Peru Human Rights - History

Peru Human Rights - History

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A. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

With certain limitations, labor laws and regulations provide freedom of association, the right to strike, and collective bargaining. The law prohibits employer intimidation and other forms of antiunion discrimination and requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activity, unless they opt to receive compensation instead. Regulations allow workers to form unions without seeking prior authorization. The minimum membership required by law to form a union is 20 employees for a workplace-level union and 50 employees for a sector-wide union, which some labor activists viewed as prohibitively high in some instances, particularly for small and medium-sized enterprises. Union organization in some nontraditional export sectors, such as textiles and apparel, was difficult due to the use of short-term contracts.

The law specifies that public- and private-sector workers have the right to organize, bargain collectively, and strike, but it stipulates that the right to strike must be “in harmony with broader social objectives.” The law prohibits judges, prosecutors, police officers, and military members from forming or joining unions. New unions must register in the Ministry of Labor and Employment Protection’s Sub-directorate of Conflict Prevention under a process that takes up to four days, during which time employers may dismiss unionized workers and leaders.

Two nationwide strikes by public school teachers and medical doctors demanding increased salaries and benefits occurred during the year. The high-profile strikes caused social and political disruptions but were largely peaceful.

The law allows unions to declare a strike in accordance with their governing documents. Private- and public-sector union workers must give advance notice of a strike to the employer and the Ministry of Labor. Private-sector workers must give advance notice of at least five working days, and public-sector workers must give at least 10 days’ notice. The law also allows nonunion workers to declare a strike with a majority vote as long as the written voting record is notarized and announced at least five working days prior to a strike. Unions in essential services are permitted to call a strike but must provide 15 working days’ notice, receive the approval of the ministry, obtain approval of a simple majority of workers, and provide a sufficient number of workers during a strike to maintain operations. Private enterprises and the public institutions cannot fire workers who strike legally. The private sector may, however, fire illegally striking workers on the fourth day of their unapproved absence. The public sector can fire illegal striking employees sector through an administrative procedure.

Unless there is a pre-existing labor contract covering an occupation or industry as a whole, unions must negotiate with companies individually. The law establishes processes for direct negotiations and conciliation. If these mechanisms fail, workers may declare a strike or request arbitration. The law outlines the process that authorizes the use of arbitration to end collective labor disputes. The law gives a party the ability to compel the other party to submit to arbitration (whether worker- or employer-initiated) whenever either of the parties cannot reach an agreement in the first collective bargaining negotiation, or a party does not engage in good faith during collective bargaining by delaying, hindering, or avoiding an agreement. If the parties disagree over whether a prerequisite for binding arbitration was met, the law also allows a party to submit the matter to independent, nongovernmental arbitrators for an initial decision.

The law requires businesses to monitor their contractors with respect to labor rights and imposes liability on businesses for the actions of their contractors. The law governing the general private-sector labor regime sets out nine different categories of short-term employment contracts that companies may use to hire workers based on particular circumstances. The law sets time limits for each of the categories and contains a five-year overall limit on the consecutive use of short-term employment contracts when contracts from different categories are used together. A sector-specific law covering the nontraditional export sectors (e.g., fishing, wood and paper, nonmetallic minerals, jewelry, textiles and apparel, and the agriculture industry) exempts employers from this five-year limit and allows employers in those sectors to hire workers on a series of short-term contracts indefinitely, without requiring a conversion to the permanent workforce.

The government did not effectively enforce freedom of association and collective bargaining laws. Resources remained inadequate, including for the Ministry of Labor and its National Superintendency of Labor Inspection (SUNAFIL), although the government increased SUNAFIL’s budget during the year and opened a new regional office in Cusco. Penalties for violations of freedom of association and collective bargaining range from 7,400 to 74,000 soles ($2,280 to $22,800). Such penalties were insufficient to deter violations and, according to labor experts and union representatives, were rarely enforced. Workers continued to face prolonged judicial processes and lack of enforcement following dismissals resulting from trade union activity. For example, NGOs reported that emblematic cases of labor arbitration dating from 2012 remained suspended due to delays in the judicial appeals processes. NGOs also reported instances of noncompliance with arbitrators’ decisions.

Significant delays in the collective bargaining process remained a common obstacle to compliance with worker rights to bargain collectively. Employers often showed a lack of interest in concluding agreements. Workers employed under laws to promote the textile, apparel, and agriculture industries faced obstacles, such as allegations of delayed negotiations and legal threats, to exercise the right to collective bargaining.

NGOs reported some employers used subcontracting to avoid creating direct employment relationships. Such subcontracting also limited the size of a company’s permanent workforce, making it more difficult to reach the 20-employee threshold necessary to form a union.

NGOs continued to report management interference in labor-management health and safety committees. Management sometimes interfered in the election of worker representatives, held committee sessions without full worker representation, and failed to notify elected worker representatives when labor inspectors conducted workplace inspections.

B. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but the government did not effectively enforce the law.

Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate for effective enforcement of the law. The law prescribes penalties of eight to 25 years’ imprisonment for labor trafficking, although the government did not report statistics on convictions and sentences for forced labor during the year. Financial penalties for violations range from 7,400 to 74,000 soles ($2,280 to $22,800) but were insufficient to deter violations.

SUNAFIL officials conducted inspections to identify forced labor. The Ministry of Labor and SUNAFIL provided training sessions to SUNAFIL and regional labor inspectors around the country to raise awareness of forced labor and the applicable law. The government continued to implement the 2013-17 national plan to combat forced labor. Labor experts repeated their criticisms of the plan for not containing a dedicated national budget, which made implementation difficult.

Thousands of persons remained subject to conditions of forced labor, mainly in mining, forestry, agriculture, brick making, and domestic service. There were reports that men and boys were subjected to bonded labor in mining (including gold mining), forestry, and brick making, while women were most often found working under conditions of domestic servitude. Both men and women reportedly worked in bonded labor in agriculture.

In June a warehouse fire in downtown Lima exposed an informal counterfeit lightbulb workshop allegedly engaged in human trafficking for labor exploitation. Two workers locked inside the rooftop shipping container-based workshop died in the fire. The incident brought national attention to the hazards of unregulated counterfeit operations as facilitators of dangerous labor practices. In July the court sentenced the husband and wife who operated the workshop to nine months’ detention to await trial. The husband was being held in jail, and his wife was under house arrest. According to the testimony of three former workers, including a minor, the owners locked workers in the shipping container for 12-hour shifts and paid 10 soles ($3.10) per day. The Attorney General’s Office assigned two prosecutors from the criminal and human trafficking divisions to oversee the case.

Police rescued 63 women human trafficking victims, including one minor and 29 foreigners, from sexual and labor exploitation during July and September raids conducted in the regions of Madre de Dios and Piura.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at

C. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The legal minimum age for employment is 14, although children between the ages of 12 and 14 may work in certain jobs for up to four hours per day. Adolescents between the ages of 15 and 17 may work up to six hours per day, if they obtain special permission from the Ministry of Labor and certify that they are attending school. In certain sectors of the economy, higher age minimums existed: 15 in nonindustrial agriculture; 16 in industry, commerce, and mining; and 17 in industrial fishing. The law specifically prohibits the hiring of minors in a number of occupations considered hazardous for children, including working underground, lifting or carrying heavy weights, accepting responsibility for the safety of others, and working at night. The law prohibits work that jeopardizes the health of children and adolescents; puts their physical, mental, and emotional development at risk; or prevents regular attendance at school.

A permit from the Labor Ministry is required for persons under 18 to work legally. Parents must apply for the permits, and employers must have a permit on file to hire a minor.

The Ministry of Labor and SUNAFIL are responsible for enforcing child labor laws, but enforcement was not effective, especially in the informal sector in which the majority of child labor occurred. The ministry and SUNAFIL lacked the resources needed to execute necessary inspections, and interministerial coordination was often lacking. Inspectors conducted visits without notice to areas where persons or organizations had reported child labor problems. By law the penalties for illegal child labor include fines from 192,500 soles ($59,400) for microbusiness to 385,000 soles ($118,800) for small and medium-sized businesses and 770,000 soles ($237,600) for larger enterprises. In addition to these fines, violators are subject to civil and criminal legal proceedings.

The Labor Ministry continued its “Vamos Peru” (Let’s Go, Peru) program, focused on job training, technical assistance to entrepreneurs, and job placement, and the “Peru Responsable” (Responsible Peru) program, aimed at fostering corporate social responsibility and creating formal employment for youth. The ministry continued to implement its national strategy to combat child labor, including projects in Junin, Huancavelica, Pasco, Carabayllo, and Huanuco, which focused on reducing child labor by improving educational services, providing mechanical tools, and providing cash transfers to families in rural areas.

The Office of the Ombudsman for Children and Adolescents (DEMUNA) worked with the Labor Ministry to document complaints regarding violations of child labor laws. DEMUNA operated a decentralized child labor reporting and tracking system. The Ministry of Women and Vulnerable Populations administered a program that sent specialized teachers to the streets to provide education and support to minors involved in begging and street vending. The ministry continued to implement the Yachay program, which assists homeless children ages six to 17 with workshops, health care, education, legal services, and scholarships.

Child labor remained a serious problem, especially in the informal sector. In 2014 the National Statistics and Information Institute (INEI) estimated 1.65 million children were working in exploitative labor conditions. In 2016 the Ministry of Labor released a follow-up report on the 2015 child labor survey, and its findings indicated that more than 323,000 minors ceased working and left the labor force from 2012 to 2015. The worst forms of child labor generally occurred in the informal sectors, including in commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6, Children), gold mining, brick and fireworks manufacturing, stone extraction, forestry, and agriculture, including the production of Brazil nuts and coca. In many cases children worked alongside their parents in a family business, usually in rural areas and sectors cited above.

Representatives from the Labor Ministry, NGOs, and labor unions reported counterfeit U.S. currency cases that involved child labor. The ministry, NGOs, and labor activists reported the use of child labor in rice production on plantations in the Tumbes Region.

Also, see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at

D. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment based on race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin, citizenship, social origin, disability, age, language, or social status. The law does not specifically identify discrimination based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity, HIV-positive status, or other communicable diseases. The law prohibits discrimination against domestic workers and any requirement by employers for their domestic workers to wear uniforms in public places. The law establishes the following employment quotas for persons with disabilities: 3 percent for private businesses with more than 50 employees and 5 percent for public-sector organizations. The National Council for the Integration of Persons with Disabilities oversees compliance with employment quotas for persons with disabilities.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties for violations include fines and imprisonment, but they were not sufficient to deter violations. NGOs and labor rights advocates noted that discrimination cases often went unreported to authorities, in part due to a lack of confidence in the legal system to address the case.

Numerous violations of provisions prohibiting discrimination against domestic workers, particularly a clause that prohibits employers from requiring their workers to wear uniforms in public places. The Ministry of Labor, local NGOs, and several unions continued campaigns to inform domestic workers about their rights and employment benefits.

Societal prejudice and discrimination led to disproportionate poverty and unemployment rates for women. Women were more likely to work in the informal sector or in less secure occupations, such as domestic service, factory work, or as street vendors, and they were more likely to be illiterate due to lack of formal education.

E. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The statutory monthly minimum wage for formal workers was 850 soles ($260) per month. INEI estimated the poverty line to be 315 soles ($97) a month per person, although it varied by region. The average monthly income, set in September 2016, was 1,640 to 1,867 soles ($505-$575) for men and 1,352 soles ($415) for women.

