade pledged that his government would finally sign the Convention and that is would support initiatives dealing with the issue of enforced disappearance.

This is of crucial importance, as it is the first time that Peru officially recognizes the importance of the issue of enforced disappearance. The symbolism of the Convention would do much to re-ignite hope among the relatives of Peru’s 15,000 disappeared, many of whom have been disheartened by five years of an administration that has been completely unresponsive to the issue.

Let’s all hope that the new government keeps its word.

(On a side note, neither the United States nor Canada have signed the Convention.)

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On the Anniversary of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Can Peru Celebrate?

Catherine Binet | Posted September 11th, 2011 | Latin America

On Friday, August 26th, I attended a commemoration of the 8th anniversary of the presentation of the Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report. The event begun at the Ojo que Llora, a monument to the victims of Peru’s internal conflict located not far from EPAF’s office, and was followed by a march to Plaza San Martin, in Lima’s historic city center.

Ojo que Llora Memorial
Ojo que Llora Memorial

The CVR, as it is referred to in Peru from its Spanish initials, was created by the transitional government that followed the fall of ex-President Alberto Fujimori to investigate the abuses committed during the 1980s and 1990s, and was made up of prominent and well-respected members of civil society, including intellectuals, scholars, priests and journalists.

Photos of the disappeared at the Ojo que Llora memorial
Photos of the disappeared at the Ojo que Llora memorial

The CVR spent two years holding public meetings, collecting testimonies, and conducting forensic investigations. On August 28th, 2003, it presented its final report to President Alejandro Toledo. The document, an imposing one by any measure, has become a reference on the years of internal armed conflict, and I have referred to it frequently in this blog.

EPAF's Gisela Ortiz being interviewed on the need for a national plan for the search of the disappeared
EPAF's Gisela Ortiz being interviewed on the need for a national plan for the search of the disappeared

The final part of the report issued various recommendations oriented toward reconciliation and ensuring that the horrors of the 1980s and 1990s never recur. These recommendations have become a benchmark from which to measure the progress achieved in the post-CVR period. Indeed, the question “X years after the CVR’s final report, how much have we advanced?” has become a favourite discussion theme among human rights organizations, and, sadly, the answer is generally: “not much.”

Javier Roca wearing a photo of his disappeared son Martin Roca
Javier Roca wearing a photo of his disappeared son Martin Roca

In previous posts I have discussed the failure of successive governments to follow-up on some of the recommendations of the CVR, in particular of the inadequacies of the advances made in the area of reparation of victims of the internal conflict, and the worrisome and exasperating inexistence of a national plan for the search and identification of Peru’s 15,000 disappeared.

Some of the 70,000 victims of the interrnal armed conflict
Some of the 70,000 victims of the interrnal armed conflict

Of course, some advances have been made. The single fact that Alberto Fujimori and Vladimiro Montesinos are currently serving prison sentences for human rights violations should be enough to make anyone overly pessimistic reconsider their position. Nevertheless, advances have been few and far between, and have occurred in spite of the lack of political will—clearest during the administration of Alan García—of successive governments to advance issues of justice, memory, reparation, and forensic investigation.

Photos of the Disappeared at the Ojo que Llora Memorial
Photos of the Disappeared at the Ojo que Llora Memorial

Beyond transitional justice issues, an objective of the CVR was to bring to attention the deep social breaches that both contributed to the emergence of the conflict and facilitated its perpetuation during two decades, and propose reforms to correct them. Of the 85 recommendations of the CVR, 53 concerned institutional reforms. Fully implemented, these recommendations would amount to nothing short of a complete overhaul of Peruvian society and institutions.

EPAF getting ready to march
EPAF getting ready to march

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the majority of recommendations have remained just that: recommendations. In terms of institutional reforms, to date very few, if any, advances have been made. In other words, the state has not taken advantage of the opportunity created by the CVR to learn from its mistakes so as to avoid reproducing the same conflictive society. It has preferred to focus virtually all of its attention on maintaining and stimulating the country’s economic growth based on a model that has time and time again proven unable to reduce the sharp social, cultural and economic inequalities existing in most Latin American societies.

EPAF and Cantuta relatives marching to Plaza San Martin
EPAF and Cantuta relatives marching to Plaza San Martin

The organizers of this year’s commemoration of the anniversary of the CVR chose not to dwell on the few advances achieved in the past, but rather to look hopefully towards the future, and the installations at Plaza San Martin—such as an impressive “carpet” of the disappeared—were heavily focused on the disappeared.

Tower of the Disappeared at Lima's Plaza San Martin
Tower of the Disappeared at Lima's Plaza San Martin

Hope for the future there indeed is, as the new government of Ollanta Humala has affirmed its commitment to following the recommendations of the CVR. Moreover, at a meeting with civil society actors—including EPAF members—last week, Vice-president Chehade pledged that the government would finally sign the UN’s 2006 International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, and that it was willing to support initiatives to deal with the issue of the disappeared.

'Carpet' of the Disappeared at Lima's Plaza San Martin
'Carpet' of the Disappeared at Lima's Plaza San Martin

But the new government has also given cause for concern, as the new defence minister recently made comments that were widely interpreted to suggest he favours a blanket amnesty for former or current members of security forces accused of human rights crimes during the country’s internal war. Be it as it may, the new government will ultimately be judged by its actions and not its words; and actions have yet to be seen.

Lighting candles for the disappeared at Lima's Plaza San Martin
Lighting candles for the disappeared at Lima's Plaza San Martin

One Response to “On the Anniversary of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Can Peru Celebrate?”

