On June 4, 2001 President Panaguia signed Supreme Decree No. 065-2001-PCM, which established “La Comisión de la Verdad” and appointed 7 highly respected Peruvian citizens as Commissioners. The Commission’s mandated objectives were to:
- Determine the causes of the violence Peru experienced between May 1980 and November 2000;
- Contribute to the clarification of the crimes and human rights violations perpetrated during this period;
- Identify, to the best of its abilities, those responsible for these violent acts;
- Elaborate proposals for the reparation and dignification of the victims and their families;
- Recommend the implementation of reform as preventive measures; and
- Establish follow-up mechanisms for its recommendations
The Commission commenced its work in September of 2001 with five regional offices. During its nearly two years of operation, the Commission focused its work on four areas: 1) National Context of Violence; 2) Investigation and Clarification of Facts; 3) Consequences, Reparations and Reconciliation; and 4) Communications and Education.
National Context of Violence
In order to develop a better background knowledge of the violence, the Commission used testimonies collected by regional offices as well as additional interviews and research to develop detailed histories of the seven regions particularly affected by the violence. The Commission also carried out 19 in-depth studies that closely examine at specific issues, such as the impact of the conflict on certain communities or groups.
Investigation and Clarification of Facts
Beginning in September of 2001, teams were mobilized from each of the five regional offices to collect testimonies from people affected by the political violence between 1980 and 2000. By the time they completed their work in February of 2003, these teams had collected a total of 16,885 testimonies from 530 districts, 137 provinces, and all the departments of Peru.
The Commission created a complex database in order to process the testimonies and provide an ongoing reference for victims, their families, human rights organizations and the Public Ministry responsible for prosecuting the perpetrators. The database, which includes more than 59,000 names of victims, perpetrators, and people who gave testimony, has search and cross-referencing capabilities. The database is capable of recreating specific human rights violations, providing information on the people involved and how the event took place.
To heighten public awareness and encourage people to provide information on disappeared persons, the Commission began an Initiative on Disappeared Persons in November 2003 called “Para que no te olvides” (So you don’t forget). A collaborative effort of the Commission, the Defensoria del Pueblo (Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office), the National Coordinator of Human Rights, and the International Red Cross, the Initiative created a list of disappeared persons by integrating information from all four institutions. In addition, the Initiative sought to produce the most exhaustive list possible by allowing families to register disappeared persons not already on the list.
The Commission was also the first in Latin America to conduct public hearings. The public hearings were intended to be solemn events that allowed victims to present their testimonies and the Commission to receive them publicly as part of the truth and reconciliation process. Public hearings on individual cases of human rights violations were held in the eight communities most affected by the violence. Public assemblies were held in seven additional communities in order to receive additional testimonials. In total, 431 testimonies related to 318 cases were heard in public.
Following the individual hearings, six thematic hearings were held on the problem of the innocentes, human rights violations against women, the effects of the violence on universities, internally displaced persons, and the effects of the violence on the Sierra region. A total of approximately 9800 people participated in the public hearings aspect of the Commission’s work.
As part of the Commission’s investigations, 2,200 preliminary investigations were carried out, as well as exhumations of burial sites in Chuschi, Totos and Lucanamarca (all in Ayacucho). In Chuschi and Totos, the perpetrators of the extrajudicial executions were government actors; in Lucanamarca, the perpetrators were PCP-SL. Based on information obtained through its investigation, the Commission also prepared a National Registry of Burial Sites based on the information obtained in its investigations.
Consequences, Reparations and Reconciliation
While the Commission had no prosecutorial power, it did evaluate individual cases and forward those with sufficient evidence to the Public Ministry for prosecution. The Commission asked the Public Ministry to initiate criminal proceedings in a total of 43 cases.
The Commission also gathered input from victims and civil society in order to formulate a comprehensive reparations program proposal. The Commission, in partnership with civil society organizations, carried out 35 workshops on reparations as well as a national conference with 1161 victim participants.
In order to prevent similar human rights abuses in the future, the Commission studied potential reform of the Armed Forces, the National Police, the penal system, education policy, health care, and other institutions.
Communications and Education
Through communications and media relations, the Commission sought to disseminate information and raise public awareness about the work of the Commission. The Commission also designed a civic education program to promote citizen participation and involvement in national reconciliation. Educational efforts included local and national campaigns, workshops and seminars, and artistic and cultural events such as a photography exhibit and concert for reconciliation.
