60,000 May Have Died in Peru Violence, Panel Says
By Peter Eisner
Investigators examining human rights abuses in Peru during the 1980s and 1990s have concluded that as many as 60,000 people were killed or disappeared by government forces and Maoist insurgents, almost double previous estimates, according to the country's truth and reconciliation commission.
Commission members visiting Washington yesterday shared findings of their two-year inquiry in advance of a formal presentation to Peru's government in August. The commission, made up of academics, human rights activists and other prominent Peruvians, based its conclusions about the death toll on interviews with 18,000 witnesses and statistical projections from 24,000 victims whose names were collected for the first time as part of the investigation.
The commission's president, Salomon Lerner Febres, told Washington Post editors and reporters that at least 40,000 people died in the political violence. "With the help of international analysts, we were able to be more precise with our work. The violence was much more intense than we had thought."
The truth and reconciliation commission was created in 2001 to investigate abuses committed largely by Peru's security forces and the Shining Path rebel movement. Shining Path and another rebel group were crushed by an anti-insurgency campaign under then-President Alberto Fujimori in the 1990s. Commission members interviewed about 1,000 imprisoned Shining Path members, including their leader, Abimael Guzman, as well as military officers, some of whom acknowledged human rights abuses. The commission also conducted televised hearings in which some of the thousands of victims described atrocities and torture, both by Shining Path and by members of the Peruvian armed forces.
The commission said that about 52 percent of the confirmed deaths were committed by Shining Path, 35 percent by government forces and smaller percentages by armed peasant groups, the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement and unknown combatants.
Lerner said that while there may never be a full accounting of the victims, Peruvian society needs to come to terms with the violence so that it never happens again.
He said that Peruvian society has not always focused on holding those responsible for violence accountable for their acts. "Society was satisfied with the fact that the acts of terrorism no longer were taking place," he said.
The commission has submitted six cases involving abuses by members of the armed forces to the Peruvian justice system for possible prosecution and may refer as many as 50 more.
"Much more important than how they died is the manner in which they died, which took place with extreme cruelty," Lerner said. "It is not only a question of human life, but also of personal dignity."
The commission is recommending that the government seek millions of dollars in reparations for victims of the violence. Surviving victims and family members of those killed would be eligible for payments.
Members have been discussing ways to raise funds for those payments. Commission members said they have discussed international aid formulas with the World Bank. They also will recommend recovering funds allegedly stolen by Fujimori, who fled the country for Japan in November 2000 and faces corruption charges. Fujimori refused to be interviewed by commission members.
[Source: By Peter Eisner, Washington Post Foreign Service, Saturday, June 21, 2003]
This document has been published on 23jun03 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights, in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.