  1. Karin says:

    Thanks for this thoughtful entry Catherine. I really love this last photo as well. I am so impressed by how the exhibits have grown and become more and more prominent over the years. Here’s hoping to some progress towards achieving the recommendations made in the CVR.

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Ciro Castillo and the Unrelenting Search for One Disappeared

Catherine Binet | Posted September 4th, 2011 | Latin America

In Peru, everyone knows the name of Ciro Castillo Rojo. The young man disappeared almost five months ago in the Colca Canyon, in the southern region of Arequipa. Literally every day since I have set foot in Peru, I have seen Ciro’s face (or his parents’ or his girlfriend’s) grace the frontpage of at least one local newspaper. In fact, catching up with the headlines about his case has become a ritual of sorts for me, as for countless others.

The saga of Ciro’s disappearance and the on-going search for him (or, at this point, his remains) has captivated the nation, and for good reason. The story has all the ingredients of a detective novel: a young couple goes trekking in the world’s deepest canyon, gets lost, and decide to part ways for unclear reasons. The girlfriend is eventually rescued a few days later, dehydrated but in otherwise good shape; the boyfriend is never seen or heard from again.

Daily accounts of the investigation, of the efforts of research and rescue teams—brought from as far as Mexico—of the frequent turnarounds in the case, and of the unflinching determination of Ciro´s parents to find their son, can be found in all media. Partly, this is due to a widely shared suspicion that there is more to the story than the rescued girlfriend is letting on, based on inaccuracies and changes in her story, her apparent lack of grief for the missing Ciro or sympathy for his famiy, and her perceived unwillingness the help the investigation.

La Republica frontpage
La Republica frontpage

Being based at EPAF, it is hard to miss the obvious parallel between this one disappeared and the 15,000 Peruvians disappeared during the period of the internal armed conflict. Only, while the country gasps and awes at each new revelation, each turn of events in the Ciro case, the search for the 15,000 missing persons that EPAF works to locate and identify goes widely unnoticed.

“Ciro’s parents will never be at peace until he is found”—I read a few days ago at a newsstand. This is true. But equally true is that the parents, siblings, spouses, and children of Peru’s 15,000 disappeared are not at peace either. In the majority of cases, they have not been at peace for more than 20 years. Where are the headline stories about them? Could it be that the fact that they have been suffering for so long makes their suffering less important, less relevant?

A recent street poll conducted for EPAF’s new WebTV show Duro de Roer clearly demonstrated that people in Lima know very little, if anything, about the issue of the disappeared in their country. Asked how many of them there might be, answers ranged from “Ciro Castillo” to “120” to “1 million”.  I like to think that if people were more aware and informed on the issue, popular support for such measures as a national plan for the search and identification of missing persons, the need for which EPAF has iterated and reiterated ad nauseum, would soar.

In my view—and I am fully aware that my position as an outsider makes it only too easy for me to critique—Peruvian civil society has not yet managed to coalesce around the issue with the level of coherence and effectiveness required. And the mainstream media, a potentially crucial ally, has certainly not been as supportive of the issue as it could be. At at time when human rights organizations are finding it more and more difficult to secure funding, the challenges they face are as great as ever…

5 Responses to “Ciro Castillo and the Unrelenting Search for One Disappeared”

  1. Cedric says:

    It is really an outstanding write-up. Posts similar to this tend to be unusual on the web. I know, because I read a great deal of content on the internet. You have led important, intriquing, notable and well crafted info on this issue.

  2. Dara says:

    That is some thing I must find more information directly into, thanks for the publish.

  3. Amelia says:


    I am Peruvian, and I believe HRO are needed in Peru, either from Peru or from outside Peru. Unfortunately, Peru is a corrupted country and missed people, those thousend mentioned by Karen, most likely will never appear. We do nothing to find them, we did nothing for them, we even did not know when and how were missed/killed/disappeared/etc. People react different in a case of individual dissapearance or massive one. If it is massive people say nothing. If it is one, they at least talk about it. HRO told us how many Peruvians were lost/killed, otherwise we would think nothing ever hapened. I know Ciro’s case is just one of thousands unfortunated cases.
    Tania, we should learn from others to fight our problems. We have nearly 190 years of independence solving our own problems. Nothing have been solved. We are still undeveloped and poor while at the same time other countries are in better position. So, I do not share your nationalist point of wiew.

  4. Catherine Binet says:

    Dear Tania, thank you for your comment. The organization I work with, EPAF, is 100% Peruvian. You seem to imply that human rights organizations are an imposition from the outside, which they are not. Contrary to what you may think, most Peruvians do believe in the importance of protecting Peruvians´ human rights, and this is why there are so many Peruvian human rights organizations.

  5. Tania says:

    It is just an observation.
    Peru and its civil, social, and otherwise organizations are Peru’s and Peruvians’ business only. We do not need human rights organizations (HRO) in our nation. You may not have said it. But you seem to imply that HROs are necessary and that they need funding. You should know that most of us Peruvians are tired of HROs, since they have advocated terrorist groups and individuals. Thus, the Ciro case and the other thousands of dissapeared people is of our business. We do not want HROs to corrupt our nation. We have our problems, we will deal with them… We are not Iraq or Afganistan…

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El Santa and the Search for Peru’s 15,000 Disappeared

Catherine Binet | Posted August 15th, 2011 | Latin America

Earlier this month, four clandestine graves were discovered along the Panamerican highway in the Peruvian region of La Libertad. Immediately, the macabre discovery was linked by relatives and community members to the enforced disappearance of nine campesinos from the district of El Santa in 1992; which was later confirmed by the exhumation and forensic investigation realized by the Instituto de Medicina Legal of the Public Ministry.

