Creating space to legitimize and dignify the personal experiences of victims

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Peru provides an experience of transitional justice, institutionalized with the aim of exploring the truth hidden behind a past characterized by massive abuse of human rights. One of the central adaptations in this TRC experience is the Public Audiences, created with the aim of legitimizing and dignifying the personal experiences of the victims in order to support the therapeutic and recuperative work on their behalf.

In the year 2000 Peru initiated a new transition to democracy.  This new attempt began after the fall of  an authoritarian and corrupt government.  Responding to a just claim from society, the transition government set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) with the purpose of clarifying the nature of  the process and the facts of  the internal armed conflict that affected the country between 1980 and 2000.  The Commission was also entrusted to determine those responsible for the multiple violations of human rights.  

On August 28, 2003, after two years of  having motivated an open process in Peru, it presented its final report, which changed the official history of  the violence that had been experienced in the country. In its Final Report the TRC records the tragedy of  thousands of assassinations and humiliations, but also the scandal of  silence and impunity. It presents a history of  exclusion and racism against the country’s native population, which makes up 75% of the conflict’s deaths and disappearances. The TRC has left to the country an agenda that should be attended to with urgency, one that has to do with institutional reforms, with comprehensive reparation to the victims and the provision of  justice for crimes against humanity. 

TRC created Public Audiences, formal sessions in which a victim or family member of a victim would give an account of what had happened before a group of people that had the ethical authority stemming from the State to listen and express their solidarity and acknowledgment. Unlike other Truth Commissions, the purpose of these sessions was not for investigation, but instead an audience for the restitution of rights, of citizenship, and of dignity for the victim, an audience to listen in respectful silence, lending ears to and giving voice to those who had never before been given such things.

The victim was completely aware that the public was listening to them since the session was carried out with many people in the room, including members of the media; so the audiences brought into the public sphere events that had been perpetrated in secret.  Part of the feeling of personal vindication of those who gave their testimonies is due to the fact that their experiences were validated by an external entity to which great authority was assigned, not limited to the Commission but also to the presence of the Media, local leaders and international guests. 

The TRC had to choose only a few of the 17,000 testimonies to reconstruct a public narrative for all the victims including: the different types of violations, a balance of gender, different perpetrators etc., for which previous knowledge about each region was necessary.

The Public Audiences had an effect on society itself. Knowing a personal history, one that is parallel to the official history had a much greater impact than the Commission’s final report could have ever had. Having heard hundreds of testimonies from different areas of the country, it put on the table the horror to which no Peruvian could feel unconnected.

The legitimizing effect of the audiences cannot be underestimated as a factor in the possible strengthening of the organizations of victims and their demands in the national agenda.  With the work of the TRC finished, a map of organizations of affected persons was developed; the map reveals that 190 organizations of victims exist in the country.  There had not been more than 10 before the TRC. With different levels of organization and representation, they are an important indicator of the assumption of rights and of awareness regarding the claiming of these rights.  It will also be important to assure that they migrate from their condition as victims to being citizens aware of their rights.

The Public Audiences played a fundamental role in increasing civic awareness in the country, but they ended up being insufficient on their own.  They were a step forward in the restoration of the victims’ dignity but they did not generate changes in society.  They have started the process.

 

For more information on this tactic, read our in-depth case study.

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