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Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission

How did Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission contribute to the persistence and normalization of sexual violence during peacetime?: An Analysis of the Internal Armed Conflict of Peru and the Legacy of Sexual Violence 

The Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (Comisión de la Verdad y Reconciliación, CVR) was created to heal individual suffering, repair societal damage, and hold human rights violators accountable on a national scale with a long term goal to prevent future conflict escalation. The internal armed conflict uprooted Peruvian livelihoods from 1980-2000 and its legacy is reflected in the contemporary normalization of sexual and domestic violence. There is an average of 18.8 reports of sexual violence everyday, which constitutes Peru as the most dangerous state for gendered violence in South America and sixteenth in the world (Boesten 2012, 361). In a study by the World Health Organization and the Pan American Health Organization on women (ages 15-49) who have ever reported sexual intimate partner violence, both Peruvian provinces (46.7%) and cities (22.5%) rank within the top ten on a global scale (WHO 2012). 

The prevalence of sexual violence during peacetime and the inability of the CVR to prevent these human rights violations from reoccurring provides an entry point of analysis, especially since the international community continues praise the success of the CVR. Sexual violence was broadly addressed as collateral damage of violent conflict, and the CVR failed to debunk these assumptions in a post-conflict setting. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission may have brought about truth, but it did not address reconciliation, especially between victims and perpetrators of sexual violence. This failure produced a gap in policy whereby sexual violence persists in the stable democratic state of Peru. Advocates of transitional justice must question: How did Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission contribute to the persistence and normalization of sexual violence during peacetime? 


The adversaries of the internal armed conflict of Peru were subversive militant groups, primarily the Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso, SL), and the counterterrorism program of the Peruvian armed forces. SL initiated the violence in May of 1980 with the symbolic burning of electoral material in the Andean village of Chuschi and embarked on a quest to revolutionize Peru into a communist utopia. Alberto Fujimori was democratically elected as President of Peru in 1990 and carried out a coup d’état in 1992. Fujimori led a violent counterterrorism movement against SL even after the capture of its leader Abimael Guzman. The state and paramilitary groups were responsible for much of the violence and human rights abuses and equated “Andean peasant” with “terrorist” (Theidon 2010, 93). After fleeing to Japan in 2000, Fujimori was convicted of crimes against humanity by the Peruvian judiciary (2007-2009) and is currently serving a 25-year sentence. The conflict took the lives of nearly 69,000 Peruvians and, like most intrastate conflicts, fostered identities as both victims and perpetrators of violence.


The transitional justice movement led by the Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission was a unique experience for Latin America, wherein a transitional government was vastly successful in investigating abuses of the democratically elected government of Alberto Fujimori. The CVR was highlighted as a success story by the international community and used as a model for future Truth and Reconciliation Commissions in Ghana, Sierra Leone, and East Timor. After authoritarian leader Alberto Fujimori fled Peru in 2000, a strong domestic human rights movement advocated for democratic reform and a truth commission along with international organizations (such as the Organization of American States and the Inter American Human Rights system). The transitional government of Valantin Paniagua adopted a transitional justice agenda, which set the stage for the Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2001 (Root 2012,10). 

From 2001-2003, nearly 17,000 hearings took place throughout Peru to document human rights violations of the internal armed conflict that occurred between 1980 and 2000. Further, the CVR consisted of 8 victim hearings, 5 thematic hearings, 7 public assemblies, and 15 citizen dialogues (Govier 2006, 251). Women gave 54% of the testimonies with most documentation on violations relating to the rights of relatives or the family (Duggan et al 2008, 204). A Final Report was published on August 28, 2003. The Final Report confirmed that approximately 69,000 Peruvians died or disappeared as a result of the civil war, wherein the armed forces were responsible for 30% of the deaths, and the guerilla group Sendero Luminoso, 50% (Govier 2006, 252). Beyond testimonies, investigations, and the Final Report, the commission team also made recommendations that mainly consisted of a Comprehensive Reparations Plan (PIR), which sought “to repair and compensate victims of human rights violations as well as the social, moral, and material losses or damages suffered by victims as a result of the internal armed conflict” (Duggan et al 2008, 201). 

There is a quickly growing norm in the international community to use truth commissions as a mechanism of justice and reconciliation in post-conflict settings of internal armed conflict. These commissions are used as a vehicle to promote accountability for wrongdoing, consolidate democratic institutions, and promote reconciliation on the national scale (Duggan et al 2008, 199). In the case of Peru, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was a means to confront past grievances with the goal that these offenses will not resurface. By encouraging victims to speak about their painful experiences via a victim-centered approach, the CVR hopes that testimonies will validate individual narratives and repair pain on personal, community, and national scales (Falcon 2012, 4). 