The nine victims were sequestrated, tortured, executed and disappeared during the government of Alberto Fujimori by the Colina group, a death squad responsible for some of the most emblematic cases of enforced disappearance and extrajudicial executions in Peru, such as the Cantuta and Barrios Altos cases.

Fujimori’s historic sentence was based on his intellectual authorship of the latter two crimes committed the Colina group, amongst others (but not including the El Santa case). The members of the Colina group were sentenced last year for their participation in this shocking crime. Nevertheless, and despite accurate information provided by certain members of the group during Fujimori’s trial regarding the location and numbers of the victims, their remains had never been uncovered.

To many, and to the members of EPAF, this is a clear demonstration of the lack of priority that has been given to the search and identification of the victims of enforced disappearance in the transitional justice process since the end of the internal armed conflict.

The El Santa case is a good example of the priority that is given to bringing cases to formal courts of justice over the recuperation of remains. While many relatives of the disappeared demand—and most certainly deserve—justice in a judicial sense, many more, I think, are more interested in simply recuperating the remains of their loved ones, and receiving reparation (not only in a monetary sense) for the crimes committed against them, in addition to proper attention from the State.

Learning the truth over what happened can be a form of justice; finally recuperating the remains of a long lost one so a to be able to light a candle by their grave on the day of the anniversary of their death can also be a form of justice.

There is nothing wrong, absolutely nothing wrong, with wanting to ensure that those responsible for the vile crimes that occurred during the internal armed conflict, whoever they were and whatever camp they belonged to, pay for their crimes. The reality, however, is that in many case it is simply impossible to gather sufficient evidence, so long after the events, to prove guilt in a court of law. If permissions to conduct forensic investigations are only granted by the Public Ministry in the context of judicial processes, then, it means that the wide majority of the victims will never be found. It is that simple.

Denying relatives a place to mourn and commemorate their dead, denying them the closure they need after decades of raw suffering by giving them some answers, is as clear a case of injustice as I can think of.

Working with testimonials of relatives over the past few weeks, I feel like I have been absorbing their pain, somehow. I think of how Aniceta, after more than 25 years of having lost her husband, still dreams about him constantly. I think of Juana, who has spent the better part of the last 25 years imagining her husband’s remains being dug up and eaten by dogs, and I can’t help but feel incredibly frustrated. ¿Como habrá sido? (How was it?) and ¿A dónde se lo habrán llevado? (Where could they have taken him?) are interrogations that come up again and again and again. These people need answers, and not 20 years from now. They need them now; they deserved them twenty years ago.

The El Santa case, and the fact that the remains were not found as the result of a state policy for the search and identification of Peru’s more than 15,000 disappeared but rather as the outcome of the personal effort of the victims’ relatives, who never gave up the search, has brought into relief once again the inexistence of a national plan on forensic investigation or of a national office for disappeared, the creation of which was recommended by Truth and Reconciliation Commission nearly ten years ago.

Complicating the issue is a lack of understanding among civil society, victims’ relatives, and the general public about the steps and complexity involved in the search and identification of the disappeared, no doubt stemming from a lack of information, but also probably due at least in part to the glamourized, oversimplified and distorted version of forensic work presented in ever-popular television series like C.S.I.

“We need a National Plan of Exhumation,” stated Rocío Silva Santisteban, the director of the Coordinadora Nacional de Derechos Humanos (CNDDHH) earlier this week, to the consternation of my EPAF co-workers.

As any forensic anthropologist will tell you, here is a huge difference between exhuming and searching for the missing. Exhuming is showing up to any of the more than 4,600 mass graves that were identified during the investigations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and digging up the remains. It is simple.

Searching for the missing is another story entirely. It involves, amongst other things, preliminary investigation to reconstruct each enforced disappearance’s story based on witnesses’ testimonials, the collection of ante-mortem data on each victim to construct the biological profile that would allow their identification, the careful analysis of the remains, etc.

What Peru urgently needs is not a National Plan of Exhumation, but a National Plan for the Search and Identification of the Disappeared. I see it as an important challenge for an organization such as EPAF to general political pressure and awareness among the general public on the urgent need for such a plan, especially given the recent change of government. Many of the relatives have never given up fighting, but they need support. They need the weight of Peruvian society behind them.

Above is a short clip presenting the audio testimonial of Juana Crisante Quispe, a woman from Hualla, Ayacucho. Her husband was disappeared by the military in 1983, and she has never stopped wondering what happened to him. Her testimonial was recorded by EPAF in 2009 along with photography by Jonathan Moller. It is part of a series I have been working on, and which will be posted soon on EPAF’s Desaparecidos, ¿Hasta Cuándo? blog. Comments are welcomed!

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Flashback to Huamanquiquia

Catherine Binet | Posted August 10th, 2011 | Latin America

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Of all the rural communities that I have visited so far with EPAF, Huamanquiquia has left one the deepest imprints in my memory, due to the warmth with which we were welcomed. No doubt this was in large part because of Renzo’s (a historian with EPAF’s memory area) presence among our group. He lived in Huamanquiquia for three months while doing fieldwork for his thesis a few years back, and he is treated like family any time he returns.

Huamanquiquia lies in the province of Víctor Fajardo, in Ayacucho. This area was immensely affected by the internal armed conflict, as it is where the Shining Path first began its activities. The community is surrounded by towering mountains; added to the seemingly never-ending hours of travelling on treacherous roads needed to reach it, I could not help but be overpowered by a sense of isolation upon our arrival. Isolation may be quaint and awe-inspiring when you are on a brief visit, but when your community is caught in a dirty war between insurgent groups and the armed forces, neither of whom are afraid to use cruelty and kill to defeat the other, I imagine that isolation can only amplify the distress felt.

