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17 June 2003

PRESS CONFERENCE ON PERU’S TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION COMMISSION

17/06/2003
Press Briefing


PRESS CONFERENCE ON PERU’S TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION COMMISSION


After two intense years, the Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission was nearing the final stages of its work and would soon release a report on its findings, correspondents were told this morning at a Headquarters press conference sponsored by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).


Established in 2001 by a transitional government, the Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission had a two-year mandate to uncover the truth about 20 years of violence in Peru, between 1980 and 2000, Lisa Magarrell of the International Centre for Transitional Justice, said as she described the Commission’s work.  Endorsed in July 2001 by then newly elected President Alejandro Toledo, the Commission investigated violence and human rights abuses spanning three governments -- including the 10-year reign of former President Alberto Fujimori, who fled to Japan in 2000.  Its investigation included violence not only by government forces, but also by the Shining Path militants and, to a lesser extent, the Tupac Amaru revolutionary movement.


The Commission, which had collected and analyzed information from some 17,000 testimonies, was currently in the process of drafting its final report, to be released in August.  The first truth commission in Latin America to hold public hearings, the Commission was making a unique effort towards the prosecution of the perpetrators of violence, as well as to the development of a broader history of the conflict it was documenting. 


“In a time when Peruvians tend to be quite sceptical about many issues, particularly government, they place substantial trust in the legitimacy and credibility of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission”, she said.  According to a public opinion poll published yesterday in a Lima newspaper, some 65 per cent of those polled trusted the Commission’s objectivity, and a majority approved of its work.


Salomon Lerner Febres, President of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, said Peruvian society was undergoing a transitional period following a 10-year absence of democracy.  One component of Peru’s new democracy was an examination of the past 20 years to see what actually happened.  Internal armed conflict had resulted in thousands of dead, violations of human rights and material losses totalling an amount as much or more of the country’s external debt. 


The Commission, which was part of the country’s transition period, had a complex mandate, he said, including the investigation of human rights violations from 1980 to 2000.  The Commission also had to identify the causes of violence and propose measures to compensate victims for damages.  It also had to propose institutional reforms to prevent a reoccurrence of similar violations.  


He said to understand the context in which the violence had occurred, the Commission had formed various teams to focus on specific areas, including legal, scientific, social and historical matters.  The focus of the Commission’s final report would be the need to strengthen justice in Peru.  Justice included revealing the truth of what had happened, criminal penalties for those who had committed untold crimes and proper compensation for the victims of violence committed by the Shining Path, the Tupac Amaru and the forces of the State.


For many years, citizenship had not been afforded to all Peruvians, he said.  Discrimination, exclusion and poverty had created the climate in which subversive movements and authoritarian regimes had flourished.  Reconciliation could only be achieved through vigorous citizenship policies and institutional reforms.  The State had to be more democratic and responsive to the needs of the people.  Institutional reforms were also necessary, including greater independence, efficiency and accessibility for the judiciary.  Other institutional reforms included the police and armed forces, the educational system and the organization of democratic political parties.  Education had to be within the reach all Peruvians, especially the poorest segments of society that had been most affected by violence.


As it neared the final stages of its work, he said the Commission would require great support, including international support, so that Peruvian society and the Government could genuinely commit to the Commission’s concrete recommendations.  He hoped the end of the Commission’s work would signal the beginning of a “commitment stage” for in-depth change by the Peruvian society and State, so as to prevent a reoccurrence of the similar tragedies.


Asked to elaborate further on the Commission’s work, Mr. Lerner said the Commission’s mandate included an analysis of the causes of violence, including a review of Peru’s history before 1980.  The Commission was mandated to hear from the “mouths of the victims” themselves about the crimes that had been committed.  At one time, some 600 people had been sent to different parts of the country to listen to the stories of the people.  The data they collected had been compiled into a sophisticated database.  A legal team had been created to establish which crimes could be attributed to subversive or State movements.


The Commission had also evaluated the aftermath of years of violence and how that violence could be rectified, including through reparation and compensation, he said. 


Commissioner Carlos Ivan Degregori said Peru was different from other countries in the southern cone, in that the majority of its population was indigenous.  According to testimonies collected by the Commission, of the total number of victims, some 75 per cent spoke Quechua.  According to the Commission’s projections, some 25,000 people had died or disappeared.  The actual number, however, might be much higher –- perhaps as many as 40,000 to 45,000 dead or disappeared.


Testimonies were not the only source of information for the Commission’s investigation, said Commissioner Sofia Macher.  There had been many other sources, including official sources.  The Commission had had access to all of the military tribunals, which had never before been opened.  For the Commission, collecting victim testimonies was, in and of itself, part of reparation.  The fact that the Commission had collected the testimonies was an acknowledgement of what had happened.  While the Commission had originally planned for 12,000 testimonies, it had been able to receive some 17,000.  Six criminal cases had already been submitted to the public ministry, three of which had been sent to the justice ministry.  One of the first indicators of the Commission’s success, she said, would be that of legal justice.


In response to a question on the current civil unrest in Peru, Mr. Degregori said the country’s transition to democracy was still fragile.  Last year, the results of the Truth Commission’s work had been debated.  Some had said that the Commission’s recommendations would only add to the already fragile situation.  On the contrary, the Commission believed its recommendations could be used as an instrument for coping with new challenges.  The Commission believed that it was part of the solution and not the problem, and that its results would contribute to the democratization process.


In response to a question on the former President, Mr. Lerner said he had tried to meet with Mr. Fujimori in Tokyo and he had refused the opportunity to apologize to the country.  When extradited, he would be judged for crimes carried out during his term.  In particular, he would have to explain the existence of paramilitary groups during his term.  Everything indicated that he knew about those groups.


Asked whether the Truth Commission would call on Japan to extradite Mr. Fujimori, Mr. Lerner said that was not part of the Commission’s mandate.  The State, however, would soon formally present an extradition request.


Responding to a question on the types of compensation the Commission envisaged, Mr. Lerner said nothing could compensate for a human life.  There would be always be asymmetry between what was given and what was lost.  It was necessary, however, to compensate -- both materially and symbolically.  Reparation would be both individual and collective, as whole peoples had suffered. 


Compensation would require a great deal of money, he said.  The Peruvian Government was not in a position to cope with that.  It must be a process over time.  Given an initial commitment by the Government, international funding must supplement the Government’s effort.  Imaginative ways must be found to supplement that effort, including cancellation of debt and support for certain social programmes.  He had already discussed with the World Bank the idea of financial organizations allowing Peru greater flexibility in its annual economic plan, so that part of its budget could be devoted to the reparation programme. 


The description of the Shining Path as a political party by some Truth Commission members had met with criticism in Peru last week, a correspondent said.  What did that mean in terms of the Commission’s final findings?


Mr. Lerner said the Commission’s statement had not been properly understood.  The Shining Path was a subversive, totalitarian, illegal movement that must be punished and could not be included within a rule of law in a democratic State.  Its nature, however, related to politics, because it sought power, albeit through terror.  The statement had since been clarified.  Many years ago, authorities from the armed forces had also referred to the shining Path as a political organization, in order to combat it.  The Commission had just repeated something that had already been said.


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For information media. Not an official record.