The law provides for a 48-hour workweek for formal workers and one day of rest, and it requires premium pay for overtime. There is no prohibition on excessive compulsory overtime, nor does the law limit the amount of overtime that a worker may work. The law stipulates certain rights and benefits to which adult domestic workers are entitled, such as an eight-hour workday, no work on public holidays, 15 days of paid annual vacation, and salary bonuses in July and December. The law grants administrative service contract workers who meet minimum service requirements 30 days of vacation, June and December bonuses, and up to three months of severance pay in the case of unjustified dismissal.

The government sets occupational health and safety standards appropriate for the main industries in the country, but sector experts reported that government resources and expertise were not sufficient to maintain appropriate health and safety standards. The law allows workers to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. The law also enables employers to outsource the management of health and safety to third-party service providers and restrict democratically elected worker representatives from obtaining leave to attend to their safety and health duties, including training.

The government often did not devote sufficient personnel and financial resources to enforce occupational safety and health regulations and other labor laws. As of November SUNAFIL reported having 376 labor inspectors. In July SUNAFIL opened a new office in Cusco and had additional offices in Lima, Huanuco, La Libertad, Loreto, Cajamarca, Ica, Moquegua, Tumbes, Ancash, and Arequipa. The Ministry of Labor and regional governments had an additional 90 labor inspectors that coordinate with SUNAFIL.

Fines for labor violations were last increased in April 2014. Noncompliance with the law is punishable by fines of 7,400 to 74,000 soles ($2,280 to $22,800). In July 2014, however, the government enacted a three-year decree that reduced fines on employers for labor violations to no more than 35 percent of the maximum fine established by law. The reduction was limited to fines for occupational safety and health violations that did not result in death or permanent injury of the worker and violations of laws related to freedom of association and workplace discrimination determined not to be “very serious.” The reduction did not apply to violations that “very seriously affect” freedom of association, union formation, and workplace discrimination; violations related to child labor or forced labor; violations of occupational and safety norms that result in death or permanent disability of the worker; actions that impede labor inspections; and recidivist conduct, defined as repeat violations within a six-month period from the time a final decision on the first infraction was issued. The reductions, however, did not apply to violations of fundamental labor rights. Many fines went uncollected, in part because the government lacked an efficient tracking system and at times due to a lack of political will, according to a local labor NGO.

The law provides for fines and criminal sanctions for occupational safety and health violations. In cases of infractions, injury, or deaths of workers or subcontractors, the penalty is one to four years’ imprisonment. Criminal penalties are limited to those cases where employers “deliberately” violated safety and health laws and where labor authorities had previously notified employers who chose not to adopt measures in response to a repeated infraction. The law requires that a worker prove an employer’s culpability to obtain compensation for work-related injuries.

Representatives of labor, business, and the government reported that the majority of companies in the formal sector generally complied with the law. Many workers in the informal economy, approximately 70 percent of the total labor force, received less than the minimum wage, although most were self-employed.

Employers frequently required long hours from domestic workers and paid low wages. NGOs and union officials continued to report allegations of abuse of subcontracted workers in the areas of wage and hour violations and associational rights. In 2015 a group of 34 outsourced workers at the Aceros Arequipa steel plant in Pisco, who had previously filed a labor inspection complaint, were told their contracts were not compliant, and they were all dismissed. As of October the union was seeking their reinstatement.

Union members and labor-sector experts reported that regional and national statistical registers did not reflect the number of severe and fatal injuries from workplace accidents that occurred in the mining, electrical, and construction sectors. Workplace labor, health, and safety committees continued to develop across the country. Labor experts and NGOs expressed concern about what they considered an unreasonably high threshold for holding employers accountable for workplace injuries and for not maintaining health and safety standards.

Peru 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed shortcomings regarding access to the right to health in Peru. Inequality in access to a fragmented and underfunded health system, coupled with a lack of protection for health workers, contributed to Peru remaining among the 10 countries with the highest per capita death rate in the world. People and communities exposed to toxic metals and other toxic substances continued to demand public policies to ensure medical care. The state failed to respond effectively to continuing high rates of violence against women and girls. The lives of human rights defenders remained at serious risk due to lack of effective protection by the state and of successful criminal investigations into attacks and threats against them. Peru experienced a political, social and human rights crisis following the impeachment of the then President, Martín Vizcarra, in November.


A new Congress was elected in January. The country reported its first cases of COVID-19 in March and the President declared a state of emergency. Supreme decrees and subsequent laws established mandatory stay-at-home orders, among other economic and social measures to deal with the pandemic. As of 31 December, the Ministry of Health had reported 1,017,199 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 37,724 related deaths.

According to the National Statistics Institute, the informal employment rate in Peru was 72.6%. In this context, the mandatory measures implemented to deal with the pandemic had a particularly strong impact on livelihoods.

On 9 November, Congress voted to remove Martín Vizcarra from the Presidency due to allegations of corruption. A series of demonstrations protested against the actions of Congress. These intensified on 10 November during the inauguration of Manuel Merino as President and continued until his resignation on 15 November. On 17 November, Congressman Francisco Sagasti was sworn in as President.

Peru’s history of forced sterilisation overshadows vote

Presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori carries the burden of her father’s involvement in forced sterilisations.

Lima, Peru – Victoria Vigo was in the 32nd week of her third pregnancy when she went to hospital complaining of pains. She was immediately taken to the operating room and given a C-section. Her baby lived for only a few hours.

Vigo was devastated. But what made it worse was overhearing one of the doctors talk about how she was now being sterilised.

It was 1996 and Vigo had heard rumours of other women being forcibly sterilised, but had never thought it would happen to her.

Five months later, when a group of researchers from a local university visited her, she found out that her name was on a list that had been sent to the government as proof that the hospital had fulfilled their quota of sterilisations.

Vigo sued the hospital and won her case several years later.

Between 1996 and 2000, during Alberto Fujimori’s second term as president, somewhere between 260,000 and 350,000 people, mostly poor, female and Quechua-speaking, were sterilised.

In 2,074 cases, women gave statements testifying that the procedure had been done against their will. Some reported the use of violence, some to being offered money in exchange for undergoing it and others, like Vigo, said they’d had their tubes tied while hospitalised for other reasons.

At least 18 women are known to have died of complications arising from the procedure.

Ollanta Humala, the current president of Peru, created a database of the victims. Furthermore, last May, the authorities reopened a case against Alberto Fujimori – who is already serving a 25-year sentence for corruption and crimes against humanity for directing death squads – over his role in the sterilisation programme.

Protesters opposed to presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori display cartoons [Eline van Nes/Al Jazeera]

‘Most doctors feared losing their jobs’

In the 1990s, Dr Rogelio del Carmen Martino worked in a small medical centre in the north of Peru called Centro de Salud Maternal Infantil de Castilla (CESAMICA), near the city of Piura. He says his team of four – an anaesthetist, two surgeons and a gynaecologist – were ordered to sterilise 250 women in three days.

“It was technically impossible,” Del Carmen told Al Jazeera by phone. “Such a treatment would put the lives of patients in danger. We would have to work like a chorizo machine.

“So we went to Lima to complain, but during the meeting it was clear to me that the people giving the orders on behalf of the Fujimori government didn’t understand why their demand was so absurd.”

Some in Del Carmen’s team had studied abroad, so they knew that even if they were fired as a result of refusing to sterilise the women, other job opportunities would arise.

But, the doctor says, his team was an exception: most medical staff in village hospitals didn’t enjoy the same luxuries, and therefore didn’t feel they could complain about the situation.

“Most doctors feared losing their jobs,” he says. “So they simply had to do what they were told and reach their quotas.”

For Del Carmen the most important thing now is justice. And as Keiko Fujimori, Alberto Fujimori’s daughter, runs for the presidency in Sunday’s elections, he says he isn’t drawing attention to the actions of her father in order to discredit her.

“I respect politicians,” he explains. “And this is not just a story to smear Keiko Fujimori’s name. But it is important that it becomes clear what happened in that period, and who was responsible for it.”

After her parents’ divorce in 1994, at the age of 18, Keiko Fujimori became the First Lady of Peru until the end of her father’s presidency in 2000. As a result, many consider her tainted by the actions of her father during these years.

In a recent speech at Harvard, Keiko Fujimori blamed medical staff when asked about the sterilisations, and said she lamented the damage inflicted on the victims.

But, according to Peruvian newspaper La Republica, the orders containing these quotas came directly from the Ministry of Public Health.

Demonstrators on the streets of Lima [Eline van Nes/Al Jazeera]

‘Eliminate poverty, eliminate the poor’

Last Tuesday, Victoria Vigo went to the Plaza San Martín in the Peruvian capital of Lima to take part in a march against Keiko Fujimori.

The date of the march was symbolical to the protesters: in 1992, Alberto Fujimori staged a coup against his own government on that day – dissolving Congress, intervening in the judiciary and letting the armed forces block independent media.

La Republica published empty pages the following day in protest against the censorship.

During the protest, in which at least 30,000 people participated, the demonstrators chanted: “We are the children of the villagers who you couldn’t sterilise.”

“The idea then was: to eliminate poverty, we simply eliminate the poor,” says Sandra de la Cruz, a social sciences student and communications officer at the organisation Somos 2074 y muchas mas, which refers to the 2,074 women who testified to being sterilised against their will.

“The historical context was very violent. There were soldiers everywhere fighting the [Shining Path] guerrillas. Imagine tents set up in this chaotic situation, where women were led without understanding anything that was told to them about what was going to happen.”

For Vigo, a mea culpa would be sufficient. She says she doesn’t bear a grudge and doesn’t want to see anybody jailed for what happened to her. But, she says, it is important that somebody takes responsibility for it.

“I am one of the few victims who does speak Spanish and dares to talk about what happened,” she says.

But Vigo is not afraid that something like this could happen again if Keiko Fujimori becomes president. She believes the young are too well informed nowadays.

“They are watching her [Fujimori] with every step she takes. So, even if she wanted to, a programme like the sterilisations would be impossible to set up. Times have changed for the better.”

Victoria Vigo among protesters who were chanting: ‘We are the children of the villagers who you couldn’t sterilise’ [Eline van Nes/Al Jazeera]

PERU: The Shining Path and the Emergence of the Human Rights Community in Peru

“Human Rights Triptych,” Rufino Tamayo, 1984. Three 50x35 cm lithographs. (Images courtesy of the Olga & Rufino Tamayo Foundation.)

PERU: The Shining Path and the Emergence of the Human Rights Community in Peru
By Charles Walker

Human rights organizations in Latin America have had much to celebrate in recent decades. The “justice cascade” forced the retreat of brutal regimes in the Southern Cone and Central America, with many authoritarian leaders losing their immunity and facing trial and jail terms. Human rights campaigns saved lives, freed prisoners, improved jail conditions, and aided in the demise of numerous military dictatorships. Some scholars and activists, however, have questioned whether the global human rights movement focused too much on preventing the state from committing heinous deeds and overlooked growing global inequalities. According to this view, human rights organizations shed light on, limited, and even prosecuted brutal imprisonments or forced disappearances (negative human rights, what the state cannot or should not do to individuals) but failed to pay sufficient attention to the accumulation of wealth and power among the top 1 percent. Critics, such as law and history professor Sam Moyn, recognize the achievements but highlight dire inequalities across the globe.