Unsurprisingly, the recent history of Huamanquiquia has been marked by the political violence, and its sequels are omnipresent, as any community member will tell you. Two horrific events are seared into the local memory: the detention and murder of more than 25 campesinos by the military in 1984, otherwise known as the Huamanquiquia case, and the massacre of 18 campesinos by members of the Shining Path in 1992.

A few weeks ago, Huamanquiquia made the local news because new exhumations were about to take place, meaning that 27 years after the 1984 executions, the families of some of the victims would finally able to bury the remains of their loved ones. From what I understand, these new exhumations are the result of the recent extradition of Telmo Hurtado from the United States. Hurtado is currently on trial for his direct responsibility in the death of 69 individuals from the Ayacuchan community of Accomarca in August of 1985. He is also the presumed author of the 1984 massacre in Huamanquiquia.

While this is undeniably good news, it got me thinking about all the widows and orphans we met in Huamanquiquia, and the conditions they live in. I wondered if recuperating the remains would ever be enough to close the circle of suffering they find themselves in. This inspired to re-visit the material I filmed in Huamanquiquia back in June to make a short video. It is an attempt to portray the current situation in Huamanquiquia, and by extension the situation of countless post-communities in Peru, through the testimony of a local victim’s representative.

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“Con Nuestra Memoria, Resistimos la Impunidad”

Catherine Binet | Posted July 27th, 2011 | Latin America

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“With our memory, we resist impunity” – Statement by the relatives of the victims of La Cantuta in the protest against a possible presidential pardon for Alberto Fujimori

On Friday, July 15th, I attended a protest march in Lima Centro against a possible presidential pardon to ex-president Alberto Fujimori. A few weeks before, I had attended another event in opposition to a pardon; many of them have been taking place over the last few weeks as the presidential term of Alan García is coming to an end (Ollanta Humala will take over as of July 28, 2011, which is also Peru’s national independence day). What made last Friday’s protest special was that it was organized by the relatives of the Cantuta victims (see my previous post) in commemoration of the 19th anniversary of the massacre.

Civilians protesting against a pardon for Fujimori at Plaza San Martin on July 1st, 2011
Civilians protesting against a pardon for Fujimori at Plaza San Martin on July 1st, 2011

Around the time of the Peruvian presidential elections and the candidacy of Fujimori’s daughter Keiko, I wrote about what Alberto Fujimori represents for human rights, or more to the point, for impunity in Peru. His sentencing to 25 years in prison on charges of human rights violations and corruption represented a break with the long tradition of impunity in the country, and was internationally regarded as an important step in global efforts to end impunity in cases of crimes against humanity.

Banner in protest of a pardon for Fujimori
Banner in protest of a pardon for Fujimori

The forced disappearance and execution of nine students and a professor from La Cantuta is also very symbolically charged in Peru as it was one of the three cases that Alberto Fujimori was condemned for in 2009. He was deemed to be the intellectual author of La Cantuta, as well as of the Barrios Altos executions and the kidnappings of journalist Gustavo Gorriti and businessman Samuel Dyer. The Cantuta relatives, including EPAF’s Gisela Ortiz, sister of one of the students killed, are emblematic of the fight against impunity in Peru.

La Cantuta relative holding a picture of her son
La Cantuta relative holding a picture of her son

Unsurprisingly, Fujimoristas have never accepted the sentence against Fujimori, and have been fighting against it in all ways possible. A few days before the presidential elections this past June 5th, Fujimori’s defense filed a plea with the Constitutional Tribunal to find that the conviction is not valid because the judges were not impartial. According to Jo-Marie Burt, an acceptation of this argument by the Constitutional Court would amount to a revocation of the ratification of the original sentence, and a new trial would be held that could lead to Fujimori’s exoneration, or to a different sentence that could facilitate a presidential pardon. The plea will be revised, during a public audience, on the 4th of August.

Sign in protest of a possible pardon for Fujimori
Sign in protest of a possible pardon for Fujimori

Following the defeat of Keiko Fujimori in the presidential elections, a new story quickly began to dominate headlines, that of a possible presidential pardon to Fujimori on “humanitarian principles”. It began with a congressman commenting to the press that President Alan García should pardon the ex-president because he is “old and apparently sick.” Then there was intensive press coverage of the flailing health of the former president— that he suffered bleeding in his mouth; that his mouth cancer could be recurring; that he had lost 15 kilos; etc.

Some have argued that this represents a change in strategy by fujimoristas attempting to free the ex-president; a media campaign pushing for a presidential pardon. Despite the fact that an independent doctor confirmed Fujimori’s condition was not life-threatening and that his weight loss was due to depression, and that various analysts have stated that a pardon would be illegal under both Peruvian and international law, the rumours of a presidential pardon have not completely subsided.

Protest march against a pardon for Fujimori
Protest march against a pardon for Fujimori

Followers of Peruvian politics fear that Alan Garcia might pardon Fujimori, presumably in exchange for a future promise of protection from prosecution for human rights violations committed during his first term as president during the 1980s. Let it not be forgotten that his current administration has also been responsible such disasters as the 2009 massacre in Bagua.

Protest march against a pardon for Fujimori
Protest march against a pardon for Fujimori

Given the severity of the crimes committed by Fujimori and the lack of a legal or medical foundation for his pardon, I have to admit that I have trouble understanding why the possibility of a pardon on humanitarian grounds is even being discussed. But if there is anything to be learned from Peruvian history, it is that when politics are concerned, nothing is too far-fetched.

