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21/01/2010 | Perú - Victims of Military Rapists Wait for Justice 25 Years On

Ángel Páez

"I want justice. That will be a kind of peace," says Micaela, a 40-year-old woman from the Andean region of Peru who is a survivor of the sexual violence prevalent during the 1980-2000 civil war. Twenty-five years ago, soldiers assaulted her at a military base and in her own home.


Micaela is one of the few women to have suffered sexual attacks to overcome her fears. She has accused soldiers from the counterinsurgency base at Manta, an extremely poor area in the southern Andean region of Huancavelica, of raping her when she was 15 years old.

"I cannot deny feeling some fear of reprisals from the men I accuse. I don't want them to hurt my family," Micaela told IPS.

"But when they are sentenced, I will have true peace - when they are in prison paying for what they have done. When justice is done, at that time I will have peace," she said, after waiting a quarter of a century.

Thanks to Micaela's testimony, some of the most powerful and damning to emerge from the handful of women who have spoken up, in March 2009 a judge opened a prosecution against 10 army soldiers from the counterinsurgency bases in the villages of Manta and Vilca.

The men are accused of raping seven women, including Micaela.

Because of her fears of reprisal from the military, which used sexual violence as a counterinsurgency tool during the internal armed conflict, this woman asked IPS to use the fictitious name of Micaela.

Now she lives with her children in the south of the country, and has to travel at least eight hours to Lima every time the judge summons her to take part in the case. When she shared her experiences with IPS, she was in the Peruvian capital for a psychological assessment.

Although the events took place 25 years ago, Micaela is obliged for legal reasons to recall every detail of the rapes. She is being asked for a meticulous description of each instance of abuse, and to identify the rapists.

But what angers her most is the desperately slow pace of the prosecution, and the impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators.

All the travelling back and forth, and having to remember everything all over again, especially the faces of the rapists, is an ordeal for Micaela, who grimaces just thinking about it. She says she puts up with it for the sake of that peace she hopes will come with justice.

In 2003, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CVR) documented 538 cases of rape during the civil war, with 527 female and 11 male victims. Its report concluded that sexual violence was used by the state armed forces as part of an anti-subversive strategy.

The CVR was established by the provisional government that replaced the regime of President Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000) after he fled the country, to clarify acts of terrorist violence and human rights abuses committed by all sides in the war waged by Maoist Shining Path guerrillas and the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) against state forces.

President Alejandro Toledo (2001-2006) widened the scope of the CVR to include recommending measures to judge human rights violations and making reparations to victims of the violence. The CVR concluded its work in 2003.

But those responsible for crimes have gone unpunished, and so far there are only two cases before the courts. One of them is the case of mass sexual abuse in Vilca and Manta, in which Micaela is a plaintiff.

Seventy-five percent of the women who were assaulted are native Quechua speakers, 83 percent are from rural areas, and the vast majority were between 10 and 19 years old when they were sexually abused, Diana Portal, the lawyer in the case of the raped victims, told IPS.

"This means that sexual violence during the internal war had a differential impact depending on gender, age, ethnic identity and social class. The violence was concentrated among poor indigenous peasant women of reproductive age," said the activist from the non-governmental legal aid organisation DEMUS (Organisation for the Defence of Women's Rights).

Portal added that in spite of the seriousness of the crimes, the Peruvian government has not complied with the Truth Commission's recommendations for solving the cases and punishing those responsible.

"In general, the Peruvian state is not dealing effectively with these cases," she said.

"The closure of the Reparations Council for the Victims of Violence is evidence of lack of political will, commitment and responsibility on the part of the government. This affects the process of registering victims in general, and women in particular," the DEMUS lawyer said.

According to Portal, this is only one of the signs that lead her to conclude that "the balance of justice and reparations is negative in the case of sexual abuses during the civil war."

The state General Victims' Registry has a list of 532 persons who allege they were sexually abused during the internal armed conflict. The main perpetrators were troops deployed in "emergency zones", areas under military control because of a declared local state of emergency due to a threat from insurgents.

The non-governmental Institute for Legal Defence reported that one factor hampering the investigation is that many of those responsible for the rapes have not been identified, because they used aliases during the war period.

The judge in the case asked the Defence Ministry to obtain the list of soldiers who served in the Manta and Vilca bases from the army. But the Defence Minister has so far refused to comply, which human rights activists do not find surprising.

During the Toledo administration, judicial authorities received information about human rights violators. But the government of current President Alan García, who took office in 2006, refuses to provide judges with the identities of military personnel, on the grounds that they do not have the information on file. García was also president of Peru from 1985 to 1990.

The judicial branch has had to resort to carrying out DNA tests of military suspects, the women victims and their children.

IPS-Inter Press Service (Italia)


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