In the final months of its work, the Commission made a concerted effort to involve all political and social actors in the transitional justice process in order to ensure the successful implementation of the Commission’s recommendations. The Commission organized a series of meetings with the political actors directly involved with the conflict in order to receive their input. The Commission also held eight Institutional Sessions called “Overview and Perspectives” with the goal of generating a space for the main social, political and military actors (including governing and opposition political parties, armed forces, police, and armed insurgent groups). Representatives from former President Fujimori’s party, Partido Cambio 90 Neuva Mayoría (New Majority Change 90), refused to the Commission’s invitation to participate. Due to the declaration of a State of Emergency shortly before the sessions, the Armed Forces and National Police also declined to participate, although they left open the possibility of rescheduling their participation.
The Commission’s Final Report was made public on August 28, 2003. The Final Report is composed of 10 volumes, with a total of 8000 pages. The Commission’s Final Report included conclusions as to the dimension of the conflict and the responsibilities of the parties. The Commission estimates that 69,280 individuals died in the conflict – nearly three times previous estimates. The Commission established that there was a significant relationship between poverty and social exclusion and the probability of becoming a victim of violence. The campesina population was the principal victim of the violence, with 79 percent of the victims living in rural areas and 56 percent engaged in farming or livestock activities. According to the Commission’s findings, 75 percent of the victims who died in the conflict spoke Quechua, Ashaninka or other native languages as their mother tongue; according to the 1993 census, only 16 percent of Peruvians shared that characteristic. Further, the Commission concluded that the violence fell unequally on different geographical regions. More than 40 percent of the deaths and disappearances were concentrated in the department of Ayacucho alone. These victims taken together with those documented by the Commission in the departments of Junin, Huanuco, Huancavelica, Apurimac and San Martin make up 85 percent of the victims killed in the conflict.
The Final Report states that, based on the number of persons killed and disappeared, the PCP-SL was the principal perpetrator of crimes and human rights abuses. According to the Commission’s findings, the PCP-SL was responsible for 54 percent of the victim deaths. The Final Report also states that the PCP-SL, especially the leaders, have direct responsibility for crimes against humanity in the forms of armed attacks against the civilian population, using “human shields”, etc. The Commission further found that the MRTA was responsible for an additional 1.5 percent of victim deaths.
The Final Report places responsibility for 29 percent of the human rights violations on State entities (the police and armed forces). The Commission concludes that the fight against armed insurgent groups reinforced pre-existing authoritarian and repressive practices among members of the police – particularly torture and prolonged detentions. Further, the Commission “affirms that at some places and moments in the conflict, the behavior of members of the armed forces not only involved some individual excesses by officers or soldiers, but also entailed generalized and/or systematic practices of human rights violations that constitute crimes against humanity as well as transgressions of the norms of International Humanitarian Law.” As the highest state authority in the emergency zones, the CPM bore primary responsibility for these violations.
However, the Commission also confirms that the national government, the parties represented in Parliament, local governments, and (between 1989 and 1991) regional governments have responsibility for the extremely grave, massive human rights violations perpetrated by State entities during the conflict. Not only did the elected civilian governments have authority over the armed forces, but also they incurred the most serious responsibility by failing to attend to reports of human rights violations or, as in many cases, by ensuring impunity for those responsible for the violations. The Commission also distinguishes the period of 1980-1992 and 1992-2000, finding that the State has more responsibility for human rights violations committed after the coup-d’etat of April 1992. Further, the Commission assigned responsibility for 15.5% of victim deaths to the CADs and other paramilitary groups.
The Final Report states that the Commission believes that its very existence and its mandate to propose reparations constitutes the beginning of a process of compensation and dignification of victims. Since the vast majority of the victims were poor, indigenous campesinas who have been traditionally discriminated against, they should receive preferential treatment from the State. The Commission presents a Comprehensive Plan for Reparations in includes individual and collective, symbolic and material forms of compensation financed by the State, society and international donors. The Plan emphasizes: 1) symbolic reparations, the recovery of memory and the return of dignity to the victims; 2) attention to education and mental health; and 3) individual and collective economic reparations that include programs for institutional reconstruction, community development, basic services and income generation.