Addressing violations of sexual violence is a complex and significant task on any transitional justice agenda. Recognizing and forgiving the occurrence of gruesome crimes is seen as the right thing to do, but solely focusing on prosecution marginalizes deeper issues of individual rehabilitation and reconciliation between individuals. “Narrowing the impact of internal armed conflict on women to sexual violence, paired with the urgency to prosecute these cases, shuts down the space for recognizing women victim’s subjectivity and reduces them to legal objects” (Bueno-Hansen 2012, 320). Transitional justice mechanisms must be aware of psycho-social healing on an individual level and how reconciliation between adversaries can potentially complement this healing process (Ramsbotham et al 2012, 249). Simply reactivating truth via documentation and personal narratives does not attend to the trauma and adversarial relationships experienced under violence and how those behaviors persist into the contemporary period. 


The Truth and Reconciliation Commission failed to prevent the persistence of sexual violence in post-conflict Peru, but the 2003 Final Report did in fact attempt to address the crimes in two separate chapters. As a result, sexual violence was recognized as a human rights violation by an independent state apparatus. The CVR found that according to the testimonies collected, the armed forces were responsible for committing 83% of the acts of sexual violence, and SL 11% (Falcon 2005, 4). The commission was not instructed by supreme decree from the state to investigate crimes of sexual violence. The commission found, however, that such crimes fell under the mandate of “other crimes and gross human rights violations, and thus moved forward with investigations of sexual violence (Ibid). International Human Rights law and International Humanitarian Law influenced the conceptualization of sexual violence under the CVR, and eventually developed sexual violence to be defined as: 

“The realization of a sexual act against one or more persons or when a person is forced to realize a sexual act by force or threat of force or through coercion caused by fear of violence, intimidation, detention, psychological oppression or abuse of power used against that person or other persons, or taking advantage of a coercive environment or the inability of the person to freely consent” (Falcon 2005, 3). 

There were many challenges that prohibited the investigation team from widening the scope of their research (Duggan et al 2008, 202). For example, much of the violence of the armed conflict occurred in geographically isolated areas in the southern mountainous region of Peru. Isolated parties were not only more vulnerable to violence, but also harder to physically reach for testimonies under the Truth Commission. The CVR placed acts of sexual violence on the agenda, but geographic barriers, as well as language barriers and illiteracy, limited their ability to equally distribute the national justice mechanism (Ibid). Statistically, victims of sexual violence correlated with characteristics of race, class, and age, with victims including Quechua speakers (75%), rural (83%), peasant (36%), and domestic workers (39%) (Falcon 2005, 4). The inability of the CVR to reach every corner and every individual of Peru was inevitable in the two-year period. The national justice system needs to make legal services more physically and culturally accessible to all inflicted parties in the post-conflict setting.



After a decade of a transitional justice movement, a skewed conceptualization of victimhood still exists that polarizes state-society relations. If one was a member of SL, affiliated with SL, or briefly participated in SL, they will not be considered a victim under the law. Oppositional, members of the armed forces, national police, and paramilitaries are considered victims if they were injured in armed conflict. There is an underlying assumption by the state and national justice mechanisms that victims of state violence were in fact guilty of terrorism, thus there is no need to prosecute the perpetrators of violent crimes. The mentality maintains that military officers were providing a valuable service for the greater good (i.e. a state free from terrorism). 

This notion that only the innocent have rights complicates the status of sexual violence during both conflict and peacetime. Sexual violence via state forces is legitimized in the name of counterterrorism. This conceptualization of victimhood inadvertently places the blame on the victim of violence rather than the perpetrator. In a society where only the innocent are entitled to rights, “the state continues to reinforce the attitude that anyone who supported the Shining Path is automatically a terrorist and that terrorists are not entitled to human rights, hence violations perpetrated against the innocent should be punished” (Root 2012, 149). Further, there is a lack of consensus on a minimum standard of human rights, which poses a challenge in defining victimhood for women who have experienced sexual violence and who continue to suffer in post-conflict Peru. 


The Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission failed to produce a unified definition that classifies the severity of crimes of sexual violence. This is especially pertinent given the high rates of domestic violence and intimate partner violence that continue in Peru today. According to international law, particularly Article 7 of the International Criminal Court’s Rome Statute, sexual violence including rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, forced pregnancy, forced sterilization, and other sexual abuses are crimes against humanity that are punishable to a high degree (Bueno-Hansen 2010, 324). Although Peru is a signatory to the Rome Statute, they have yet to amend domestic laws to reflect this Article. The dichotomy between sexual violence as a common crime in Peru and sexual violence as a crime against humanity on the international legal stage sends the direct message that acts of sexual violence aren’t as bad as other gross human rights violations in post-conflict Peru.

