The Miami Herald
Oct. 09, 2004

Critics: Truth Commission wheels of justice are slow

One year after Peru's Truth Commission issued its report on 20 years of violence, its recommendations are being adopted only slowly, if at all.


LIMA - Jorge Noriega is a father who wants justice for his son, Jesús, who disappeared a dozen years ago when masked gunmen in military uniforms snatched him from his bed.

A year ago, Peru's Truth and Reconciliation Commission issued a ground-breaking study showing that the 20 years of civil strife against two guerrilla groups had left 69,000 dead, including Jesús Noriega, a poor farm laborer killed by men now identified as members of a pro-government death squad.

The commission sent the attorney general the names of 492 soldiers and police who allegedly executed, tortured or raped Peruvians, and called on the government to prosecute those who committed these human rights atrocities.


But the wheels of justice have been grinding slowly since then, and President Alejandro Toledo's government has only slowly, if at all, implemented the commission's other recommendations.

''We haven't progressed as much as we'd like,'' said Salomon Lerner, who chaired the 12-member Truth Commission.

For Jorge Noriega, that is unacceptable. ''I want justice,'' he told The Herald. ``justice for my son, for his children and for all the disappeared.''

Lisa Magarrell, senior associate at the New York-based International Center for Transitional Justice, said countries such as Peru have a difficult time confronting political violence of the recent past, especially acts sanctioned by the government.

Peru's Truth Commission blamed the ferocious Shining Path guerrillas for 54 percent of the 69,000 killings but also implicated the three presidents during the 20 years of violence -- Fernando Belaúnde, Alan García and Alberto Fujimori -- for either implicitly or explicitly allowing government troops to torture and murder in the name of national security.

''The Truth Commission created a way for people to tell their stories,'' said Alejandro Silva, a human rights lawyer in Peru. ``For the first time, they felt like someone from the state was listening to them. Now they are demanding that the state respond.''

Those who abducted Jesús Noriega, for example, belonged to the Colina Group death squad. Several of its leaders are now in prison but for other crimes. Military and civilian courts are meanwhile disputing jurisdiction in the case of Jesús Noriega and another eight men murdered that night.

''The military judges are not independent, they protect their own, and that has encouraged impunity,'' said Walter Albán, Peru's public defender, a government-appointed post.

A top civilian court recently ruled that military courts should be limited to the small number of cases involving military infractions, not murder and torture, raising hopes that the military courts will no longer stand in the way.

Javier Ciurlizza, the Truth Commission's executive director, said he was also encouraged that the first special court to investigate human rights cases was created last week, but added that many more are needed .

Willy González, an advisor to Toledo, acknowledges that many people believe the government is moving too slowly to implement the Truth Commission's recommendations. But after the new court was created, he said, ``At least we're not moving backward.''


Toledo was applauded for issuing a public apology in the name of the state three months after the Truth Commission issued its report last year. But human rights advocates say he has done little since then, if only because constant political battles have sapped his time and energy.

The government, for example, has not met the commission's recommendation to provide extra money for roads, schools and health clinics in the mountainous area of Ayacucho state, which suffered the worst violence.

It has also not hired the extra forensic anthropologists sought by the Truth Commission to exhume graves or provided police protection for the two to three dozen witnesses to police or paramilitary brutality.

The government also has not made payments of $10,000 to the family of each victim of government repression, one of the other recommendations of the Truth Commission.