The question is not, as some out here have tried to turn it into, whether or not Fujimori deserves to die in prison.  Personally, I doubt anyone does. The point, however, is that reputable doctors have stated that his condition is not life threatening. The point is that his conviction is the most potent symbol of the fight against impunity in Peru, and that his pardon would represent a terrible blow to human rights and to the victims and victim’s relatives of the atrocities committed by his regime under his orders.

Protest march against a pardon for Fujimori
Protest march against a pardon for Fujimori

UPDATE: I finished writing this post a few days ago but for a variety of reasons I have not been able to publish it until today. As Ollanta Humala takes over as President today, it seems that Alan García decided that a pardon to Fujimori was not in his best interest. The issue is not completely over, though, as back in June, President-elect Ollanta Humala stated to the newpaper El Comercio that he would consider pardoning Fujimori on humanitarian grounds if his health worsened. Moreover, the examination of the “Habeas Corpus” presented to the Constitutional Court by Fujimori’s defense will take place next week…

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A Big Week for Memory

Catherine Binet | Posted July 19th, 2011 | Latin America

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This week has been an eventful one in Lima. The mood is festive, with pre-celebrations of the Fiestas Patrias taking place (the national independence day is on July 28th) and Peru’s unexpected qualifications to the semi-finals of the COPA América, the importance of which anyone having spent some time in fútbol-crazy South America will be well aware of.

On Sunday night, as I was deafened by the fireworks marking the culmination of the annual, exuberant parade announcing the Fiestas Patrias, I was reminded that merely two decades ago, Lima was experiencing an altogether different kind of explosions. In fact, aside from the glitz and the joyfulness—and, I feel, overshadowed by them—this week was also the anniversary of two tragic events dating from the period of the Peruvian political violence. Both occurred in 1992, and each is sadly emblematic of the barbary reached by the two sides in the conflict.

Corso Wong, an annual parade in Miraflores
Corso Wong, an annual parade in Miraflores
The first event, the Tarata street bombing, was authored by members of Sendero Luminoso. Throughout 1991 and 1992, the terrorist organization had gradually shifted its focus away from the Peruvian highlands, and Lima had become the principal target of its subversive actions, forever imprinting the expression of “coche-bomba” (car bomb) into the memory and vocabulary of every Limeño and Limeña.

The most remembered of “coche-bomba” attacks is probably the bombing of Tarata street, in the center of the financial and commercial district of Miraflores (and a short 10 minutes walk from my current home).  In the evening of July 16th, 1992, two vehicles containing more than half a ton of explosives were set off, killing 25 and injuring 155 bystanders, and dispersing any remaining notion among Limeños that the Peruvian internal conflict was occurring out there, to others.

In response to the Tarata street bombing and many other “coche-bomba” attacks that followed, in the early hours of July 18, 1992, the “Grupo Colina”, a secret paramilitary commando made up of intelligence army officers as part of a clandestine government war against subversion, entered the Universidad Nacional de Educación La Cantuta to sequestrate, execute, and disappear nine students and a professor.

Fresh flowers from the commemoration of the 19th anniversary of the Tarata street bombing
Fresh flowers from the commemoration of the 19th anniversary of the Tarata street bombing
La Cantuta, as numerous universities in the country, had a leftist reputation, and its students had indiscriminately been labelled as terrorists by the government and the military. Immediately following the event, and despite the testimonies of hundreds of witnesses, the massacre was denied by military authorities. The calcined remains of some of the bodies were discovered the following year. It was later revealed that the students and professor had been transported to a remote location where they ended up with gun shots to the head. The bodies were buried and later burned and re-buried in a different location to conceal what had happened.

In 2009, Fujimori was sentenced to 25 years in prison for his responsibility in the Cantuta case, among others.  Last Friday, I attended a march organized by the relatives of the Cantuta victims and various human rights organization in commemoration of the 19th anniversary of the massacre and against the possible pardon to Fujimori (this deserves a much longer entry, and will be the topic of my next post).

Relatives of the La Cantuta victims say no to a possible pardon for Fujimori
Relatives of the La Cantuta victims say no to a possible pardon for Fujimori

All in all, then, it has been a big week for memory. The anniversary of these two events once more highlighted the divided nature of Peruvians over the period of the political violence and the polemical figure of Fujimori. A cursory glance at the comments section of this news report on the commemoration of Tarata confirms it: countless comments thank the ex-president they affectionately call “el chino”. Many decry the fact that his role in eliminating the terrorists is not mentioned, for instance, in the Tarata commemoration. Others specifically refer to the Cantuta case, thanking Fujimori for eliminating “esos terrucos” (terrorists). More worryingly yet, a good number blame human rights for getting in the way of the proper recognition Fujimori supposedly deserves.

As controversial as they may be, the commemoration of Tarata Street and La Cantuta at least allow for a dialogue to occur over what happened, they allow for the slow and continual construction of memory, and, perhaps even more importantly, they provide the relatives of the victims with an outlet for their grief and the reaffirmation of their commitment to the search truth and justice.

The same cannot be said for the wide majority of the massacres that occurred in the Peruvian countryside, particularly during the first decade of the country. Tarata Street and La Cantuta represent both sides of the conflict, but only in its urban dimension. In rural areas, people’s memories of the events are rarely if ever provided with the opportunity to be externalized in this way; they are repressed, yet not forgotten.

