In Peru, remembering the past as a step toward atonement

peru id picture in hand
A woman shows the photo ID of a relative who disappeared in 1984 in Ayacucho, south-central Peru, one of the hardest hit areas by the two decade-long internal conflict. Photo: Vera Lentz/Yyuyanapaq exhibit

"Violence devastated entire communities, not only taking the lives of innocent people but also the ancestral knowledge and customs of many indigenous peoples,” Peruvian human rights activist Hilaria Supa Huaman said. “[I myself] lost many close relatives and friends."

An indigenous leader and former congresswoman, Supa is a member of the high-level commission behind the establishment of the Place of Memory, Tolerance and Social Inclusion.

The Government of Peru opened the Place of Memory in December 2015, with support from UNDP, to help the nation document its painful past and deal with its open wounds. Its auditorium, exhibition spaces and online research portal are a memorial to nearly 70,000 people who died or disappeared during the 1980-2000 internal conflicts.

Highlights

  • The Place of Memory is a Government of Peru-UNDP initiative supported by the Government of Germany, the European Union and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency.
  • Over US$7 million was invested in the museum’s construction and online research portal.
  • UNDP also supported the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which concluded that internal violence left more than 69,000 victims between 1980 and 2000.

The museum received great encouragement and financial support from the Government of Germany, as well as from the European Union and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency.

“Peru needs this museum as a part of our national history, which we should all know about, especially young people, who will lead this country in the future,” added Supa, a native Quechua speaker who chaired various women's organizations in the Peruvian Andes while the conflict was ongoing.

The majority of victims were the poorest and most vulnerable women and men: 75 percent of the deceased spoke primarily Quechua or other indigenous languages. Nearly 80 percent lived in rural areas, according to the findings of Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which UNDP also backed 15 years ago at the request of the transitional government to investigate violence and abuse during the two decades of conflict.

Collecting and analyzing information from some 17,000 testimonies, Peru’s was the first truth commission in Latin America to hold public hearings, making a unique effort towards the prosecution of the perpetrators of violence, as well as to the development of a broader history of the conflict it was documenting.

UNDP has shared lessons from Peru’s Commission with other countries within the Latin America and Caribbean region and beyond. Most recently Brazil and Tunisia drew on Peru’s experience to strengthen their own truth commissions.

After two years of work, Peru’s Commission concluded that the “conflict revealed deep and painful divides in Peruvian society” and that there was a “significant relationship between poverty and social exclusion, and the likelihood of being a victim of violence.”

In addition to identifying the causes of violence and suggesting measures to compensate victims, the Commission proposed institutional reforms to prevent such abuses from happening again. The Place of Memory continues this work, giving the people of Peru a communal space to reflect, to grieve and to forgive.

“It was very helpful that the Place of Memory project was managed by UNDP, allowing a continuity of funds and enabling crucial contributions from the international community. Even when some people questioned the need for this museum, the international cooperation helped gather support and momentum to finish the project,” said Natalia Iguiñiz, member of the curating commission of the museum’s first exhibit titled Yuyunapaq, which means “to remember” in Quechua.

 

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