The proliferation and acceptance of sexual violence as a weapon during conflict is a reflection of the historical and contemporary treatment of women during peacetime. Sexual violence as a tool is “a form of torture intended to degrade, intimidate, and target specific sectors of the population” (Falcon 2005, 3). Not only does it threaten the fundamental right to life and physical integrity, but it also violates economic, social, and cultural rights of individuals both during and after the conflict. During the internal armed conflict, rape was used as a strategic tactic by armed forces to punish association with subversive groups and to gain information concerning the whereabouts of supposed terrorists at military bases, police stations, and female prisons (Ibid). Within SL, sexual violence was employed to build communities via recruitment and forced marriage. The inability of the CVR to transform this conceptualization of sexual violence as a tool of war to a crime against humanity and taboo in Peruvian society contributes to the normalization of violence against women today. 


It is important to recognize that the CVR did not fully address the issues of victimhood and crime severity, which could have altered mainstream policies, laws, and behaviors. What this analysis marginalizes, however, are the local politics, community relations, and micro-cultures that are not within the scope of a national reconciliation project. Attempting to address sexual violence on such a large scale minimizes the victims’ tragic experiences to legal technicalities. Definitions of justice and the pursuit of that justice vary depending on the actor. In many ways the CVR did not and cannot address the role of silence within communities. Cultural values of marriage, purity, and virginity, as well as the fear of alienation prevent victims from publicly speaking about very personal violations (Duggan et al 2008, 204). Victims are not obligated to speak out, but the unwillingness to do so does pose a challenge to the CVR framework. Similar attitudes are reflected during peacetime, whereby a culture of silence normalizes the existence of domestic violence, intimate partner violence, and other sexual abuses. Often time women are ashamed of being violated and do not feel comfortable reliving the act by producing a popular narrative. It is vital to remember that factors such as individual fear and personal relationships do not fit neatly into the equation or the goals of the national project. 



The inability of Peru to profoundly reform state institutions serves grave consequences because state forces were so entrenched in the armed conflict. Although the CVR proposed reforms in the 2003 Final Report, the state has not followed through and thus has not regained the trust of the people. There is a need to reconstruct the relationship between the state and society in order to make certain there is “justice that adapts itself to diverse socio-cultural and linguistic realities, that is based on a culture of law that favors overcoming exclusion and the exercise of citizenship by all” (Bueno-Hansen 2010, 319). Internationally, alternatives to prosecutions of state officials are seen through downsizing of the military, civilian control of the military, or the removal of human rights abusers from state institutions. In order for Peru to flourish in stable democratic political culture, it is imperative that the state formally admits and apologizes for its active role in human rights abuses. Addressing the structural inequalities in the political and social culture around sexual violence require state-based reforms. The inadequacy to prosecute state forces that committed human rights violations has created a culture of impunity during Peru’s peacetime. 


State impunity for sexual violence carries a symbolic meaning in Peruvian society. Peruvian courts continue to define rape during wartime and peacetime as a common crime, despite the development of sexual violence as a crime against humanity and war crime in international law. There are many challenges that accompany the prosecution of sexual violence, and the failure for the CVR to overcome these barriers is visible in Peru’s current legal system. Impunity for crimes of sexual violence needs to be addressed in three layers: the technical difficulties that delay legal procedures, the role of the armed forces, and the unwillingness of the state to proceed with investigations. 

There are challenges to prosecuting acts of sexual violence, and those challenges are intensified during periods of internal armed conflict. For example, Peruvian courts declare that they cannot attain adequate physical evidence in order to make charges. This was especially difficult for the CVR to address because most of the sexual violence reported occurred at the forefront of the civil war, nearly twenty years prior to investigations. In the Peruvian legal system, rape cases cannot be investigated nine years after their occurrence. Further, victims during the armed conflict could not easily identify perpetrators, especially because many soldiers wore balaclavas. Women could often identify the time, location, and names of the perpetrator, but the court could not access military archives to prove such claims without approval from the Ministry of Defense (Boesten 2012, 369). According to the Final Report, members of the armed forces committed 83% of the reported acts of sexual violence. By denying access to military documents, the state is inherently normalizing sexual violence by granting impunity to the vast majority of reported perpetrators.