These past few weeks, I have been working with relatives’ testimonials that were recorded by EPAF in 2009 in various communities affected by the violence. Listening to one testimonial after the other, I have had to fight back my own emotions at the authors’ evident inability to control theirs while recounting their story. I have interpreted this as a reflection of the unprocessed nature of people’s pain and distress over events that occurred more than 20 years ago, and as an obvious need for an outlet and recognition of the events that changed their lives in the worst possible way.

A wonderful initiative contributing to the construction and preservation of memory in Peru is the “Un Día en la Memoria” blog and calendar; for most days of the year, it uses newspapers records and the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to identify events that occurred on “un día como hoy” (on a day like today), supported by great graphic art. Here is the image for the Tarata street bombing:

Graphic art commemorating the Tarata street bombing, by Mauricio Delgado www.undiaenlamemoria.blogspot.com
Graphic art commemorating the Tarata street bombing, by Mauricio Delgado www.undiaenlamemoria.blogspot.com

Read the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report on the Cantuta case, in Spanish.

Read the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report on the Tarata Street case, in Spanish.

Read former AP Fellow Karin Orr’s blog post on last year’s anniversary of La Cantuta.

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(More) On Reparations

Catherine Binet | Posted July 15th, 2011 | Latin America

After writing last week on the process of reparation to the victims of the Peruvian political violence and their relatives, I felt that there was still a lot ground to cover on the issue. Following the publication of my blog post, I had an interesting conversation on reparation with a colleague, and I thought his insights on the issue were worth sharing.

Ricardo Alvarado is a historian who has been dedicated to human rights work and activism since 1998. An avid blogger, he represents a dissident voice within the Peruvian human rights movement and is critical of the transitional justice process initiated by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Here are his thoughts on the importance of reparation, the recent Supreme Decree (see my previous post), the attitude of the government on the issue, and the actual state of the human rights movement in Peru.

One Response to “(More) On Reparations”

  1. Catherine Nolin says:

    Thanks for posting this link to Ricardo’s analysis. I look forward to viewing it this weekend. Abrazos.

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On Reparations

Catherine Binet | Posted July 5th, 2011 | Latin America

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The issue of reparations to the victims of the internal armed conflict is one that I have been meaning to write about for a while, being transversal to many of the themes that are part of my daily orbit here in Lima: memory, justice, reconciliation, development. Following my last trip to Ayacucho and a recent decree promulgated by the Peruvian Supreme Court, I feel now is an appropriate time to tackle the issue. A word of warning, though:  since I have done a fair bit of reading on this topic lately, this post is a bit lengthy, and has a more academic bend. You will have to forgive me just this once!

In 2003, the final report of the Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommended the creation of an Integral Plan of Reparations as part of a state policy that would allow for the material, moral, mental and physical recuperation of the victims of the armed conflict and restore their rights.

The necessity of reparations in post-conflict situations is widely accepted, as states have a legal duty to acknowledge and address widespread or systematic human rights violations, in cases where the state caused the violations or did not seriously try to prevent them (for instance, the UN’s Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation explicitly recognize reparations as a right). But above and beyond a legalistic perspective, it is also nearly undisputed that reparations are a necessary condition in the process of reconciliation.

Local women in Huamanquiquia
Local women in Huamanquiquia

As part of the transitional justice process, reparations should serve a double purpose. The first is to recognize the harms suffered by the victims, and publicly affirm that victims are right-holders entitled to redress. The second goal is to provide actual benefits to the victims, whether in symbolic or material forms, providing the conditions for future relationships based on the mutual recognition of the equality and dignity of all.

In theory, then, reparations should both compensate for the losses suffered, helping to overcome the consequences of the violence; and be future-oriented, helping to eradicate the underlying causes of the violence and victimization. In a country like Peru, where historical marginalization, discrimination and injustices against Andean and native populations preceded and in a certain sense gave rise to the internal conflict and the massive violations of human rights that came along with it, the second goal is particularly important.

What it implies, however, is not always well understood. To begin, it implies that a transitional justice restoring the victim to the original situation before the gross violations of human rights occurred can hardly be called justice, when the original situation included blatant violations of economic, social and cultural rights. Thus, it also implies moving away from the notion of retributive justice and towards distributive and transformative justice. As stated in this briefing paper by the International Center for Transitional Justice—ICTJ: “When the causes and consequences of poverty are not seen as directly relevant to transitional justice, reparations programs … may only lead to frustration and resentment.”

Local woman in Huamanquiquia waiting for her RUV certificate
Local woman in Huamanquiquia waiting for her RUV certificate

But back to the Peruvian case. The Toledo government realized important advances in the implementation of an Integral Plan of Reparations, as proposed by the Truth Commission. It promulgated a plan and the laws to regulate it, created a multi-sectorial commission to coordinate and monitor its implementation, and formed a Council of Reparations in charge of defining the beneficiaries and policies of reparation. The Program of Economic Reparations is a component of the Integral Plan of Reparations, along with other measures such as reparations in the areas of health, education, access to housing, etc.

Contrary to its predecessor, the outgoing government of Alan García has advanced little on the agenda of reparations. The only reparation program that has seen any substantial progress has been the program for collective reparations. To date, this program had benefited 1,672 communities affected by the violence.

While collective reparations do represent an expression of recognition of the state’s responsibility as well as an effort by the state to fulfill its obligation to compensate the victims of the internal armed conflict, successive evaluations of the implementation of the program by APRODEH and the ICTJ (the second and third evaluations are available online) found serious limitations to their reparative effect. They showed that, in practice, collective reparations were used as a way of compensating for the lack of basic services and infrastructure in the population, and were often not understood those affected as related to their status as victims of the internal conflict.

