Magazine article International Bulletin of Mission Research

Peru's Truth Commission and the Churches

Magazine article International Bulletin of Mission Research

Peru's Truth Commission and the Churches

Article excerpt

In August 2003 Peru's Commission of Truth and Reconciliation presented to the country its nine-volume report on the violence and human rights violations that occurred between 1980 and 2000. The report estimated that 69,280 Peruvians lost their lives as a result of that violence--a number far greater than the original figure of 25,000 that most people had presumed to have been the death toll. The churches, both Catholic and Protestant, received considerable praise in the report for their defense of human rights and for the pastoral care that they extended to the victims of the violence.

But not all church people were happy with the report. In the report the Opus Dei archbishop of Lima, Juan Luis Cipriani, is singled out for not defending human rights and for not fulfilling his pastoral mission while he was auxiliary bishop and later archbishop (1990-99) of Ayacucho, the home of the Shining Path in the central Andes. In angry retorts the archbishop rejected the findings of the report, as did an Opus Dei congressman and several members of the military. But most of the rest of the country received the report as a truthful account of what happened. Since August, briefer versions have been published and are currently the topic of discussions in schools, universities, and churches.

The Work of the Commission

The Commission of Truth and Reconciliation was founded in July 2001 by President Valentin Paniagua, the interim president after the debacle of the Fujimori government in 2000. The commission's original mandate was to investigate all serious human rights violations from the moment the Shining Path took up arms in 1980 up through the Fujimori regime, which collapsed in 2000. Originally conceived as a truth commission, it soon added the word "reconciliation." The head of the commission, Dr. Salomon Lerner, the president of the Catholic University of Peru, and the other eleven commissioners believed that their mission was to reconcile, that is, heal wounds, and not just collect facts.

Besides Lerner, the commission was made up of leading human rights activists, a priest, a Catholic bishop, and a Protestant pastor. The priest, Gaston Garatea, a Peruvian belonging to the Sacred Heart Fathers, had long been known for his support of human rights and for his campaign against poverty. Also, his congregation ministers to a large area in the southern Andean region that was hit especially hard by terrorism. The bishop, Jose Antuez de Mayolo, a Salesian, was Cipriani's successor in Ayacucho. The pastor, Humberto Lay, a representative of the Pentecostal churches, was selected in part because many Pentecostals were victims of the Shining Path. Although he was not a member of the original twelve, Bishop Luis Bambaren of Chimbote was chosen as an observer largely because he had come to symbolize concern for human rights in Peru. Also, three priests were killed by the Shining Path in his diocese.

The commission attracted the idealism of many young university volunteers, who helped to carry out the nearly 17,000 interviews of victims and relatives of victims of the violence. The report concludes that the Shining Path was responsible for around 53 percent of the deaths and "disappearances." The military, paramilitary, and local committees of self-defense were responsible for around 37 percent of the deaths and disappearances. This second conclusion was the most shocking: official government forces, along with unofficial paramilitary groups supported by the government, had killed thousands of their own Peruvian people--men, women, and children--in their blind attempt to wipe out the terrorists, who probably numbered only around 2,700 at the height of their rampage. The report points to 122 massacres carried out by government forces, and 4,423 arbitrary executions.

The commission wanted to emphasize that Peru's recent "dirty war" (a phrase usually reserved for Argentina) revealed the existence of two Perus: a Lima-centered country that largely neglected, and even looked down on, the Andean dwellers, who made up the majority of the victims. …

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