In Peru, remembering the past as a step towards atonement

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. [I myself] lost many close relatives and friends," said Hilaria Supa Huaman, an indigenous leader, former congresswoman and a key member of the high level commission behind the Place of Memory, Tolerance and Social Inclusion.

Opened in December 2015, the Place of Memory is a UNDP-backed Government of Peru centre with an online research portal to help the nation deal with its open wounds, document the past and remember over 60,000 people who died or disappeared during the 1980-2000 internal conflicts. 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 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.

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 were invested in the museum’s construction and online research portal.
  • According to the Commission of Truth and Reconciliation, internal violence left more than 69,000 victims between 1980 and 1992.

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 upon request of a 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. 

The Commission states 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.”

UNDP also shared lessons from Peru’s Commission with other countries within the Latin America and Caribbean region and beyond, most recently with Brazil and Tunisia.

“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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