“A society cannot learn to coexist peacefully and in justice if it is not able to recognize its wounds and its pain, if it does not look back to its past in search of lessons.”
-Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission Final Report
Sitting in my near-empty apartment, surrounded by boxes and travel gear, it is finally sinking in that I am leaving soon, very soon. In exactly one week from now, I will be on my way to Lima, Peru, to work alongside the Equipo Peruano de Antropología Forense (EPAF) for six months as an AP Peace Fellow. As its name suggests, EPAF uses forensic anthropology to restore the identity of victims of the internal political conflict (1982- 2000) resting in hidden burial sites across the country. They also work with the families of the disappeared to find their loved ones, gain access to justice, and improve the conditions affecting their political and economic development.
In spite of the reading I have been doing on the work of EPAF, I am still not sure what to expect from this experience. Everything about the work and its context is so far removed from my own protected existence that I find it difficult to visualize myself participating in it. At the same time, I find it incredibly challenging and I am looking forward to sharing my experiences on this blog. I hope I can effectively support the activities of EPAF, and provide a platform for families of the disappeared to tell their often-forgotten side of the story.
Based on the experience of previous Peace Fellows, I expect to find a tension between the desire of a section of Peruvian society to forget about a painful past and move forward, and the need for others, among which victims’ families are only the most obvious, to know and expose the truth regarding what happened. It seems to me that the quote above is a fair depiction of the situation. How can a society collectively move forward if it refuses to understand and remember its past? Moreover, it is a slippery slope from forgetfulness to impunity; and recent events in Peru, exemplified by the passing (and subsequent annulment by Congress following massive civil society protests) of a presidential decree that would have made it very difficult to prosecute crimes committed during the internal conflict, suggest that the fight against impunity is a constant battle that has not yet been won.
I would argue is it important to understand and remember the past not for its own sake, but for the sake of the present and the future. According to Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CVR), more than three quarters of the victims of the internal conflict were rural, poor and indigenous; in other words, they were the same people that have historically been excluded and marginalized from Peruvian society. Thus, the work of the CVR has clearly exposed the interrelated nature of structural discrimination in the country and the impact of political violence. Looking forward, what does this mean for the reconciliation process? Can the process be used as a space to create a more inclusive society, and ensure that political violence never returns to the country? Going into this experience, my head is filled with questions such as this one, and I hope to find fragments of answers along the way.
Being a development student, I am also hoping to explore the links between the processes of development, reparation and reconciliation. EPAF, in addition to its work in forensic investigation, (re)construction of collective memory, and capacity-building, is also involved in socioeconomic development projects. What role does development play in reconciliation? If poverty and exclusion made indigenous peasants particularly vulnerable to the impacts of the political violence; and still impedes their ability to exercise their rights, have their story heard, and seek redress for the crimes committed against them, then is development the sine qua non of reconciliation and peace.
For those interested to know more on these topics, I highly suggest reading the blogs of previous Peace Fellows that have worked with EPAF, Ash (2008), Jessica (2009), Zachary (2009), and Karin (2010). Also expect more—and more exciting—posts from me in the very near future. The next time I write, it will be from Peru!
Posted By Catherine Binet
Posted May 6th, 2011