PSG Public Lecture TRCs: Lessons from the Peruvian Experience
Update 108. 31 March 2005
The PSG hosted a public seminar in Belfast at the Irish School of Ecumenics on the Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The conference took a fresh look at the TRC, and considered the lessons that can be learnt from the Peruvian experience in the context of Northern Ireland. The aim was to bring together experts in the field of conflict and human rights and scrutinize the Peruvian TRC model in order to highlight both the positive and negative aspects of the way in which it was carried out.
The speakers were Coletta Youngers, the author of the recently published and highly acclaimed book 'Political violence and civil society in Peru: The history of the human rights coordinadora nacional' and Lord Alderdice who talked about the findings of his recent Parliamentary Delegation to Peru and drew on his extensive experience of conflict and the consequences of violence. The chair was David Tombs, Reconciliation Studies Programme Co-ordinator. There were representatives from international NGO's, Belfast and Dublin based organisations that work in peace and reconciliation, and others with an interest in reconciliation.
Coletta began by outlining the Peruvian TRC, how it was carried out and in what ways it differed from other TRC's, such as the South African TRC, often looked to as a model for groups looking into the possibility of carrying out a TRC in Northern Ireland.She highlighted the great importance of discovering the root causes of conflict, and being sure that any TRC that is carried out, tackles this cause, so that the conflict is less likely to happen again. Coletta explained that Sendero grew out of the ability of some of the wealthier members of the rural community to go to university in the 1960s when education was free. "These people realised that the prospect for them to move out of the rural sector was extremely limited because of the lack of economic opportunities and, in particular, racism - there is tremendous discrimination against peasants and indigenous communities in Peru. But the approach was: 'we will come in and impose our iron fist rule on these communities who will do what we say' as apposed to working with the rural communities.
Lord Alderdice spoke of his experience in Peru: "What troubled me very much was when I went to Ayacucho. It was quite clear that many people simply wanted to close their minds to [the past], to ignore it and just put it away. I was present when bodies were being handed back to the families - Quechua speaking people came down from the mountains to receive the bodies. But, as we moved through the town with this funeral of families, what was shocking was that everyone just turned away. If Peruvian society takes this attitude to its problems, I think that there is every good reason to believe they will come back.
Coletta reiterated that it was important for new TRC's not only to look at one model, but to look at many, taking the most successful aspects of each, honing in on a model that works best and ensuring that it makes provisions for implementation of recommendations so that TRC's become a tool for change. Coletta said: "The creation of the TRC has ultimately been a positive process, we have not received what we would have liked to, as the government has been very slow to implement the recommendations, but we are clearly better off than we would have been without one. With the TRC we now have an official account of what happened in Peru, we have a blue print for reform and for institutionalising human rights guarantees and beginning to address the very deep socio-economic inequalities that are at the root of the problem."
Sister Geraldine Smith, who came along to the conference, saw a relevance for Northern Ireland: "I think that it is time to consider whether there needs to be a public space open to enable those who need their story to be told to do that where it will be listened to respectfully."