No justice for Putis?

By Beatriz Merino, Peru’s Ombudsman
Published in La Republica

Imagine that one day you answer the military’s offer for protection from terrorist attacks. Imagine that because you were convinced that you were protected beside the military base, you headed back to your town to bring other campesinos, including your wife and children, along with you.

Imagine that after a few days tragedy strikes, that the military from whom you expected protection turned into criminals. The women are raped before being killed, the men are deceived into digging their own graves and 19 children under the age of seven are killed to make sure there will be no trace in the future. Can you imagine something like this? Well, this is how it happened. In Dececember 1984, a total of 123 campesinos, including women, men, children and elderly, were brutally murdered and buried in Putis.

There is no explanation that justifies this massacre, which remains on every Peruvian’s conscience and that of humanity as a whole. But, as if this wasn’t enough, can you imagine that after 24 years not a single person has been punished for these crimes?

After so many years, we can no longer accept answers such as: “the information doesn’t exist,” or “we don’t have the necessary funds to investigate.” Or what is worse: “We must take into consideration the context in which these deaths occurred.” All are obstructions and excuses that favor impunity. This is inadmissible in a democratic society and it violates human dignity.

The Peruvian government has the obligation to demonstrate that it is capable of rendering justice, identifying those responsible and punishing them so that such serious offenses never occur again. The Putis investigation needs to be shaken up with ethics and true justice. We cannot lose our capacity to become incensed when we are confronted by such contempt for human life, nor become indifferent in the face of so much pain.

Peru is a society that clamors for justice, that alleges to have attained modernity and economic development, but it must demonstrate that it is capable of respecting its citizens’ dignity and render justice. Let us unite our efforts to attain a modern and democratic society. Let us see justice done for the community of Putis.

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NotePeru’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission estimated that more than 69,000 people were killed during the nation’s 1980−2000 internal armed conflict, in which thousands of poor campesinos were caught in the crossfire between a bloody Maoist Shining Path insurgency and brutal government backlash.

In the case of Putis, according to testimonies gathered by the Commission, soldiers from the military base of Putis persuaded villagers from the towns of Cayramayo, Vizcatánpata, Orccohuasi and Putis, who in fear of rebel attacks had abandoned their homes and communities and fled higher into the mountains, to come to Putis to start a new life. Held at gunpoint, the men were ordered to dig a large trench, ostensibly for trout farm pools. The men, women and children were then forced into the pit and shot dead. After the massacre, the military sold the villagers’ livestock and pocketed the proceeds.

Despite the testimonies to the Commission, and a soldier’s testimony published by La Republica daily in 2001, no one has yet been indicted. The military claims that all related documentation was destroyed in a fire.
Exhumation and a full investigation of the burial site began in May, by the independently-funded Peruvian Forensic Anthropology Team.

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