The debate resonates loudly in Latin America. On the one hand, local, national, and international organizations can take great pride in the impact of their denunciations of the brutality of U.S.-supported military regimes. In the 21st century, groups have prosecuted Augusto Pinochet, Jorge Videla, Alberto Fujimori, Efraín Rios-Montt, and other tyrants. On the other hand, Latin America has some of the world’s most profound inequalities, evident in income disparities and difficult access to basic services. These brutal socioeconomic differences, painfully underscored by the Covid-19 pandemic, endanger democracy and undermine the real achievement of human rights advances.

Such disagreement over the limitations of the human rights communities’ achievements can telescope their development in Latin America. The justice cascade stressed criminal hearings against human rights abusers rather than social justice and egalitarianism, but protecting the innocent and eventually prosecuting the guilty has not been the sole focus of decades of human rights work in Latin America. Many veterans in the human rights community contend that the struggles against injustice and the debates about its causes never ceased. The relationship between defending human rights and fighting for social justice needs to be scrutinized. Peru is a fascinating and insightful case to explore these issues.

Peru confronted a horrific human rights debacle from 1980 to 1992, when the country was immersed in an “internal armed conflict” with the Maoist guerrilla group, Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path). The war with the Shining Path led to 70,000 dead, more than half of them at the hands of the guerrillas. Reacting to this bloodshed, national human rights groups multiplied in size and number, documenting and denouncing the situation. Did they ignore or abandon the critique of structural inequalities as atrocities increased and authoritarianism expanded? Were they slow to react to the horrors of the Shining Path? These questions can only be answered through an analysis of the human rights groups’ development, the obstacles they faced, and their achievements and limitations.

Born in the Struggle

Peru’s dictator Francisco Morales Bermúdez in 1976.
(Image courtesy of Nando MG.)

The Shining Path began its war in May 1980, burning ballot boxes in the tiny Andean town of Chuschi. A small Maoist party rooted in the Universidad Nacional de San Cristóbal de Huamanga in the city of Ayacucho, the Shining Path contrasted with other Latin American insurgencies. They did not seek a broad revolutionary alliance, but instead perceived others on the left and members of grassroots organizations to be part of the enemy, the old order that needed to be eliminated. Within a few years, they had not only attacked the Peruvian state and military, but threatened and even executed anyone else who might question their Maoist project, from NGO workers to Catholic priests. The violence was fierce and shocking the state reacted with brutality, as well. Nonetheless, human rights organizations did not emerge out of the bloodshed of the early 1980s. Instead, they grew out of the struggles against the Morales Bermúdez military regime (1975-1980). In this regard, they follow the pattern of much of Latin America.

In 1975, General Francisco Morales Bermúdez deposed General Juan Velasco Alvarado, the left-leaning leader of the first phase of the Revolutionary Government of the Armed Forces. Morales Bermúdez imposed severe socioeconomic measures that eliminated most price controls, defunded social services, and criminalized strikes. If Velasco had sought to give power to the people, Morales Bermúdez seized it back. Broad sections of society opposed his authoritarian project, culminating in a massive national strike that shut down most of the country on July 19, 1977. The government acted with force. Hundreds of civilians were injured in protests and thousands detained, with as many as 5,000 union leaders fired. At this point, in 1977 and 1978, grassroots organizations began to use the language and tools of human rights to pressure the Morales Bermúdez regime and to defend those who were wounded, imprisoned, or fired.

These Comités de Derechos Humanos (Human Rights Committees) sprouted from the multiple and diverse leftist parties and organizations that had collaborated in the July 1977 strike and sought to organize the working class and the poor. The progressive Catholic Church constituted the other essential piece of the foundation. Peru was the birthplace of Liberation Theology, and since the profound doctrinal changes of Vatican II (1962-1965), many nuns, priests, and other members of the Church had dedicated themselves to working in poorer neighborhoods in cities and in the countryside. The Comisión Episcopal de Acción Social (CEAS, Episcopal Commission for Social Action) defended those involved in the protests of the late 1970s and promoted the work of local human rights groups. Although these early groups varied in objectives and methods, they shared a contempt for the Morales Bermúdez regime and a commitment to social justice. The 1978-1979 Constituent Assembly introduced derechos humanos as part of the political agenda. Peru’s human rights community dates from this period, firmly rooted in the left and among progressive Catholics.

Peru returned to democracy in 1980 with the election of Fernando Belaúnde Terry. Having received nearly one-third of the vote in the 1978 Constitutional Assembly, the left made periodic efforts to unite for electoral coalitions but was just as frequently divided. Some groups believed that elections and Congress held the key to their struggle, while others continued to focus on grassroots and worker organizations. Many still envisioned a revolution. But the emergence of the Shining Path and the incompetent and brutal reaction by the Peruvian state altered the situation. Human rights groups rapidly learned that the Shining Path was unique, a very different entity than the “new left” that had grown throughout the Americas since the 1960s. The guerrilla fighters did not use uniforms, respect civilians, or follow the Geneva Convention. Moreover, deeming anyone not a part of their Maoist project an enemy, the Shining Path attacked community leaders, labor organizers, and eventually, human rights advocates. The police and then the military reacted to the guerrillas with violence and little respect for international norms, yet the armed forces consistently rejected the denunciations of their own atrocities. The nascent human rights community found itself caught between two fires, attacked by both the Shining Path and the state. This situation would only worsen.

In December 1982, President Belaúnde declared a state of emergency in Ayacucho and sent in the military. At this point, human rights abuses escalated. Torture, disappearances, and massacres became commonplace. While the military used brutal counterinsurgency tactics, the Shining Path imposed its will through coercion. The infamous massacres of the mid-1980s encapsulate these horrors: in April 1983, the Shining Path killed 69 people in Lucanamarca in December 1984, the military killed 123 in Putis. All the victims were Indigenous peasants. These are just two examples — there were many more.

Bodies of people killed in the 1983 Lucanamarca massacre lie in the street. (Image courtesy of Yuyanapaq-LUM.)

As the body count increased, human rights groups likewise grew in size and number. International organizations such as Amnesty International (1981) and the Comisión Andina de Juristas (Andean Commission of Jurists, 1982) set up offices in Peru. National organizations also formed in the early 1980s, including the Asociación Pro Derechos Humanos (APRODEH, Association for Human Rights), the Instituto de Defensa Legal (Legal Defense Institute), and the Asociación Nacional de Familiares de Secuestrados, Detenidos y Desaparecidos del Perú (ANFASEP, National Association of Family Members of the Kidnapped, Detained and Disappeared of Peru). In 1985, dozens of groups created an umbrella organization, the Coordinadora Nacional de Derechos Humanos (CNDDHH, National Coordinator for Human Rights).

Human rights groups understood that they needed to collaborate and operate nationally, maintaining a presence in the “emergency zones,” where the conflict was most dire, despite the obstacles and dangers. They received support from international organizations — technical and financial help as well as solidarity — and learned from the experiences of other countries. One activist described it as a “crash course in human rights.” The escalating violence only made their task more urgent and more difficult.

From the outset, human rights groups faced opposition. Some on the left dismissed them as bourgeois, as too focused on the individual over the collective. Nonetheless, all of the leaders I spoke with insisted that once the seriousness of the situation became clear — the body count rose, and news stories about massacres finally reached a broad audience — support for their work increased, not only from the left, but from the center and even some conservatives. The Shining Path and the Peruvian military, however, criticized the notion of human rights and its practitioners relentlessly. Even today, conservative groups accuse human rights organizations of supporting or favoring the Shining Path.

Deaths and disappearances in Peru, as reported to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
(From Hatun Willakuy: Abbreviated Version of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, p. 17.)

This criticism was not the only obstacle. Human rights activists recall the challenge of tracking and disseminating information about human rights abuses, most of which were taking place in the Ayacucho countryside, an extremely dangerous area far from Lima, while also protesting Belaúnde’s austerity measures and the rolling back of the safety net created by General Velasco. The gravity of the situation forced their hand: human rights workers had to focus more of their efforts on documenting and condemning atrocities, offering legal aid, and providing sustenance in Ayacucho and other regions where the Shining Path operated. The growth of the human rights organizations also meant increased administrative work and fundraising, which demanded more and more time. The struggle for social justice had to take a back seat to the efforts to document abuses, defend the detained, and question the government’s tactics. The human rights community did count on important allies in Congress, from the left and the APRA party.

Looking back, human rights activists recognize that the demands of the era — the escalation of violence — marked their trajectories more than any type of plan. These organizations emerged in a grim context of mass horror that no one could have foreseen. They had to react as the situation deteriorated and the challenges mounted. Nonetheless, they did not abandon their search for social justice, their questioning of systemic inequalities in Peru and beyond.

When I interviewed him in 2019, Francisco Soberón, the co-founder of APRODEH and a human rights leader until today, pointed out that the organizations continued to fight for a more just Peru, condemning opportunity gaps and the profoundly undemocratic nature of Peru. “We never pushed these issues to the side,” Soberón said. Indeed, Congressman Javier Diez Canseco (1948-2013), the founder of APRODEH, relentlessly criticized socioeconomic inequalities and capitalism. In a booklet published by APRODEH and Servicios Populares, Democracia, militarización y derechos humanos en el Perú, 1980-1984 (Democracy, Militarization, and Human Rights in Peru, 1980-1984), Diez Canseco thoroughly describes the threat to democracy in Peru posed by authoritarianism from the left and the right and the terrible economic crisis faced by the poor. Only after making these points does he begin his discussion of human rights — socioeconomic issues are not secondary.

Peruvian human rights groups did not abandon social justice issues, but understood them to be essential humanitarian priorities. The country’s extreme economic crises in the 1980s ravaged the poor and particularly the primary victims of the war: campesinos in emergency zones. Soup kitchens expanded throughout the country but could not fulfill the demand. Desplazados, the displaced, fled to cities just as unemployment surged, prices escalated, and government aid dwindled. In 1983, Lima mayor Alfonso Barrantes initiated the Vaso de Leche (Glass of Milk) program to alleviate malnutrition among children. Human rights groups in Ayacucho and throughout Peru understood their double duty of defending the detained and searching for the disappeared while also aiding their families and other victims. Disappearances and torture were not the only humanitarian tragedy in Peru at this time: poverty deepened, and many struggled to feed their families.

Under the leadership of Angélica Mendoza de Ascarza, “Mamá Angélica,” Indigenous women with disappeared family members created ANFASEP in Ayacucho in 1983. Many of these families had fled the countryside because they had been attacked or threatened, or they had left in search of information about their missing loved ones. In any case, they were forced to abandon their fields and commercial activities they were poor and often hungry. ANFASEP almost immediately created a soup kitchen for orphans: the Comedor Popular Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, named for the Argentine Nobel laureate who visited Ayacucho in 1985. ANFASEP’s Museo de la Memoria recalls these terrible times, when women sought not only justice, but food for their families. The tens of thousands of internal refugees, who moved to Ayacucho, Lima, and other cities in the midst of one economic crisis after another in the 1980s, endured racist hostility and faced competition for any type of employment. Many desplazados could not pay bus fare and walked hundreds of miles to Lima. Mamá Angélica and other leaders of ANFASEP stressed the constant need to feed their families — they did not have the luxury to put economic issues to the side.

In 1985, Argentine artist Adolfo Pérez Esquivel meets “Mamá Angélica” in Peru. (Photo by Käthe Meentzen.)

