President of Truth Commission Condemns Human Rights Abuses in Peru

Former President of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Peru, Dr. Salomon Lerner Febres discussed the importance of revealing the truth behind human rights abuses committed in Peru under authoritarian leader Alberto Fujimori in an event held at USF last week. In his speech, presented in Spanish, Febres said, “Memory, truth and justice are needed to begin the long process of reconciliation.”
Having conducted research on human rights issues that resulted from the Dirty War in Argentina, Professor Susana Kaiser said she was skeptical about hearing a speech about reconciliation. “I don’t believe in reconciliation. I believe in co-existence,” she said. Kaiser said she often associates the term reconciliation with a mentality that encourages citizens to forgive and forget. However, she appreciated hearing the way in which Febres’ approach to reconciliation is committed to the goal of social justice.
Having been nominated as president of the truth commission, while he was director of the Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Lima’s Catholic university was a challenging task. As head of the commission created in June 2001, Febres said the role of the commission was to investigate past events and bring forth the truth that was once denied. He said that speaking about the victims of Peru’s internal conflict was a way to establish the identities of the victims and shine light on those responsible for the country’s tragic loss.
The violence in Peru left 70,000 victims as a result of an internal conflict between Peruvian armed forces and the Maoist guerilla the Shining Path. The conflict lasted from 1980 to 2000.
Nevertheless, investigating violent crimes has its consequences. In a classroom presentation Dr. Febres said his two dogs were shot after his work in the truth commission. A note was left near the dogs’ bodies warning someone in his family would be next. To date, the threats have not been materialized. Febres also said he was fortunate enough to not lose any family members during Peru’s internal conflict but that he and his children feel their lives are constantly in danger.
When asked through e-mail if he thought there was a price to be paid for telling the truth, Febres said, “I knew, naturally, that working with the truth commission and furthermore being the president of the commission would implicate risks.
But I think that if we talk about the cost of telling the truth it is worth thinking not so much about the commission workers but about the humble people that have been paying [the price of telling the truth] with their lives and with that of their relative’s for decades.”
Febres said indigenous people, which made up a large majority of the victims, have been silenced for many years by the armed forces for defending their human rights. He said the ethnic identity of those massacred was part of the reason the media did not cover the commission’s results released in 2003 with great profundity.
Febres said, “Peru has a legacy consistent in its depths of inequality due to its persistent racism. It was important then in a moment in which we were restoring democracy, that the country recognize the suffering of the most poor and reflect about the old debts of justice and solidarity that we still owe to those people.”
Senior and Latin American Studies major Genesis Ibarra said, “These types of events are beneficial to the students because they bring awareness to major issues that have occurred in Latin America which tend to go unnoticed in the United States. The presence of Mr. Lerner makes the issues more tangible and demonstrates the work that is being done to bring justice.”
Professor Roberto Varea, director of the Center for Latino Studies in the Americas (CELASA), invited Dr. Febres to USF. They collaborated on the writing of a book called Acting Together: Performance and the Creative Transformation of Conflict.
Varea said the book was published in two volumes and that the first volume was released in June. The second volume titled, “Building Just and Inclusive Communitites” will be released December 1. Varea said Dr. Lerner’s work with the truth and reconciliation commission is very connected to USF’s mission.
He said, “Dr. Lerner-Febres is one of the most valuable models that I can think of. A just, altruistic individual who put the well- being of his country way above his own, took on a monumental task while at the same time continuing to preside over his University, and matched a profound sense of justice with an equal sense of compassion and service.”

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