The CVR documented 538 cases of rape, however zero cases have entered Peruvian courts (Boesten 2012, 367). Out of the 538, only 16 were investigated, 3 were accepted by pre-trial chambers, 1 awaits a trial in Lima, and 1 awaits trial at the Inter American Court on Human Rights. The human rights violations committed during the internal armed conflict were vast, gruesome, and devastating. Judicial processes are lengthy and complex, but Peruvian courts have been efficient in prosecuting crimes against humanity. Alberto Fujimori’s conviction and 25 year sentence is demonstrates that Peru’s national courts do function. As Jelke Boesten implies, “This judicial, and broader political, neglect of sexual violence is a result of mainstream societal ideas about violence against women more general, and sexual violence in particular” (Ibid). This is not to say that prosecuting acts of sexual violence will holistically resolve the ongoing conflict, but tolerating and promoting impunity of offenders does symbolically send the message that the state is not concerned with the severity of the crime. While legality, courts, and trials cannot heal wounds or mend hearts, they can produce a shared vision about the intolerance for particular acts and dismantle impunity on the national level (Duggan et al 2008, 192). During peacetime, penalties for rape as a misdemeanor crime are given by a family court and can range from a restraining order to 3-5 years in prison (Boesten 2012, 367). 


The implementation of reparations to victims of the armed conflict was intended to recognize the existence of a violation on a case-by-case basis and contribute to the healing process through symbolic and economic supplements. The Peruvian Congress passed the Integral Plan for Reparations in 2006 as a mechanism “recognizing victims, acknowledging the estate’s failure to protect or respect their rights, compensating victims so as to support their recovery, and reestablishing civic trust” (Root 2012, 129).  While the passage of the Integral Plan for Reparations marks an important step for restorative justice, its poor implementation and narrow views limit its impact for victims’ healing and reconciliation. 

Reparations in post-conflict Peru are delivered in two forms: economic and symbolic. Economic contributions are designed to soften marginalization and alleviate poverty via employment, education, and health care. On the other hand, symbolic contributions are focused on community development. Lack of political will, bureaucratic inefficiencies, and hyper-selectivity of victimhood status have inhibited the implementation of reparations. In 2005 the Inter-American Court ordered the Peruvian government to compensate victims who suffered human rights violations by state authorities, regardless of their association with terrorist crimes. Although international pressure can influence government accountability, it also highlights the unequal access to the formal justice system that has been criticized at the grassroots and international levels. Individuals whose cases were heard by the Inter-American court were compensated with hundreds of thousands of dollars. Some NGOs, such as the Association Reflexion de Inocentes Liberados, target local governments for reparations due to the inability of national government to keep their promise and disburse university scholarships (Root 2012, 138). 

While monetary and symbolic reparations serve a significant purpose towards restorative justice, they fail to address sexual violence and its continuity in post-conflict peaceful Peru. Victims of sexual violence are entitled to individual monetary payments, along with victims of physical disability and families of the dead and disappeared. The Peruvian state has made strides in expanding the legal definition of sexual violence, which under the Integral Plan for Reparations now includes “threatened sexual violence, groping, inappropriate touching and sexual harassment, endangering pregnancy through torture, torture involving sexual organs, and forced nudity of men and women” (Root 135). The recognition of sexual violence during wartime is crucial for the success of reparations, but it does not address or modify legal standards for the same crimes during peacetime. 


The failures of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to provide reconciliation are complex and multidimensional. One of the foundational errors in the system is the refusal to reconcile with members and associates of the Sendero Luminoso, who are solely viewed as terrorists in contemporary Peru. The macro process of the CVR encounters so many human rights violations that its selectivity of cases is discrete. At the micro level, however, communities cannot entirely avoid perpetrators of sexual violence. Violence on the community level was very intimate and the reintegration of perpetrators into such settings poses a serious challenge for community relations and reconciliation. Solely relying on the CVR to provide reconciliation on the individual, community, and national level is unrealistic. The consequences of such are visible with “high rates of alcoholism and domestic violence as manifestations of the struggles of individuals and communities to reconcile and overcome trauma” (Root 2012, 155). 

The Peruvian State has employed alternative methods of reconciliation in accordance with recommendations from the CVR. For example, forensic anthropologists have worked to identify deceased victims, which allows families experience a proper burial ceremony. Further, community development projects are framed as a mechanism of reconciliation by the state. Development work serves an important purpose, especially since so many communities were torn and uprooted by the armed conflict. As Trudy Govier explains, however, “Development is distinct from reparations because it has no necessary connection with restitution, compensation, or rehabilitation in the wake of harm to individuals. Nor does it involve acknowledgement of responsibility for harms inflicted on individuals or groups” (Govier 2006, 255).  