The economic crisis worsened after 1988 under President Alan García, and the Shining Path’s violence extended throughout much of Peru. President Alberto Fujimori threatened democracy and promoted hardline tactics, particularly after his April 1992 “self-coup.” Attuned to the nightmarish situation of human rights in Peru, the human rights communities adapted to these changes, yet the leaders never abandoned their critique of the structural causes of inequality and their search for a more just Peru. They would not recognize the supposed shift away from these questions that some in the global human rights community have decried.

Guerrillas as Perpetrators

The Peruvian human rights community collaborated with and learned from their colleagues in Chile, Argentina, and Central America, while also following the fight against apartheid in South Africa. The situation in Peru, however, diverged sharply with these other cases on one point: the guerrillas themselves were committing widespread human rights abuses. While truth commissions in Chile, Argentina, El Salvador, Guatemala, and South Africa would impute the state, the military, and the police as the perpetrators in the vast majority of cases (more than 95 percent), the Shining Path executed unarmed civilians, committed massacres, and used terrorist tactics such as car bombs in Peru. The Comisión de la Verdad y Reconciliación (Truth and Reconciliation Commission) estimated that the guerrillas were the guilty party in the deaths of 54 percent of the 70,000 people killed in the conflict.

In documenting and denouncing the atrocities committed by the Shining Path, human rights organizations faced a series of challenges. Models such as those used in the heroic efforts against the military regimes in the Southern Cone focused on atrocities by the state and the military, which didn’t fit the local reality. Human rights leaders in Peru soon recognized that they had to adjust and create new parameters in order to understand and condemn the Shining Path’s methods.

Yet, information gathering — the first step in human rights work — was difficult and frustrating. The Peruvian government systematically withheld intelligence and, when probed about specific cases, would blame the Shining Path or deny the events. Journalists and activists had to piece together facts from a variety of sources and learn to deconstruct press releases for the bits of truth that emerged among the denials and misinformation. The Shining Path provided no information and instead excoriated and even attacked human right groups and journalists. Activists and journalists faced enormous obstacles in gathering basic facts.

Collecting information also proved perilous, and human rights professionals and journalists faced threats from both sides. The murder of eight journalists in Uchuraccay in 1983 revealed the dangers of reporting in Ayacucho. In 1989 and 1990, activists Coqui Huamaní, Angel Escobar, and Augusto Zuñiga were assassinated or disappeared by state agents.

A protest after the killing of eight journalists in Uchuraccay, Peru, in 1983. (Photo by Silvia Beatriz Suárez Moncada.)

Although difficult and dangerous, human rights work was also scorned. The Shining Path and the military fought a vicious war, but they agreed in their dismissal of human rights defenders. Many elected officials and even Church authorities, such as then-Bishop Juan Luis Cipriani, also chimed in with their disdain for these activists. The Shining Path, in turn, dismissed the notion of human rights as imperialist. They rejected the Geneva Convention and assassinated labor leaders such as Enrique Castilla and neighborhood activists like María Elena Moyano. The list is long.

Conservative critics vilified the human rights community for being soft on the Shining Path, for stressing the state’s “excesses” rather than those of the guerrillas. The 1970s left matured in the battles against the Morales Bermúdez regime. Did this anti-militarism and faith in revolution blind them, at least initially, to the Shining Path’s brutal authoritarianism?

The leaders I interviewed all categorically disagreed. Longtime activist Eduardo Cáceres said, “We knew the Shining Path from our years of militancy in the 1970s and understood that they were profoundly anti-democratic.” Soberón pointed out that APRODEH and other organizations had almost immediately investigated the murder of grassroots and union leaders killed or threatened by the Shining Path. They rapidly understood and feared the Shining Path and its broad definition of “the enemy.”

Early documents from APRODEH included critiques of the Shining Path. Contrary to the persistent accusations by military leaders and conservatives that human rights groups sympathized with terrorists or surreptitiously supported them — the phrase “apología del terrorismo” (apology for terrorism) has a long and dark history and remains a crime in Peru — human rights groups understood and opposed the Shining Path before almost anyone else.

The creation of the CNDDHH in 1985 marked a turning point in the human rights communities’ relationship with the Shining Path. In its founding national convention, this umbrella organization stressed its distance from the Shining Path, documenting the guerrillas’ grave responsibility for the bloodshed in Peru. Because some human rights groups and advocates had lost face when representing people who ultimately proved to be Shining Path militants, the CNDDHH limited its members’ role in defending accused Shining Path members. Human rights groups continued to fight for the rights of all prisoners to a fair trial and humane prison conditions (demands largely unmet in Peru in those years), but stipulated that the Shining Path use their own lawyers for their militants.

And yet the legal grounds for denouncing the Shining Path were unclear. The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a reaction to the horrors of World War II, focused on actions by the state. Human rights organizations traditionally publicized and litigated state or para-state atrocities. Lawyers in Peru turned to international humanitarian law, particularly Article 3 of the Geneva Convention, which established the rules for humanitarian practices in international war as well as national conflicts. The fact that the Peruvian state deemed the Shining Path terrorists rather than insurgents made this international instrument more difficult to apply.

The Peruvian human rights community followed international precedent and shed the brightest light possible on illegal detentions, disappearances, massacres, and other crimes by the Peruvian state and military. They also, however, denounced crimes perpetrated by the Shining Path, particularly after the 1985 creation of the CNDDHH. At this point, they had a better understanding of the Shining Path’s authoritarian methods and counted on a national network and international support, which allowed them to gather information, including testimonies. The accusations that they were soft on the Shining Path constituted a persistent effort to counter their charges of widescale human rights abuses by the armed forces. To the contrary, Peru’s human rights community forged new trails in terms of documenting and censuring abuses perpetrated by guerrilla forces.

Legacy: The Final Report

Peru’s human rights community adapted and evolved over time. A timeline of the worst atrocities serves to summarize these changes: Uchuraccay demonstrated the dangers numerous massacres throughout the 1980s drew attention to the brutality of both the Shining Path and the military the 1986 extermination of prisoners in Lima contradicted President Alan García’s claims about his dedication to human rights and the 1992 self-coup by President Alberto Fujimori brought to the fore concerns about authoritarianism and the threat to democracy, themes that would mark the entire decade. With Fujimori’s resignation in 2000, interim President Valentín Paniagua created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which included members of the CNDDHH as well as representatives of the Church and civil society.

In 2003, the commission released its nine-volume Informe Final. One of the most stunning findings of this final report was how greatly the number of dead had been miscalculated: there were not 20,000 or 30,000 casualties, as many estimated (I used these numbers in university courses at the time), but nearly 70,000. The commission’s report also updated statistics on the wounded, displaced, illegally arrested, and more.

The history of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is waiting to be written. Key members included philosopher Salomón Lerner Febres, who served as the commission’s chairman, and the anthropologist Carlos Iván Degregori. If the Informe Final can be understood as a collective work of the human rights community — with assistance from many other organizations and individuals — then it confirms the arguments made here. The report paid remarkable attention to structural inequalities and deep-rooted injustice in Peru. From page one, it underlined how Indigenous and rural people had borne the brunt of the violence. It contended that the state and civil society were slow to react because the majority of the victims were rural and Indigenous. The violence was denied or overlooked. This would not have been the case, the report contended, had the victims been urban and white. While underlining race and class hierarchies, the Truth Commission also took into consideration Peru’s severe economic crises and the suffering of the poor. It did not separate its examination of human rights abuses from socioeconomic issues and structural problems.

The Informe Final also spotlighted the violence and authoritarianism of the Shining Path. Linking them to 54 percent of the dead was one of the most cited and controversial findings, but the report went far beyond tallying numbers to explain the rise of the group from a minute Maoist splinter party. The report detailed the extension of the Shining Path into Ayacucho’s countryside, its brutal techniques, its expansion into Lima and elsewhere after 1988, and the group’s demise. This explanation reveals how good intelligence work proved far more effective than torture. The great paradox is that conservatives accuse the Truth Commission of being soft on the Shining Path, while to the contrary, it produced a multi-volume indictment of the group, deeply documented and richly argued.

The report, available online, does not limit the blame to the guerrilla groups and the armed forces. In questioning how these atrocities could have been committed, it takes a hard look at the Catholic Church, civil society, political parties, the press, and more. I have always believed that praise for the report has been muted by the breadth of its criticisms. Almost no organization escapes scrutiny in the effort to explain how tens of thousands of dead were overlooked. The report’s incorporation of socioeconomic questions, demographics, and Peru’s profound racism, as well as the document’s devastating critique of the Shining Path, reflect the merits and achievements of Peru’s human rights community. Their courage and analytical depth should not be forgotten as we reassess the work of human rights groups across the globe in recent decades. Anyone who assumes that human rights activism means foregoing issues regarding equality or turning a blind eye to insurgent atrocities should look closer at the Peruvian case.

Charles Walker is Professor of History at UC Davis, where he serves as Director of the Hemispheric Institute on the Americas. His most recent book is Witness to the Age of Revolution: The Odyssey of Juan Bautista Tupac Amaru (Oxford University Press, 2020). He spoke for CLAS in February 2020.

Women protesting disappearances and sexual violence by the military in Peru, 1988. (Photo by Silvia Beatriz Suárez Moncada.)

Peru at the Brink of Civil War?

On 28 July 2021, Peru, with her 33 million inhabitants, celebrates 200 years of Independence. The People of Peru may have chosen this Bicentennial celebration, to bring about a drastic change to their foreign and national oligarchy-run country. In a neck-on-neck national election run-off on 6 June 2021, the socialist Pedro Castillo, a humble primary school professor from rural Cajamarca, a Northern Peruvian Province, rich in mining resources, but also in agricultural land, seems to be winning by a razor thin margin of less than 100,000 votes against the oligarch-supported Keiko Fujimori, daughter of former President Alberto Fujimori, currently in prison – or rather house arrest for “ill-health” – for corruption and crimes against humanity during his presidency 1990-2000.

Election results have been considered as fair by the pro-US, pro-capitalist Organization of American States (OAS). The same organization that supported the post-election US-instigated coup against Evo Morales in November 2019. Either they have learned a lesson of ethics, or there were too many international observers watching over OAS’s election observations. Or, as a third option, Washington may have yet a different agenda for this part of their “backyard”.

Keiko Fujimori, before becoming a Presidential candidate she was in prison under preventive arrest, while under investigation into corruption and human rights abuse. She is currently collecting millions from her ruling-class elite supporters and spending her own ill-begotten money to turn the election result around. Ten days after the elections, there has no definite result been published yet. For Keiko becoming President is not only a question of power, it is also a question of freedom under government immunity, or back to prison, at least until the investigation into her alleged crimes is completed.

All is possible in a country where money buys everything, and may convert clearly and visibly intended cast votes either as invalid or as a vote for the opponent. This is Peru, but to be sure, election fraud happens even in the most sophisticated countries, including in Peru’s North American neighbor, who pretends to run the world.

However, should this turn-around happen, Keiko Fujimori and her capitalist supporters are working so hard to achieve, the country risks a civil war. Because this is the moment for the vast majority of Peruvians that they have been waiting for those Peruvians that have always been considered as “non-people” by the oligarchy. They should now finally get their justice, get their piece of the very rich pie that is Peru. After two hundred years of an oligarchy-ruled nation, this mostly silent majority truly deserves a break. They were good enough to work, to rake in the millions from low paid, health-risky mining jobs, from low-paid agriculture work, from living lives at the margin by discrimination from their white capitalist rulers. No more. “Pedro Castillo is one of us.”