Local women in Huamanquiquia sharing their concerns over the RUV with Renzo
Local women in Huamanquiquia sharing their concerns over the RUV with Renzo

Collective reparations project are decided upon through participatory consultations with the affected communities. Given the depth and breadth of unmet basic needs in those communities, the chosen project are most often infrastructural in nature. In this context, the link between the harms suffered from the violence by the community and the chosen projects is not always clear. The communities simply do not have the luxury of identifying the project of reparation most symbolically appropriate to acknowledge and make up for the damage suffered; their immediate development needs and priorities win over.

Collective reparations, in these cases, rather than representing the implementation of a right that dignifies the victims, end up being mere attempts at satisfying a necessity. But the problem runs even deeper: by acting as substitutes for basic services that the state should be providing anyway, they negate the dignity and the rights of the population to these services.  Needless to say, the opportunity to restore the status of full-rights bearing citizens to the affected individuals is lost in the process.

As opposed to the Program for Collective Reparations, the process of individual reparations (which is what many of those affected are waiting for – see for example Karin Orr’s video “Request for Reparations in Putis”) has precariously moved along, dogged by a lengthy and bureaucratic process of registering the victims into the Registro Único de Víctimas—RUV, budget cuts, and  likely a lack of political will.

EPAF staff handing out certifications of registration to the RUV
EPAF staff handing out certifications of registration to the RUV

On June 16, 2011, while I was away in Ayacucho, Decree N° 051-2011-PCM on individual economic reparations was promulgated by the Supreme Court. The Decree establishes the amount to be granted to victims on the armed conflict that have been duly registered on the RUV and sets a conclusion date to the process of inscription onto the RUV. Given its contents, it was immediately and unequivocally rejected by organizations of people affected by the violence and defenders of human rights (a press conference held by various NGOs demanded the derogation of the Decree; also read EPAF’s official position on the matter).

The Decree states that on December 31st, 2011, the process of determination and identification of the beneficiaries of individual reparations will close. However, given the complexity of the process, the high number of victims that still have not been registered to the RUV, and the isolated location of many of those affected, it is difficult to justify such a closing date. During our last trip to Ayacucho, EPAF exceptionally accepted to distribute certifications of registration to the RUV on behalf of the Council of Reparations in the communities we visited. In the process, it became obvious how much confusion, misunderstandings, and expectations there are about what the RUV is, who can register, how to register, etc. It is, to put it simply, absolutely impossible for all of those eligible for reparations to be registered to the RUV by December 31st, 2011.

The amount of 10.000 soles per victim offered is another major cause for concern, as it demonstrates a not only a disregard for international principles and standards on reparation, but also for the suggestions made by the affected regarding what may be an acceptable amount. Yet another contentious aspect of the recent Decree is that to be currently eligible, affected relatives of victims of enforced disappearance or execution must be over 80 years old, and victims of sexual violations must be over 65 years old—the latter being rather ironic, given the fact that victims of sexual violation were almost always young women, who would not have reached 65 years old today.

Lady posing with her certificate of registration to the RUV
Lady posing with her certificate of registration to the RUV

What does all of this say about the commitment of the current administration to justice and the dignity of the victims of the armed conflict? It is a vicious circle of victimization; a violation of the right of victims to receive reparation for previous violations of their rights.

As I mentioned in my last post, seeing the difficult conditions in which individuals affected by Peru’s internal conflict continue to live, and becoming aware of the linkages they themselves see between their experience of the violence and their conditions of poverty and exclusion, has made me reflect lately on the concept of justice. Justice undoubtedly involves compensation for the harms suffered.

But what might constitute appropriate compensation? The reality I am witnessing in communities like Huamanquiquia, Sacsamarca, Hualla and Putis, is that long-standing cultural, economic and social conditions, combined with weak public policies that at times could be mistaken for virtual absence of the state, continue to violate the basic rights of the population.  In this context, it is difficult to see how a reparation program limited to the one-off construction of an infrastructural project or individual monetary compensation that may or may not come depending on such arbitrary factors as one’s age may restore the dignity of victims and their status as full-rights bearing citizens.

I highly doubt that the legacy of the armed conflict is a debt that can be settled by any specific action or measure; it requires the affirmation and recognition of the dignity and rights of the victims on a continual basis. The Truth Commission understood this when it proposed an Integrated Plan that would provide for simultaneous measures in health, education, housing, etc. Unfortunately, this plan was only partially implemented by the successive governments. The coming change of government presents an excellent opportunity to revisit the policy on reparations, and hopefully follow more closely the recommendations of the Truth Commission on this matter.

In my view, the only acceptable reparation to the victims would not only compensate for the violence suffered, but also allow victims to overcome the consequences of their historical marginalization. By empowering them to take control of their own future and providing them with adequate conditions for the full exercise of their citizenship, it would establish equal relations among all Peruvians.

From this perspective, it is difficult to see where reparation as such ends, and where “development” begins. A program designed to correct the consequences of historical marginalization could include the implementation of preferential measures in the areas of education, agriculture and productive development, housing, health, etc. But if reparation is to take these forms, the way and context in which it is provided  is key to deliver the message that society acknowledges and values the dignity of the victims, and to differentiate reparation from social or development policies, making it clear to the population exactly what they are being compensated for.

One Response to “On Reparations”

  1. Pegah says:

    “victims of sexual violations must be over 65 years old—the latter being rather ironic, given the fact that victims of sexual violation were almost always young women, who would not have reached 65 years old today.”

    So what is being done to ensure that those who have not yet met these guidelines will receive reparations?

