you have any problems viewing this email, visit:
News Bulletin 141
June 4, 2008
Relatives Seek Justice as Peru's Largest Mass Grave is Exhumed
June 4, 2008, Putis, Peru: The exhumation of Peru's largest mass grave
has opened a window on Peru's shadowy war against terrorism in the
Andes, and encouraged indigenous families who lost relatives to demand
justice and reparations.
The exhumation was completed last Thursday at the remote village of
Putis, high in the Peruvian Andes. Braving freezing conditions and drug
traffickers, a team from the Peruvian Forensic Anthropology Team (EPAF)
spent two weeks extracting almost 60 skeletons and the remains of about
10 more bodies from a shallow grave.
Ash Kosiewicz, a Peace Fellow from the Advocacy Project (AP)
volunteering with EPAF this summer, and Iain Guest, Executive Director
of AP, spent several days at the site.
The Putis exhumation is the largest of its kind in Peru's history. Jose
Pablo Baraybar, the director of EPAF, predicted that it would accelerate
efforts to investigate the fate of more than 15,000 Peruvians who
disappeared between 1982 and 2000. Most of the victims are thought to
have been buried in clandestine graves, but only 505 had been retrieved
before last week.
Putis is located in the province of Ayacucho in southern Peru, which
bore the brunt of a brutal conflict between the Peruvian Army and
Shining Path guerrillas. The victims were Quechua-speaking Indians who
were isolated and marginalized, making it hard for their families to
lobby for justice.
Identifying the dead, Mr Baraybar said, would help them to claim the
rights held by other Peruvians. "They have to be assisted to recover
their citizenship and use the same tools that the state gives all of us
Last week's exhumation may have begun the process. Gerardo Fernandez
Mendoza, who heads an association of 250 Putis relatives, told a press
conference that 430 victims were buried in 14 clandestine graves in the
area and that once the bodies are recovered reparations must be paid.
"We need health centers and schools. Our livelihood was taken away from
us," he said.
The Putis massacre occurred after hundreds of villagers were displaced
from their homes in late 1984 and rounded up by soldiers. A group of 123
villagers were taken to Putis and shot on December 13, 1984. The largest
grave, which was uncovered last week, is thought to contain 76 bodies.
The exhumation recovered over 70 bullet casings, including some in the
grave which may have come from an officer's gun. This suggests that
victims were shot at close range. Many were children, including babies.
About 40 relatives walked for hours through the mountains last Thursday
to visit the gravesite and provide DNA samples that will be matched with
the bones recovered by EPAF. Many relatives wept at their first sight of
the grave and pointed to fragments of clothing that seemed familiar.
They said a communal prayer before leaving.
Guillermina Quispe Coronado, who lost 13 family members in the Putis
massacre, said she was distressed to see the remains but hopeful that
her relatives can now be buried in peace. "We thought that no one was
interested," she said.
The relatives are determined to seek justice, and there was at least one
eyewitness to the massacre. But any criminal investigation by the
prosecutor's office will probably meet resistance from the Peruvian
Army, which has refused to provide the names of those operating around
Putis in late 1984.
Meanwhile, EPAF expects to resume exhumations within the month at four
other gravesites in Putis. The work will likely become harder as winter
approaches, and security is also a concern. Last week, a firefight was
narrowly avoided when a group of armed drug traffickers passed by the
EPAF compound at night and almost ran into an army patrol.
EPAF's team has drawn praise for working in such difficult conditions.
Cristina Olazabal, a deputy prosecutor in Ayacucho, described the
exhumation as "professional and disciplined."
Greg Maggio, a senior official from the US State Department who also
attended the exhumation, praised the sensitivity with which EPAF dealt
with family members. Mr Maggio works in the Bureau of Democracy, Human
Rights and Labor, which funded the Putis exhumation.
View video footage <www.advocacynet.org> of the exhumation.
Read the blogs <http://advocacynet.org/blogs/index.php?blog 3%20> of
AdvocacyNet is a service of The Advocacy Project (AP) that is offered to
advocates working for human rights and social justice at the community
level. AP is based in Washington, DC. Phone +1 202 332 3900; fax +1 202
332 4600. For more information visit our website <www.advocacynet.org>
Subscribe to the AP news service with RSS