Looking back in history just blending in a few landmark moments. The 1989 Washington Consensus that not only “coincidentally” preceded the collapse of the Soviet Union, but more importantly perhaps for the Global South, it meant the rolling out in “warp speed” of neoliberal politics and economics, the enslavement of the Global South into poverty – many of them into extreme poverty. There was no escaping. The IMF, World Bank FED and all related so-called regional development banks played along.

Why is it that Peru is so different in how they treat their natives, the so-called indigenous people, the original landowners of their country, if you will, so different from, for example, neighboring Bolivia, Ecuador and even Colombia? And why do these discriminated “lesser” people react so different in Peru than they do in neighboring countries?

It is my guess that it has a lot to do with the Kingdom of Spain officially creating on 18 August 1521 (500 years ago – by coincidence?) the Kingdom of “New Spain” in what today is Peru. It later became the first one of four Viceroyalties Spain created in the Americas. Ever since Peru became the first Spanish Viceroyalty, the white descendants of Spain, later extended to the immigrants from the “Old Continent”, had the audacity to oppress and discriminate the natives.

As of this day, this is the impression I get as a foreigner having been partially working and living in Peru for almost the last four decades. Especially the Lima elite they treat the indigenous as lesser people, even though they invaded their territory, but they feel and many of them still pretend being descendants of the Royal Court of Spain. That gives them a superiority which is hard to ignore. It is also reflected in the still largely centralized education system, where Lima decides what the pluri- and multi-ethnicities cultural nation of Peru should be taught in uniformity.

Aside from the different ethnicities, Peru is divided economically and culturally into three distinct geographic areas: The Coastal Region, mostly desertic, but very fertile when irrigated, where 70% of Peru’s agricultural produce is grown the Highlands of the Andes, also called the Sierra, where people survive on patch-work agriculture on small pieces of land and then there is the Amazon area that covers about 70% of Peru’s landmass, with only about 5% of the country’s population. They are the most independent people, with a culture close to Mother Earth. Their lives are still largely tied to traditional shamanism, starkly different from western values.

Education, basic infrastructure but foremost exploitation of Peru’s enormously rich natural resources is all decided by Lima, by the oligarchs, the self-styled descendant of the Spanish Royals – not in spoken words, of course, but in deeds and behavior. Lima has a population of 11 million, i.e., a third of the country’s populations, of which about two thirds live at the edge of poverty or below. This situation may have become worse during covid-times. The lack of proper and appropriately decentralized education, has left the original owners of Peru, the indigenous people, including a high proportion of ethnic mixtures, at a stark and decisive disadvantage.

This is the ethnic composition of Peru: Amerindians (or purely indigenous people) account for 45 % of the population 37 % is mestizo (mixed Amerindian and white), 15 percent is white, and 3 percent is black, Japanese, Chinese and other. See this.

In other words, 85% of the population is ruled by a white immigrant minority. It is high time that Peru gets an indigenous president who pays attention to the real needs and interests of the majority of the Peruvian population. This time, it seems, after more than 500 hundred years of a lopsided rule, the 85% of the population will demand a government of more equilibrium. Pedro Castillo may be their man.

Here some history to connect the dots up to June 2021and to help understand what is happening now in Peru. Extreme social injustice and differences between the majority peasant society and a small ruling elite, brought about the revolutionary ”Shining Path” in 1980, led by Abimael Guzmán, or by his “nom de guerre”, Chairman Gonzalo. He was a professor of philosophy strongly influenced by the teachings of Marxism and Maoism. He developed an armed struggle, what became to be known as the “Shining Path” – Spanish, “Sendero Luminoso” – for the empowerment of the neglected and disadvantaged indigenous people. Acts of terrorism abounded throughout the 1980’s, also and largely to the detriment to the peasant population.

The Shining Path emerged as the country had just held its first free elections after a 12-year military dictatorship, first by Juan Francisco Velasco Alvarado (1968 – 1975), pursuing what the Peruvians called a Maoist socialism. Velasco organized a disastrous totally unprepared land reform, and nationalized most foreign investments, creating massive unemployment and perpetuating poverty. Towards the mid-1970s, Velasco was very sick with cancer and appointed on 29 August 1975 his Prime Minister, Francisco Morales Bermúdez, as his successor. Bermúdez began the second phase of the Peruvian armed Revolution, promising a transit to a civilian government.

However, Bermudez soon became an extreme right-wing military dictator, pursuing a policy of leftist cleansing. He kept his promise, though, and led Peru to democratic elections in 1980, when Fernando Belaúnde Terry was elected, the very Belaúnde, who was deposed as president in the 1968 Velasco military coup.

There was no doubt, that a clear pattern of US-influenced brutal right-wing military dictatorships became omnipresent throughout Latin America, with General Jorge Rafael Videla in Argentina (1976-1981) General Augusto Pinochet in Chile (1973 to 1981) Alfredo Stroessner of Paraguay (1954 – 1989) General Juan María Bordaberry of Uruguay (1973 – 1985) the Brazilian military dictatorship of various successive military leaders (1964 – 1985). The Bolivian history of successive military dictatorships (1964 – 1982), also fit the pattern of the epoch.

The South American US-supported military dictatorships, prompted the creation of the Shining Path in Peru, loosely following the objectives of the Uruguayan Tupamaro guerilla organization, named for Túpac Amaru II, the leader of an 18th-century revolt against Spanish rule in Peru.

The Shining Path was open and transparent about its willingness to inflict death and the most extreme forms of cruelty as tools to achieve its goal, the total annihilation of existing political structures.

“We ae a rising torrent at which they will launch fire, stones and mud but our power is great. We turn everything into our fire, the black fire will become red, and red is the light.” Abimael Guzmán

Guzman was caught in 1992 and convicted to life imprisonment.

In 1990, Alberto Fujimori, a little-known Rector of and professor at the Agrarian State University of Lima, with the support of Washington, became President, defeating Nobel Prize-winner adversary Mario Vargas Llosa, in a landslide victory of 62.4% against 37.6%. Fujimori imposed neoliberalism in Peru from the get-go of his presidency in 1990. He followed closely the mandates of the IMF and the World Bank. His other main objective was to finish with the Shining Path.

Other than stopping terrorism for humanitarian reasons, there were a myriad of commercial and economic interests at stake. For example, the entire mining industry was largely in control of foreign corporations. As soon as elected, Fujimori was “given” a top CIA „advisor“, Vladimiro Lenin Ilich Montesinos. The CIA agent soon called the shots for all affairs of international importance. There was little left for Fujimori to decide, let alone for the Peruvian Parliament.

In 1992 Fujimori instigated an auto-coup, with Washington’s tacit consent, dissolving Parliament and becoming the sole ruler, who also changed the Constitution allowing him to be “reelected” for another 5 years, until 2000, when he fled the country returning to his “native” Japan. Many analysts say he was actually born in Japan and was lying having been born in Peru, so he could ascend to the presidency. Just for the record, his registered birthday 28 July – Peru’s Independent Day – is kind of suspicious. Fujimori was accused of corruption, abuse of power and human rights violations.

During a visit to Chile in 2005, Fujimori was arrested and eventually extradited to Peru where he was convicted in 2009 to 25 years in prison for corruption, human right abuses and for his role in killings and kidnappings by the Grupo Colian Death Squad during his government’s battle against the Senderos Lumiosos in the 1990s.

During the two decades of Shining Path, some 69,000 people, mostly Peruvian peasants died or disappeared. According to the Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (PTRC), at last as many people died at the hands of the Fujimory military commandos, as were killed by the Shining Path. The PTRC is also called Hatun Willakuy, a Quechuan expression meaning the great story, signifying the enormity of the events recounted. Before the commission, Peru had never conducted such a comprehensive examination of violence, abuse of power, or injustice. See this.

To this day father Fujimori is in prison – or under house arrest for his alleged ill-health – while his daughter Keiko Fujimori was largely running Congress with a majority of her Party “Popular Force” – Fuerza Popular. It is not exaggerated to claim that during the past three decades Fujimorismo and the APRA (American Popular Revolutionary Alliance – a left-turned-right party) largely ran the country with crime and corruption, selling off the country’s riches to international corporatism, mainly in the US – and for the benefit of Peruvian oligarchs, but leaving the large majority of Peruvians behind.

Peru has a wealth of mineral resources. Copper, iron, lead, zinc, bismuth, phosphates, and manganese exist in great quantities of high-yield ores. Gold and silver are found extensively, as are other rare metals, and petroleum fields are located along the far north coast and the northeastern part of Amazonia.

Peru’s GDP of US$ 270 billion (World Bank – 2019) is misleading, as a great proportion is generated by mostly foreign majority holding extractive industries, manufacturing and ever-increasingly also agriculture, leaving little in the country which is why the poverty level has hardly changed over the last 30 years. While in the first decade of 2000 Peru had a phenomenal GDP growth, between 5% and 7% annually – about two thirds went to 20% of the population and the rest was trickling down to the other 80%, with the bottom 10% to 20% getting next to nothing.

The poverty rate after covid encompasses at least two thirds of the Peruvian population, with up to 50% under extreme poverty. Exact figures are not available. Those listed by the World Bank indicating a 27% poverty rate are simply fake. In addition, the informal sector in Peru amounts to at least 70%. While it is informality that keeps Peru somewhat going, it is also the informal sector that has plunged masses of people into poverty.

Candidate Pedro Castillo, if finally declared the winner, has a challenging job ahead. He is aligned with a seasoned and well-experienced and nationally respected politician, socialist Veronica Mendoza from Cusco. She also identified the current economic advisor for Mr. Castillo, Pedro Francke, who has a center-left reputation.

Mr. Francke served as director of the Cooperation Fund for Social Development (FONCODES), a Peruvian government -controlled social services and small investments institution, promoting small and medium size enterprises and creating jobs. He also had several roles at the Peruvian Central Bank and worked as an economist at the World Bank.

In a political statement, Francke separated a potential Castillo presidency from what he called Chavez socialism of currency control, nationalizations and price controls. In fact, this is an easy and purely partisan statement, because the two economies are so fundamentally different that there is simply no comparison. But the intent is to tranquilize a worried and right-wing media indoctrinated populace. The right-wing, mostly El Comercio and affiliated media dominated news outlets, control about 90% of Peruvian media.

Mr. Francke told Reuters, “Our idea is not to have massive interventionism in the economy”, indicating that Castillo would respect market economy. Francke also said that a Castillo Government would not proceed with nationalization and expropriation at all. They may, however, renegotiate some of the corporate profit-sharing. Having experienced the Velasco Government in the 1970s, this is one of the major worries of more senior Peruvians, who lived through the Velasco years.

Pedro Francke also repeated what Castillo said in his campaign speeches, that he would encourage local over foreign investments, a valid assertion, because at present the Peruvian economy is to about 70% dollarized, meaning that local banks finance themselves largely by Wall Street, while locally earned money is invested abroad rather than at home. Hopefully Castillo will be able to muster the necessary trust to bring about local investments with local money. If so, this would be among the healthiest economic moves for Peru – moves towards fiscal autonomy and monetary sovereignty.

At the time of this writing, 10 days after the ballot, the vote recounts and quarrels over voter fraud is growing, creating a chaotic ambiance, one that becomes increasingly volatile. We can just hope that the Peruvian Election Commission applies fair rules and is able to avoid civil unrest.