Another method of healing includes the construction of memorial sites for victims of violence. The international community condemned Peru for attempting to withdrawal plans for a memorial, which prompted Germany to sponsor a two million dollar memorial project. The memorial sites have had mixed success, due to the inconsistency of defining victims. Again, the failure of the state and Peruvian society to identify individuals associated with SL as legitimate victims produces fissures and tensions even at sites of commemoration and healing. This lack of concern for holistic healing produces a cultural vision that legitimizes rape and other crimes of sexual violence in the name of punishment of suspected association with SL (i.e. terrorists according to the state).


The normalization of sexual violence in peacetime demonstrates that these violations were in fact more than collateral damage of war. Abnormally high rates of domestic violence and intimate partner violence in post-conflict Peru necessitate deeper efforts of reconciliation than what was provided by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The mission of the CVR prioritized truth over reconciliation and sidelined a project of restorative justice. “We cannot speak of truth in Peru if the reality of complex political victimhood remains suppressed, and we cannot hope for restorative justice when the state refuses to confront the reality that all citizens, regardless of innocence, have equal human rights” (Root 2012, 152). This leaves a gap in postwar peacebuilding, whereby national projects cannot fulfill very personal and local needs. 

While a National Plan against Violence toward Women (2009-2015) has made improvements from previous federal efforts, challenges still exist that restrain its success (Boesten 2012, 372). The plan seeks to provide more shelters and police stations for women and to hold state officials accountable for violence. The plan lacks monetary and administrative support that could, in the long term, contribute to the de-normalization of sexual violence. Similar to national projects of the past, this plan does not take into account the cultural implications that induce fear and silence and prevent victims from taking action via federal or regional justice systems.  Often times NGOs must convince victims that it is in their best interest to use the formal justice system, which is in large part due to the historical distrust of the national justice system and its incapacity to respond to human rights abuses. 

Moving forward, attention must be paid to the individual experience, communal understandings of justice, and the realization of reconciliation on a personal level. The CVR did not take into account the tensions between victims and perpetrators and how they may be able to collectively overcome injustices and build mutual trust. This long-term journey of restorative justice must be coupled with measures designed to prevent sexual violence, as well as mechanisms designed to punish future offenders. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission did phenomenal work that allowed Peru to rebuild into a stable democracy and prosecute the authoritarian leader that was responsible for much of the violence during the civil war. The CVR also, however, tolerated silence and impunity and failed to implement healing programs for victims, which contributed to the persistence and normalization of sexual violence in contemporary Peru. 

Works Cited

Alcalde, Cristina. 2010. The Women in the Violence: Gender, Poverty, and Resistance in Peru. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press. 

Boesten, Jelke. 2012. “The State and Violence Against Women in Peru: Intersecting Inequalities and Patriarchal Rule.” Social Politics: International Studies in Gender, State and Society 9.3: 361-382. 

Boesten, Jelke and Melissa Fisher. 2012. “Sexual Violence and Justice in Postconflict Peru.” United States Institute of Peace, Special Report 310. 

Bueno-Hansen, Pascha. 2010. “Finding Each Other’s Hearts: Intercultural Relations and The Drive to Prosecute Sexual Violence During the Internal Armed Conflict in Peru” International Feminist Journal of Politics, 12:3-4: 319-340. 

Costa, Gino and Neild, Rachel. Year? “Police Reform in Peru.” The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology Vol. 38, No 2: 216-229.

Duggan, Colleen, Claudia Paz y Paz Bailey, and Julie Guillerot. 2008. “Reparations for Sexual and Reproductive Violence: Prospects for Achieving Gender Justice in Guatemala and Peru.” The International Journal of Transitional Justice Vol. 2: 192-213.

Falcon, Julissa Mantilla. “The Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Treatment of Sexual Violence Against Women.” American University Washington College of Law Human Rights Brief 12 No. 2. 

Govier, Trudy. 2006. Taking Wrongs Seriously. New York: Humanity Books.

Ramsbotham, Oliver, Tom Woodhouse, and Hugh Miall. 2011. Contemporary Conflict Resolution. Cambridge: Polity Press. 

Root, Rebecca. Transitional Justice in Peru. New York: Palgave Macmillan. 

Theidon, Kimberly. 2010. “Histories of Innocence: Postwar Stories in Peru” in Localizing Transitional Justice, edited by Rosalind Shaw and Lars Waldorf, 92-110. Stanford: Stanford University Press. 

Valdez-Arroyo, Flor de Maria. 2007. “Justice for Survivors in Peru” Forced Migration Review 27: 59. 

World Health Organization, and Pan American Health Organization. 2012. Understanding and Addressing Violence Against Women: Sexual Violence. 1-12. 

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