Peru: Decades On, Women Remain Last in Line for Justice

(IPS) – Investigations of the raping of women in the 1980s during Peru’s counterinsurgency war have ground to a halt, even though the national Truth and Reconciliation Commission filed the respective complaints in 2004. Not one sentence has been handed down for the soldiers alleged to have committed the rapes, while more victims come forward.

One of the cases in the hands of the judiciary involves eight women in the town of Llusita, in the southern department of Ayacucho, who, with their children in their arms, were detained Apr. 24, 1983, and later tortured, along with dozens of other residents.

After being transferred to the Cangallo military base, the day after their arrest, the women were raped. Many innocent villagers died in the course of the military crackdown.

“They started beating us as if we were their wives, they kicked us in the belly. I was carrying my baby on my back and I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t defend myself or even cry out. They beat us like we were sacks,” says one of the survivors, who for reasons of personal safety requested anonymity.

“When I told (the soldier) that I had to urinate, he took me and my daughter to a room. There, three soldiers began to rape me by force. I couldn’t stop the rape; they grabbed me by the legs. During all this my little daughter held on to me, crying, and when my ‘wawita’ (baby) cried, one of the men made her suck his testicle,” recalled the woman in a complaint that the Commission on Human Rights (COMISEDH) filed with the Ayacucho Public Prosecutor’s Office in 2005.

The investigation of these charges remain frozen, along with about 20 other cases in the Ayacucho judicial system and in the neighbouring departments of Huancavelica, Apurímac, Cuzco, Junín, Pasco and Lima, attorneys for human rights organisations told IPS.

In the context of Peru’s internal armed conflict from 1980 to 2000, rape was a common method of torture, punishment or retaliation in 15 of the 24 departments into which the country is divided.

The 20-year conflict pitted government forces against the insurgent groups, the Maoist Shining Path and the smaller Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA).

Ayacucho, one of the poorest and most remote, rural and heavily indigenous parts of the country, accounted for a full 47 percent of the nearly 70,000 people killed in the armed conflict, according to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (Comisión de la Verdad y Reconciliación – CVR), which held Shining Path responsible for 54 percent of the killings.

However, the report by the CVR, created by the 2000-2001 transition government, reveals that those primarily responsible for the sexual crimes were agents of the government, and the army in particular.

Human rights organisations have reported that during the armed conflict, extrajudicial executions were systematically carried out, as well as torture and mass forced disappearances, especially in rural areas under military control and where states of emergency had been declared.

The CVR has a list of 538 victims of rapes that occurred during the years of the conflict. Three percent of the cases are included in the investigations that remain blocked in the twist and turns of the judicial system, while only two cases have been heard in criminal courts. They involved the rape of women at the Manta and Vilca military bases in the Huancavelica region.

But to date no sentence has been handed down.

However, the CVR’s initial register of victims has been overwhelmed by new denunciations as more women come forward. The National Reparations Council has a record of 1,150 women who were raped during the counterinsurgency war and has another 697 files from victims yet to be reviewed.

In the opinion of attorney Gloria Cano, of the Pro Human Rights Association, the authorities have been bogged down in “the identification of the perpetrators without taking into consideration they way that rape was utilised,” and the way those responsible tried to hide their identities.

She pointed out that the women were raped at clandestine detention centres or when the military patrols passed through their villages, and often the perpetrators identified themselves by nicknames and wore balaclavas that partially hid their faces.

As a result, “the identification sought by the investigators is nearly impossible,” Cano explained to IPS.

The human rights lawyers believe that most of the investigators and judges lack a clear strategy for proving and trying a crime of this nature.

These criticisms of the justice system can be seen in the investigations like the Llusita case. The Ayacucho public prosecutor separated the accusations of rape from those of murder, torture and forced disappearance — which claimed victims at the same time among the other area residents.

“In Llusita, all of the events took place in a systematic way. Being charged separately doesn’t make sense and decreases the possibility of obtaining guilty verdicts for those who gave the order for the military mission and those who commanded the patrols,” said COMISEDH attorney Gustavo Campos.

That organisation, which is handling the Llusita women’s case, filed a lawsuit against then head of the Cangallo base Arnulfo Arévalo Torres, and army captain Edgar Acevedo López, head of the Huancapi base, among others.

Carlos Rivera, a lawyer with the Institute of Legal Defence (IDL, part of the Public Prosecutor’s Office), added to the criticisms telling IPS that it is a grave mistake “to try to investigate these cases using traditional elements for investigating common cases of rape, such as forensic medical exams of the victims done recently or the self-incrimination of those being investigated.”

More than 50 percent of the cases are concentrated in Ayacucho, including that of Georgina Gamboa, raped in 1981, when she was 16, by police officers.

Her case, initially filed away, was reactivated in 2004 by the CVR after the charges were withdrawn, and has followed a similar path to that of any other investigation of sexual violence.

As the file shows, among the evidence that Gamboa was asked to present in February 2006 to renew the legal proceedings were physical and psychological exams, as well as a new gynaecological assessment.

Even though the authorities know that such examinations no longer serve any purpose because the events took place more than 20 years ago, they are done as a formality “despite the fact that they once against victimise the women,” said Cano.

To break out of this judicial bottleneck, the human rights organisations’ lawyers propose that the authorities take the victims’ statements as fact to be subsequently corroborated or contradicted by other factors or evidence, as was done in the tribunals of the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, as well as in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

They also propose supportive actions through multidisciplinary teams made up of psychologists, physicians, attorneys, anthropologists, historians and others — who also are fluent in Quechua, the native language of many of the victims.