Peter Koenig is a geopolitical analyst and a former Senior Economist at the World Bank and the World Health Organization (WHO), where he has worked for over 30 years on water and environment around the world. He lectures at universities in the US, Europe and South America. He writes regularly for online journals and is the author of Implosion – An Economic Thriller about War, Environmental Destruction and Corporate Greed and co-author of Cynthia McKinney’s book “When China Sneezes: From the Coronavirus Lockdown to the Global Politico-Economic Crisis” (Clarity Press – November 1, 2020).

Peru's Human Rights Coordinating Committee

The human rights abuses that devastated Peru from the early 1980s to the mid 1990s are once again an issue of debate in that country with the release of the Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation’s final report. The Commission was created on June 4, 2001, by interim President Valentín Paniagua and subsequently ratified by President Alejandro Toledo. Composed of twelve members and one observer, its mandate included investigating human rights abuses by both government and insurgent forces, presenting proposals for reparations and human rights-related reforms, and establishing mechanisms for follow-up. One very important objective of the process underway is to promote reconciliation with the victims of political violence.

The report, presented on August 28, 2003, concludes that more than 69,000 people were killed in acts of political violence in Peru between 1980 and 2000, a figure that far exceeds the previously accepted total of 30,000 deaths. More than half of these killings were perpetrated by the Shining Path. Additionally, the report finds that three out of every four deaths were Quechua-speaking rural peasants. The commissioners strongly critique the political actors who either allowed or ignored the human rights violations committed by state security forces against the most vulnerable and marginalized sector of Peruvian society.

The Peruvian human rights community described below played an integral role in building popular and political support for the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The former Executive Secretary of Peru’sCoordinadora Nacional de Derechos Humanos, Sofia Macher, was a member of the Commission and scores of human rights lawyers and activists were incorporated into its staff. Peruvian human rights groups provided support to the Commission throughout the course of its investigation and are now engaged in advocacy campaigns to promote the implementation of the report’s recommendations.

The Coordinadora Nacional de Derechos Humanos (National Human Rights Coordinating Committee) is an umbrella organization with more than 60 human rights organizations from across Peru. Since its 1985 founding, the Coordinadora has earned a reputation as one of the most effective country-based human rights movements in Latin America. Over the years, the Coordinadora has managed to function effectively as a coalition even as the situation in Peru dramatically changed.

The Coordinadora and its member organizations operated for years in a violent and polarized situation between the Shining Path insurgent group and Peruvian government security forces. Being caught in the crossfire gave greater impetus to the need for unity among Peruvian human rights groups. This time of extreme political violence was followed by a prolonged period in the mid-1990s of authoritarian rule under President Fujimori. In this new context, the Coordinadora shifted from a more traditional agenda focused on political and civil rights to join broader citizen efforts to restore democratic rule in Peru during a time of regime change and transition.

Like other human rights groups in similar circumstances, the coalition faced four fundamental questions:

  • How to maintain and sustain a coalition in situations where circumstances change dramatically?
  • How to build unity between diverse groups within a coalition while at the same time ensuring input and participation by those members that are traditionally more marginalized?
  • To what extent should human rights promoters seek out opportunities for constructive engagement with the State?
  • When and how to build alliances with other sectors of civil society and with the international community?


May 18, 1980 marked a turning point in Peru’s history. Elections were held after 12 years of military rule, and the Shining Path—the most ruthless insurgency to emerge in Latin America—launched its armed revolution against the Peruvian state in the highlands. Shining Path cadres burned ballot boxes in the small village of Chuschi, in the province of Ayacucho. Residents in Lima awoke to find dead dogs hanging from lampposts and traffic lights.

The Peruvian government’s subsequent counterinsurgency tactics mimicked the violent methods employed in Argentina and Chile: reports began circulating of extrajudicial executions, disappearances, massacres and torture at the hands of state security forces. A vicious spiral of violence ensued.

In the years that followed, Peruvian citizens, particularly peasants, were caught between the armed forces’ brutal counterinsurgency campaign and the Shining Path’s terrorist acts. Small human rights groups, often called Human Rights Committees (CODEHs) were formed around the country to aid the victims of violence. They brought together government officials, religious leaders, teachers, lawyers, social workers, psychologists, leaders of unions and grassroots organizations, and sometimes political party representatives. Most CODEHs combined legal defense and human rights education, utilizing local media outlets to address human rights issues concerning the local population, often with the local Catholic Church’s support. In the emergency zones, victims’ family members (familiares) formed organizations. Most familiares had loved ones who had disappeared they were overwhelmingly poor, Quechua-speaking peasants from isolated rural areas—Peruvian society’s most marginalized sector. The familiares organizations offered both solidarity and possibilities for joining with others to take action. Perhaps most importantly, as one woman stated, “There, we were told where bodies had been found and with that information, we would go out and look for the cadavers, in search of our loved ones.”


Like much of Peru’s peasant population, human rights activists increasingly found themselves caught in the crossfire between the military and the insurgents. Conservative political leaders often viewed human rights as an obstacle to waging a successful war against the guerrillas.

The Peruvian military and police routinely targeted human rights activists, mistakenly linking them to the Shining Path. As in other Latin American countries, state agents were responsible for most of the attacks on the human rights community. However, in contrast to the situation elsewhere, the Peruvian human rights groups were also brutally attacked by the guerrillas. Shining Path routinely sent death threats to local human rights groups and attempted to infiltrate their activities as a form of intimidation or with the intention of eventually controlling them. Shining Path “liquidation squads” killed scores of popular leaders every year


By 1984, momentum grew for the creation of a unified human rights movement in Peru. Key human rights leaders, particularly those from the provinces, recognized that unity could help open up political space, increase their effectiveness, enhance their credibility and perhaps offer some protection against the threat of both the military and the Shining Path.

In January 1985, 107 people representing more than 50 human rights organizations attended a national meeting (Encuentro). After much heated discussion, the meeting’s final declaration denounced human rights atrocities committed by the security forces and the insurgents.

The Coordinadora Nacional de Derechos Humanos in Peru was formed at the Encuentro with the purpose “to coordinate and support the work in defense of human rights undertaken by organizations at the national level.” (Reglamento de la Coordinadora Nacional de Derechos Humanos, May 20 1985)


Extreme political violence was a day-to-day reality for the Coordinadora and its members. Fear permeated the human rights movement across Peru. Those in areas hardest hit by the violence operated at great personal risk.

In the face of extreme violence by both sides, the space to carry out human rights work narrowed and closed altogether in some areas. Provincial groups, particularly organizations of familiares, felt marginalized and out-of-touch with activities in the capital, yet had to rely more and more on Lima-based organizations for assistance. Constant security threats and a climate of suspicion prevailed.


Given the high levels of political violence during the Coordinadora’s early years, the extent to which human rights groups should seek opportunities for constructive engagement with the State was another hot debate. The civilian government had largely abdicated its responsibility for dealing with the insurgents to the military, then responsible for the bulk of human rights violations. The Comando Rodrigo Franco (CRF) death squad allegedly operated out of the Ministry of the Interior. With the exception of a handful of outspoken deputies, the Peruvian Congress gave unbridled support to the military’s counterinsurgency strategy.

In these circumstances Coordinadora discussions wrestled with the pros and cons of attempting to work with state actors to address the human rights crisis. Some viewed the State as the “enemy” others argued that some state actors were potential allies. Each group within the Coordinadora adopted its own approach in dealing with the State. Many did interact with government officials at the local, regional and national levels. Some groups focused on denunciation and protest while others sought constructive engagement to push legislative reforms. Still others took the position that “one must confront, but also influence,” combining the two strategies.


In the 1990 presidential elections—with the country in economic and political ruin—an unknown political outsider who donned a traditional Andean poncho and campaigned from a tractor, came out of nowhere to win. Despite his portrayal as a populist, Alberto Fujimori implemented his opponent’s sweeping neo-liberal economic reform and—with the assistance of his secretive and nefarious advisor, Vladimiro Montesinos—developed a tight relationship with the country’s revamped intelligence services and the military.

In April 1992, Fujimori suspended the constitution, dissolved congress and temporarily closed the judiciary. Although the autogolpe, or self-coup, marked the beginning of eight years of authoritarian rule, most Peruvians viewed this iron fist approach as necessary to confront Shining Path’s terrorist violence.

Peruvian history took yet another dramatic turn in September 1992, when Abimael Guzmán, the messianic Shining Path leader, was captured and his unshaven, forlorn image broadcast across the nation. This prompted a precipitous drop in violent acts committed by the Shining Path and, ultimately, its near demise. As a result, state-sponsored human rights violations declined proportionally, and human rights groups found themselves challenged by a new crisis of democratic governance and the rule of law.

The Coordinadora adapted its work to the changing scenario, analyzing the obstacles and opportunities the new circumstances presented for the movement. Relations with the national government were increasingly antagonistic and the regime’s authoritarian nature meant human rights guarantees remained more distant than ever. However, the end of the crisis of political violence made it harder for the government to justify its strong-arm tactics. On issues that did not threaten Fujimori’s pillars of power—the military and the intelligence services—he was sensitive to public opinion and there were limited opportunities for reform.

The Coordinadora’s “In the Name of the Innocent” campaign exemplifies how the human rights community quickly adapted and carried out effective advocacy within Fujimori’s repressive regime. Shortly after the autogolpe, Fujimori issued decrees creating military courts to try those accused of “treason”—defined as a form of aggravated terrorism—and “faceless” civilian courts (the identities of the judges were kept secret) to try accused terrorists. The draconian legislation all but eliminated due process guarantees and the right to an adequate legal defense. The number of people detained on terrorism charges skyrocketed.

The Coordinadora launched an extensive media campaign to release innocent Peruvians jailed as terrorists.. By 1995, 87% of Peruvians polled in Lima said they thought there were innocent people in jail on terrorism charges (A la Intemperie: Percepciones sobre derechos humanos. Lima, Peru: Coordinadora Nacional de Derechos Humanos, 1996). Politically astute, Fujimori noted the shift in public opinion and began a pardon process.

The role of human rights was still evolving. At the 1995 Encuentro, a major discussion took place about what role the Coordinadora should have in promoting economic, social and cultural rights (ESCR), and what priority they should be given in the coalition’s work plan.

Coalition members also wrestled with how to respond to the crisis of democratic rule, agreeing that human rights guarantees could not be institutionalized before Peru returned to a more democratic path. At the 1997 Encuentro, the Coordinadora membership officially adopted a pro-democracy platform calling for strengthening democratic institutions and the rule of law, a logical next step in the coalition’s evolution. The Coordinadora allied itself with social movements and other pro-democracy civil society organizations.

The Coordinadora’s increased focus on democracy impacted the way it thought about and carried out its work. The 1997-1999 work plan adopted at the Encuentro incorporated the area of “democracy and human rights” to promote more active citizen participation in government. Much of this work was cast in terms of the reconstruction of the country’s social fabric, creating spaces for civil society groups to come together and encouraging civic education. Then-Executive Secretary Sofía Macher noted a fundamental shift in “the central focus of our work from individual cases to the political system of the country and how it affects human rights.” In the 2000 elections, the Coordinadora played a dramatic role.

Independent of political parties or movements, the Coordinadora was seen as an honest broker, above the political fray, yet clearly committed to the democratic struggle. Moreover, the Coordinadora’s cooperative nature set it apart. While the Executive Secretary had a high profile public figure, the Coordinadora was not seen as imposing its point of view or trying to co-opt other civil society organizations. With a reputation for principled positions, its opinion was valued by domestic and international actors gauging the validity or fairness of government actions with regards to the electoral process.

