Battle against terrorism

Peruvian experience should be considered by international community, says Sofia Macher, member of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Peru.

Montreal, 21 October, 2002 – As Canadians continue to express concerns over the impact of Canada’s Anti-terrorism Act (Bill C-36) on their civil liberties, a Peruvian member of Rights & Democracy’s board will be in Montreal and Ottawa on 24 and 25 October to speak of the lessons learned by citizens in that country’s 20-year battle against terrorism.

Sofia Macher, a Commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, mandated by the Peruvian government to investigate 20 years of violence committed by guerrilla groups and the State between 1980 and 2000, will also ask Canadians to raise their voices to urge the Peruvian government to provide the resources it has promised to the Commission and to follow through on the recommendations it will make at the end of its mandate next year.

Throughout the period under review by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, an estimated 30,000 lost their lives in acts of political violence attributed to the government armed forces and the guerrilla movements of Sendero Luminoso and the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA). More than 4,000 people disappeared after arrest by the security forces, and over 600,000 were forced to flee their villages after acts of political violence. In addition, by 2001, an ad hoc commission made up of government and civil society representatives had established the innocence of more than 500 individuals arrested and imprisoned without due process under draconian anti-terrorist legislation, adopted in 1992 under former President Alberto Fujimori.

In the light of the Peruvian experience, Ms. Macher offers the following recommendation to the international community: security policies which attempt to address terrorism must be oriented by the human rights principles that are a cornerstone of democracy. In the words of the President of the TRC, Salomon Lerner Febres:

“We cannot defend our democracies if we abandon respect for due process. When a society puts security before human rights, or when public order is put over and above the civil liberties of citizens, then that democracy has adopted the tactics and principles – or lack of principles – of its enemies, and has been partially defeated.”

The Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission is currently collecting testimonies of political violence due to indiscriminate repression including the detention without due process under anti-terrorism legislation of some 2,500 individuals. Many of these, considered political prisoners by human rights organizations, were tortured while in custody and convicted in rulings held by hooded military judges.

Contrary to the practices of similar truth commissions in El Salvador, Guatemala and Haiti, where testimonies were heard exclusively in private, in Peru, as in the case of South Africa, a number of public hearings have been organized, with a view to encouraging a process of reconciliation and healing. The TRC is also holding public hearings in regions particularly affected by the armed conflict, with victims and their relatives testifying. From January 2003, hearings will be held on the role of state institutions in the violence.

Sofia Macher will address a public meeting in Montreal on October 24, 2002 and will also be available to the media for interviews. Ms. Macher speaks Spanish and English. Also available is Madeleine Desnoyers, Rights & Democracy’s regional officer for the Americas, who attended public hearings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Lima in September 2002. Video cassettes and transcriptions of Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings, in Spanish, are also available through Rights & Democracy.