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Tupananchikkama, Ayacucho

Catherine Binet | Posted June 28th, 2011 | Latin America

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Huamanquiquia, Sacsamarca and Hualla. These are the names of the three communities of the Pampas-Qaracha region of Ayacucho that I visited that week, along with EPAF staff and a delegation of Canadian professors from the University of Northern British Columbia. In prevision of a future collaboration between UNBC and EPAF, the professors were there to learn about the history of the armed conflict in the region, as well as obtain a better understanding of the current post-conflict situation in the different communities.

Musical performers in Huamanquiquia
Musical performers in Huamanquiquia

Despite the long hours of driving separating them, and their distinctive clothing and musical styles, Huamanquiquia, Sacsamarca and Hualla have a lot in common. In fact, like the majority of conflict-affected communities in Peru—many of which are to be found in this region as it was the main location of the confrontation between the Shining Path, the Peruvian Armed Forces, and self-defence groups—they share similarities that far outweigh their differences.

Huamanquiquia locals
Huamanquiquia locals

The three communities are part of an on-going  EPAF project to empower the relatives of the disappeared to become the main promoters of the search for their loved ones, through the recuperation of memory, psychosocial counselling, and support and juridical assistance in the organization of associations of victims’ relatives. One of the main reasons for our visit was to sign agreements with local authorities to formalize the collaboration between EPAF each of the communities.

Sunset in Sacsamarca
Sunset in Sacsamarca

As I am becoming more immersed in this work and the more of these communities I visit, certain patterns are becoming hard to miss. This time around, I was particularly struck by two elements that came up again and again, whether in official speeches and discussions or in conversations with local people. First was how much people were moved by the interest showed by outsiders—whether they EPAF staff or visiting Canadian professors—in learning about their stories.

Sacsamarca locals
Sacsamarca locals

These are remote, extremely isolated communities that were deeply wounded by the internal conflict, and they have had to live with the weight of their memories ever since. The overwhelming impression I got was that communities feeling abandoned—abandoned by the State, and abandoned by a Peruvian society that cares little about the horrors that took place in this part of the country during the 1980s and 1990s. But also of people feeling trapped with their memories, their suffering and their wounds—and being thankful for any kind of outlet. Memory can be a burden as much as a liberation, and I have a feeling that some level of external recognition is crucial in the transition from one to the other.

Huamanquiquia locals and EPAF
Huamanquiquia locals and EPAF

The second thread that seemed to crop up again and again was that of the various linkages between the history of violence and the present difficulties in the communities. Local people clearly understand their present as the logical continuation of the past, and many associate their current state of poverty as the consequence of the violence suffered in the 1980s and 1990s. For instance, people in Hualla repeatedly emphasized the progress achieved by the community before the conflict.  When violence came, it was reduced to a fraction of its population when the majority had to flee to cities—Huamanga, Ica, Lima—to preserve their lives.

Woman watching EPAF staff at work
Woman watching EPAF staff at work

The fact that people themselves associate what I would broadly call “development” issues with their memories and lived experiences of the violence has many possible implications, which I will be sure to take up in future posts. For now, I will focus on one:  the limits of memory and the true meaning of justice. What does justice mean for the relatives of victims of enforced disappearance? Surely, establishing the truth over what happened and recuperating the remains of their deceased loved ones is a step in the right direction.

Members of AFAVIPOSS
Members of AFAVIPOSS

But what happens after the truth has been established, after the dead have been returned and properly buried? The collective memory of what happened may live on, but the people directly affected by the violence still remain as poor and marginalized from society, preventing any real possibility of a full reconciliation. This directly feeds into questions over reparations for the violence and losses suffered. What sort of reparation is appropriate in such cases? What is the responsibility of the government in this matter? I will address this issue in my next post, as I believe it is quite fitting with what I have witnessed on this recent trip, but also with recent events in Peru.

Welcome to Sacsamarca
Welcome to Sacsamarca

Before ending this post, I need to mention the incredible way we were welcomed in Huamanquiquia, Sacsamarca and Hualla. EPAF has managed to build a relationship of trust and respect with these communities, and this was evidenced by the extremely warm welcome we received. It is difficult to express the emotion felt after hours spent travelling on hair-raising roads to find an entire community waiting in the middle of the road to welcome your group with banners, music, and flowers. The hospitality of the people was truly humbling, and left many of us without the words to express our gratitude.

Post-ceremony group shot in Huamanquiquia
Post-ceremony group shot in Huamanquiquia

There would be much more for me to say about this trip to Ayacucho, but in the interest of keeping this post short I will simply say: “Tupananchikkama, Ayacucho!” (Quechua for see you soon, Ayacucho!)

Group pose at the highest pass of the trip
Group pose at the highest pass of the trip

The rest of my photos of Ayacucho are available on my Flickr set.

2 Responses to “Tupananchikkama, Ayacucho”

  1. Karin says:

    Catherine, I love this line, \"Memory can be a burden as much as a liberation, and I have a feeling that some level of external recognition is crucial in the transition from one to the other.\" I think you\’ve definitely got a talent for verbalizing the acute observations you\’ve made, that many Peruvians may never witness. Your photos are equally as inspiring and, of course, makes me nostalgic for all of Peru\’s various nuances.

  2. Pegah says:

    Catherine, I love this line, “Memory can be a burden as much as a liberation, and I have a feeling that some level of external recognition is crucial in the transition from one to the other.” I think you’ve definitely got a talent for verbalizing the acute observations you’ve made, that many Peruvians may never witness. Your photos are equally as inspiring and, of course, makes me nostalgic for all of Peru’s various nuances.

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Fellow: Catherine Binet

Peruvian Forensic Anthropology Team (EPAF)


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