In contrast to its strategy in past elections, in 2000 the Coordinadora positioned itself in the eye of the electoral storm, questioning whether Fujimori would allow any other candidate to run, and potentially win, the elections. The Coordinadora, like many other civil society actors, came down firmly on the side of free and fair elections and against manipulations by the incumbent. Coordinadora member organizations helped document and denounce the electoral shenanigans taking place and shape national and international public opinion through a media campaign and the dissemination of information and analysis abroad.

The Asociación Civil Transparencia, an independent electoral watchdog group, was the primary organization reporting on the electoral process and mobilizing thousands of Peruvian citizens as election observers. The Coordinadora assisted in these efforts first by convening a broad cross-section of civil society, pulling together churches, universities, unions and other non-governmental organizations to support independent monitors’ efforts. Second, provincial Coordinadora member organizations became an important source of election monitors at local polling stations—essential work during the first round of voting in April 2000—and eventually the Fujimori government was forced to concede a run-off. The withdrawal of both national and international monitors for the second round meant that Fujimori entered his third term in office lacking domestic and international legitimacy.

After the election, the head of the Organization of American States (OAS) electoral monitoring mission in Peru, Eduardo Stein, applauded: “The work undertaken by the organizations that promote human rights in Peru, under the effective leadership of the Coordinadora” as being “one of the principal protagonists in the democratic transition that is, happily, under way in Peru today.” (Letter by Eduardo Stein to Sofia Macher, July 4, 2001.)


On September 16, 2000, President Fujimori announced he would hold new elections in which he would not run and that he would dismantle the feared intelligence service. Both Montesinos and Fujimori fled the country Montesinos was extradited to Peru to face prosecution for dozens of crimes, while Fujimori remains in exile in Japan. The period of authoritarian rule ended abruptly and Peru entered yet another transition period, this time toward democratic rule.

Once again the Coordinadora faced the prospect of adapting to a changing political landscape ripe with new opportunities and challenges. Political space had finally opened to reform and the formulation and debate of concrete policy proposals. At the same time, the Coordinadora may find itself in the uncomfortable position of confronting former colleagues with long trajectories in the human rights movement now assuming government posts. How will the Coordinadora develop strategies for constructive engagement to influence reform processes while maintaining its independence vis-à-vis the State? The Coordinadora’s challenge is to “identify and adequately locate the space for the human rights movement in a democracy,” as former Executive Secretary Sofia Macher so eloquently stated. The Coordinadora and its members will grapple with this challenge in the coming years.

Coletta A. Youngers is a consultant for the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). This article is based on a Case Study Prepared for the Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations/Program on Philanthropy, Civil Society and Social Change in the Americas (PASCA), Harvard University. Susan C. Peacock was also a consultant for the case study.

During the internal conflict in Peru, the bloody campaign by the Peruvian Maoist group Shining Path was responsible for the deaths of thousands of inhabitants of the rural regions of Peru. [ citation needed ] The Military of Peru, which had been dispatched to put down the insurgency, was also responsible for the deaths of thousands of Peruvians, as it treated campesinos as potential terrorists or terrorist sympathizers. [ citation needed ]

At the beginning of his 1985–1990 term, President Alan García demonstrated an interest in changing the counter-subversive strategy of his predecessor, Fernando Belaúnde Terry, with the purpose of reducing human rights violations against the civilian population, by calling on the civil society to propose solutions to the problem of political violence in Peru. Nevertheless, his government authorized a swift and violent takeover of the prisons to regain control, placing Peru's human rights violations back into the national and international spotlight.

On June 18, 1986, at approximately 6:00 AM, prisoners rioted within multiple prison facilities in Lima and Callao. The riots took place while a congress of the Socialist International, of which Alan García's APRA political party was a member, was being conducted in Lima. The prisoners in San Juan de Lurigancho, El Frontón, and the women's prison in Santa Mónica, who had tacit control of the prison interiors, rose up and took prison guards and three journalists as hostages. They demanded the immediate release of 500 people imprisoned for terrorism. García and his government were caught off-guard by the uprising. At 10:00 AM an emergency cabinet session began with the participation of García and military commanders. Three hours later, the Minister of the Interior, Abel Salinas, announced that if the prisoners did not surrender, the prisons would be retaken by force. That day, the Shining Path launched a wave of attacks in Lima that left several dead.

The government of Peru sent a negotiating commission formed by Caesar Samamé, Augusto Rodriguez Rabanal and Fernando Cabieses, arriving at El Frontón Prison at 4:30 PM. However, negotiations did not bring about results.

6:00 PM, as the negotiations failed, the order to assault the prisons was given. The first attack began in the women's prison at Santa Mónica, where the Republican Guard, which at the time was responsible for protecting Peru's borders and prisons, regained control relatively quickly. They demolished a wall and sent tear and paralyzing gases into the prison. In two hours the hostages were released, and two people had died.

At midnight, June 19, the assault on the prison on the island of El Frontón commenced. The assault was carried out under the command of the Peruvian Navy. The director of the prison, a judge, and the public prosecutor had protested against the Navy's intervention, and declared that they were no longer responsible for what occurred inside the prison as a result of the assault. Meanwhile, from the island of El Frontón the vice-minister of the Interior, Agustín Mantilla, announced that the island was under the control of the Joint Command of the Armed Forces as it had been declared a restricted military zone.

Later, the Navy, with Naval Infantry support, attacked the "Blue Ward" of El Frontón, which was where Shining Path guerrilla members were imprisoned. During the assault three members of the Peruvian Armed Forces, one of the hostages, and 135 prisoners were killed. Simultaneously, Republican Guard SWAT team arrived at Lurigancho prison, and placed explosives around the outer wall of the Industrial Pavilion Part prison where the Shining Path guerrillas held hostages. A joint offensive by troops of the Republican Guard and the Peruvian Army followed. At 3:00 am, after heavy fighting with guns and grenades, the guerrillas surrendered. Hours later, numerous prisoners that occupied the building lay dead: most had been executed, one by one, by a shot to the nape of the neck.

According to a cable from the United States Department of State, "at least 100 prisoners were summarily executed." [3] The Peruvian government itself concluded that all 124 rebellious prisoners in Lurigancho prison died in the assault, and that no fewer than 90 were victims of extrajudicial executions. [1] [2]

The national and international scandal that resulted from this multiple crime was enormous. During President García's delayed visit to the scene of the events, he declared that there were two possibilities: "either they [the authors of the massacre] go or I go." Nevertheless, nothing was ever done to punish the guilty. Luis Giampietri, the naval officer in command of the operation, later became Alan García's vice president.

The ensuing international outrage exerted enormous pressure on the Peruvian Government to establish an independent commission of inquiry. The Peruvian Congress quickly moved on to approve a special-mandated body in August 1986, but political negotiations regarding its composition dragged the appointment of its member for a whole year. Finally, in August 1987 the ad-hoc commission of inquiry’ configuration was agreed comprising 6 Senators and 7 Representatives. [4] The 13 members-body was comprised by twelve men and one woman and its political outline assigned 6 seats for opposition parties and 7 for the Government party (APRA) and allies. [5] However, the Chair was yielded to one opposition figure, Senator Rolando Ames Cobián. [6] The Commission was granted 4 months to complete its probe and ultimately became deadlocked between two irreconcilable blocks: one supported by the opposition congressmen's that criticised the state’s response [4] and one loyal to the regime, which wanted to avoid attributing responsibility for the abuses.

Human Rights Issues in Peru

Peru, like its neighboring countries, has a history of human rights afflictions related to labor peonage and race relations which date back centuries. More recently, however, the 1980's were marked by human rights violations and arbitrary arrests because of the increased action of subversive groups. Furthermore, the war against the Shining Path Marxist terrorism in the 90's and the corruption of the concurrent Fujimori regime became a situation internationally recognized for violence and severe abuses of basic human rights.

Click here to view internship/volunteer opportunities in human rights in Peru
Following Fujimori's expulsion, Peru mobilized efforts to address its violent past through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and other anti-corruption programs. Many organizations have worked to ensure that "missing" people from the era of terrorism are reported and the guilty perpetrators be held responsible. Because many citizens in rural areas are not registered nor have official identification, it is monumental task to keep them integrated with government organization.

One of the biggest tasks still facing Peruvian communities is educating their citizens about basic human rights. In the poorest regions of rural Peru, human labor and consumer rights are almost completely unknown, allowing for the possibility of severe exploitation. The people usually have little to no knowledge of the legal protections that exist for their benefit, especially when there isn't governmental presence of any kind. An additional challenge, especially relevant to Puno, are the conflicts between citizenry and local governments and the lacking dissemination of information regarding these issues.

FSD interns and volunteers in Puno support local organizations' efforts to bridge the gap between government, social resources, and marginalized communities. Whether you educate citizens on their basic rights, provide legal assistance, or research the efficacy of grassroots programs, your work will support a growing shift in rights development for rural communities.

Peru’s ‘Difficult Times’ and the Ongoing Struggle for Human Rights

The years 1980 to 2000 in Peru have been given a special name in the Quechua language used in parts of the country: ‘sasachakuy tiempo’ or the ‘difficult times’.

During those two decades, a Maoist rebel group known as the Shining Path (or Sendero Luminoso) fought what was effectively a civil war against the Peruvian government and armed forces.

The war was bloody and protracted, with massacres and torture of combatants and civilians common, and both sides guilty of committing atrocities. By the time it ended, approximately 70,000 Peruvians had died and 500,000 people had been internally displaced.

This traumatic period in Peruvian politics has left two distinct legacies that still compete for space in the country’s modern public memory.

The first is – depending who you talk to – the unifying or infamous Alberto Fujimori, president from 1990 to 2000. Fujimori led the state’s crackdown on Sendero Luminoso while also aggressively pursuing economic reforms, leaving a profound impact on Peru’s rural areas. Though the ex-president is now imprisoned, Fujimori’s name remains ubiquitous, especially as his daughter Keiko is currently leading opinion polls for next month’s presidential election.

Keiko Fujimori is a front runner in Peru’s 2016 president election (Photo: Alan, via flickr)

The potential return of a Fujimori to power has also raised new questions over the second issue still unresolved since the conflict ended: the demand that the human rights violations of these decades – especially those committed by the State against civilians – be recognised, with justice and dignity brought to those most affected.

Remembering ‘Sasachakuy Tiempo’

The purported goal of the Shining Path was to overthrow the Peruvian political system and replace it with a communist peasant revolutionary regime. As such, its main recruiting efforts occurred in Peru’s impoverished mountainous provinces, where combat was most widespread. Civilians in these regions, many of them indigenous peoples, were among the most affected by the human rights violations of the period.

One of the poorest parts of Peru, Ayacucho is a heavily indigenous region and the site where the Civil War emerged under Shining Path leader Abimael Guzman in May 1980. Even today, many of the crimes committed in the era remain under-acknowledged.

Shining Path propaganda and the areas most affected by the conflict (Images via Wikipedia)

Attempts to preserve the memory of those who died in Ayacucho during the Civil War and advocate for the protection of those human rights which were violated during this period is a key goal of the Peruvian National Association of Relatives of the Kidnapped, Detained and Disappeared (ANFASEP), founded by Angélica Mendoza de Ascarza Pocos in September 1983.

The ANFASEP’s Museum of Memory documents other attacks on civilians, including the killing of eight journalists in Uchuracchay in January 1983. It also describes how in December 1984, 125 women and children were killed after having been forced to dig their own graves. The group’s members also reveal details of the traumatic past.

Isabel Escalante is a current member of ANFASEP and works at its Memory Museum. Born in December 1980, the life of Escalante’s family was turned upside down during the ‘difficult times’. She told the Argentina Independent that: “three of my siblings disappeared in my community and one of them here in the city of Huamanga [Ayacucho]- he was a student of the San Cristobel of Huamanga University and was taken captive by the people who took him to the Police Investigation… to this day none of us know his whereabouts”.

Mila Segovia Roja is another ANFASEP member who also works as a nursery teacher. She grew up in Wachinga, Ayacucho, with her grandparents in what she describes as a state of ‘grandeur’, with cattle, sheep, pigs, horses and birds. She says that in 1984: “the terrorists assassinated my relatives. I wanted to die- when I found out [that my grandparents had died] I felt that I didn’t have a family, my biological mother took me to Lima, and 15 days later I returned”.

Whilst Shining Path and state killings were worst in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the culpability of government action during the Civil War was compounded by a government sterilisation program introduced in 1996.

Peru’s Health Ministry estimated in 2002 that over 260,000 women were sterilised between 1996 and 2000. Few of these women gave consent, many were indigenous, impoverished, and Quechua speakers and almost all are still seeking justice today with the support of human rights organisations.

The ANFASEP memorial museum in Ayacucho (Photo via ANFASEP)

A Country Still Divided

In the years following the ‘difficult times,’ many more stories like those of Escalante and Segovia Roja have come to light. In 2003, a Truth and Reconciliation Report (which was commissioned two years earlier) was published, aiming to move the country towards accountability, historical consciousness, and reconciliation.

This report is similar to the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission which followed the end of Apartheid in that it aimed to give voice to those who had been silenced during the country’s conflict. The Peruvian report found that 69,280 people died during this period. At least 43 incidents of crimes committed by the government and Shining Path were identified.

In this way it formally condemned the actions of both sides and provided a context for the imprisonment of both Abimael Guzman and Alberto Fujimori. In 1993 Sendero leader Abimael Guzman was handed a life sentence for terrorism against the state, whilst in 2009 Alberto Fujimori received a 25-year sentence for crimes against humanity.

However, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission also found that the government, media and the education system were co-opted in the perpetuation of violence. It reported that for reconciliation to be effected, there must be a institutional acknowledgement of Peru’s multiethnic composition.

It is in this area that change has been lagging, as there remains a vast power imbalance between coastal Peru, especially Lima, and the country’s other two regions: the Andean highlands and Amazon rainforest. In Ayacucho itself, in 2013 the local newspaper the Voice of Huamanga revealed that 92.5 per cent of its people don’t have potable water 50 per cent of adults suffer from hypertension that cannot be treated due to the cost of medicine and 9 per cent suffer from tuberculosis.

Many of the efforts to achieve reconciliation for what happened to the victims of the Civil War are impeded by these lingering divisions, and the way in which the conflict undermined community relationships.

Those who came to Lima from the Andes during the conflict were often perceived as being sympathetic to the Shining Path. Some were labelled as terrorists or subversives in Lima and ended up being targeted by both the armed forces and the Shining Path.

Moreover, these displaced victims sometimes faced further marginalisation from their own communities when they returned from where they had fled. After returning to her community of Punqui from Lima, Escalante describes how: “my parents were the ones who suffered the things that happened… when we wanted to return they didn’t want to receive us back into the community but my parents left and returned to our town in any case”.

For Segovia Roja, her grief was compounded by the excruciating search for the remains of her grandparents, and the resistance she has encountered among the villagers of Wachinga. Segovia Roja recounted to me that in her search “the people in the village were silent about how they disappeared the body, they insulted me: at the start I was afraid but then I revealed myself [as searching for the remains] and began to call them assassins. I went forward very bravely, I said to them ‘screw it, kill me- where are my relatives you owe me’ later they began to run from me”.

Peru Moving Forward

Due to the difficulties they face as individuals searching for justice, the strength in numbers derived from ANFASEP for both Escalante and Segovia Roja has been crucial. Escalante states that: “ANFASEP is represented by fighting women that are never defeated by anything. There always have been difficulties since the organisation was initiated but they have never had their colours lowered in any way.” Like Escalante, Segovia Roja told me of the special bonds formed among ANFASEP members, “I feel like I’m amongst family with them”.

But while recognition of past crimes is key to healing the country’s wounds, a greater awareness of today’s socio-economic divisions and problems is also an essential part of finding justice.

A member of the Lima-based activist group Art for Memory, Mauricio Delgado Castillo is someone who is cognisant of the links between economic and social justice. He argues that in Peru the struggles of the ‘difficult times’ and today are very much the same, stating that: “The continuity faces the same issues (social inequality and structural racism) and suffers from the same common sentiments like contempt for others and negation of the common good”.

Addressing the hostility towards the culture of rural Peru within Lima is something Delgado Castillo emphasises as an important objective of his group. He said his group strong believes that “art allows us to open perspectives” and says the itinerance of its exhibitions around different cities is its main strength.

A temporary exhibit by Arte por la Memoria, which seeks to create more awareness of Peru’s violent past (Photo via Arte por la Memoria)

“We saw the need to go right to the centre of things, to open space to the convulsion and dynamism of the streets,” he describes. “The flexibility of a museum that could be set up in a plaza, a university or a union, allows us a lot to access more members of the public than if we had a fixed location”.

The impact of the Peruvian internal conflict remains pronounced over fifteen years since its conclusion. Many of the difficulties which the country faces today – gaping social divisions, inter-generational trauma, and a highly concentrated media – make dealing with the legacy of that time will be very hard work.

Yet, there are reasons for optimism. The Peruvian Ombudsmen’s Reports into forced sterilisations has received backing from doctors and significant media exposure, and in 2015 saw the creation of a victim’s registry. Also last year, on 17 December, the Place of Memory, Tolerance and Social Inclusion was inaugurated to provide more coverage of the Civil War to Limeños and international visitors.

Moreover, activists are increasingly pushing the government, demanding more. For example, critics simultaneously acknowledge the importance of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and suggest that it may underplay the State’s role in human rights abuses during the Civil War.

And there is the visible and persistent part of civil society which is pushing for these events to be acknowledged: ANFASEP, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Art for Memory are just some of those seeking a better future through reconciliation with the past.

They are realistic and determined. Escalante says that: “I don’t know if we can achieve justice and the truth for all those events, it is difficult…but I would like to see those who are responsible pay for their crimes”.

For Delgado Castillo, this is an issue wider Peruvian society must take on, though creating “a space that the relatives of the victims feel in some way is theirs and with which we accompany their struggles”.

Whether this space will be created remains to be seen. The outcome of next month’s elections will go a long way to showing us the political will Peru has for adopting these struggles.

Cameron McPhedran

Cameron McPhedran has traveled extensively through the Americas and lived in Buenos Aires and Berkeley. He is currently studying for a Masters of Criminal Justice and Criminology at the University of New South Wales, and has worked as a reviewer and editor for History in the Making.

This post originally appeared on the Argentina Independent, and we thank them for allowing us to republish it here.

Tied down and sterilized: Peru’s dark history of family planning

The first time nurses visited Gloria Basilio, she told them she wasn’t interested in sterilization surgery. She already had three children but wanted more.

The nurses kept returning to her home in the remote Peruvian countryside. They told her the president himself had ordered the procedure for women with large families — women who they said “reproduced like rabbits.”

With her husband away, Basilio finally conceded.

She changed her mind in the operating room the next day, but nurses tied her arms and legs to a bed and blindfolded her.

Basilio is one of untold thousands of women — mostly poor, rural and indigenous — who were sterilized against their will under a family planning program that operated from 1996 to 2000 under the government of then-President Alberto Fujimori.

The government has said more than 272,000 women and 22,000 men received sterilizations. As of September, nearly 7,500 people — 96% of them women — had joined a government registry claiming they never consented.

“My husband never stopped blaming me,” said Basilio, now 46. “He also wanted more children. Whenever I complained about the pain, he told me, ‘Why did you do that to yourself? Why did you get the operation?’”

Now, after nearly two decades of sputtering attempts at justice by Peru, Fujimori and three of his former health ministers are facing prosecution on charges of human rights violations.

The criminal complaint, which was filed last year on behalf of more than 1,300 people, including five women who prosecutors say died as a result of complications from the procedure, has reached a critical juncture. A court specializing in high-level corruption is scheduled to hear evidence in early December and decide whether the case can proceed.

Basilio said she also wants a public apology — “even from Fujimori.”

His government’s family planning program was once hailed as a way to reduce widespread poverty by ensuring that low-income and less educated families would receive the same access to birth control as higher-income families.

“Peruvian women should be the owners of their destiny!” Fujimori declared in a 1995 speech to congress.

But prosecutors allege that the campaign emphasized sterilization over other contraceptive measures and that healthcare workers were pressured to meet quotas.

They say that the president participated in meetings with health ministers that focused on sterilization and that he received written updates on the alleged campaign to operate on women.

The doctors “obeyed a scale of orders that were controlled by the highest level of the country,” said Milton Campos, an attorney at DEMUS, a Peruvian women’s rights group representing accusers.

Almost from the beginning, the family program was dogged by complaints that women were being coerced.

Forced sterilizations are considered a crime against humanity under international law, and various inquiries by the government and activists eventually led to a criminal investigation, which has been opened and closed several times over the years.

The most significant upshot was a 2003 settlement before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in which Peru agreed to pay compensation to the family of a woman who died after being forcibly sterilized.

Fujimori, who resigned the presidency in 2000 after corruption scandals involving his former spy chief, is serving a 25-year prison sentence for ordering massacres during his government’s fight against Maoist rebels.

But his political allies — known as fujimoristas — continued to maintain considerable power as well as a populist image.

The sterilization case “complicates the fujimorista narrative — that they are in favor of the people, in favor of the poor,” said Jo-Marie Burt, a political scientist and Peru expert at George Mason University.

Then in 2016, the Justice Ministry began registering accusers in hopes of providing them psychological, medical and legal assistance, as well as determining the scope of the sterilization campaign.

Melissa Goytizolo, a Peruvian journalist who has gathered accounts of more than 100 accusers, reported that some were sterilized while unconscious after a caesarean section.

Others said they were told they were being treated for malaria, then anesthetized and sterilized. Some women caved to threats that resisting the surgery would send their husbands to jail.

In other cases, indigenous women signed consent forms they didn’t understand — because they couldn’t read Spanish.

The 2018 complaint describes fairs held to gather large groups of people who would be good candidates for sterilization. Potential targets were offered food and clothes as incentives.

Other details have come from Hernando Cevallos, a former congressman and one of the few doctors to speak out about the program. He was head of the medical federation in Peru’s Piura region in 1997 when a group of doctors alleged that health officials had ordered them to perform 250 sterilizations in four days.

To meet quotas, personnel at medical facilities — down to the cleaning staff — would be mobilized to bring in patients, Cevallos said.

“There was a lot of fear among doctors because these were orders from the state,” he said. “You knew it was wrong, you knew it increased the risk, but you did it, because if not, you could be dismissed. It was really like a sterilization factory.”

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