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Last Updated: Friday, 27 August, 2004, 15:00 GMT 16:00 UK
Peru's lessons from the past
By Hannah Hennessy
BBC correspondent in Lima

Man injured during political violence (Image courtesy of Caretas)
A survivor of Peru's internal war - the bandage covers a machete wound (Image courtesy of Caretas)
Dirty gnarled hands cradle a ragged photograph of a missing relative. An indigenous woman bends over a dead loved one. A farmer stares straight into the camera. A strip of cloth covers one eye and a machete wound.

These photographs are part of Yuyanapaq, which means "to remember" in Quechua, the indigenous language spoken by most of the estimated 70,000 people who were killed or disappeared during political violence in Peru between 1980 and 2000.

Many more were raped, injured or forced to abandon their homes, their lives ruined by fighting between government troops and rebel insurgents like the Shining Path.

Numerous truth commissions have operated throughout the world, investigating conflicts in countries like Rwanda and Argentina. But Yuyanapaq, in the Peruvian capital Lima, is the only museum to have been initiated by a truth commission.

A memorial museum constitutes a homage to the victims, but at the same time signifies a kind of permanent promise that nothing like this will happen again in this country
Salomon Lerner
Its 27 rooms weave together testimony gathered by Peru's Truth Commission with photographs taken during the violence. Since it opened a year ago, it has received more than 100,000 visitors and critical acclaim.

But now its future is uncertain. Peru's Catholic University, which owns the building where the museum is housed, needs its property back and the Peruvian government hasn't found an alternative.

Salomon Lerner is the former head of Peru's Truth Commission, which published its report into the violence on 28 August, 2003. He came up with the idea for the museum.

"A memorial museum constitutes a homage to the victims, but at the same time signifies a kind of permanent promise that nothing like this will happen again in this country," he said.

Memories for the young

In one room of the museum, children describe the last time they saw their parents. Played on a hidden tape recorder, their words give voice to the 40,000 children orphaned by Peru's internal war. Other children were kidnapped by the Shining Path and forced to fight for the rebels or treated as slaves.

The faces of children peer out of black and white photographs. One captures the fear in the face of a young boy. Another shows a little girl in an orphanage. She is too young to know, let alone understand, what has happened to her family.

It's real history. We lived this and those of us who survived all this - we cannot forget. I think the world should know and must know
Visitor to the museum
Mr Lerner says a visit to the museum gives a good overview of the commission's 4,000-page report, and is especially important for young Peruvians.

"Those who weren't alive during this period or who hardly remember it because they were very little. This has allowed them to discover an aspect of the life of their country that they did not know about or did not imagine."

On a visit to the museum, 21-year-old Jorge agreed, although he had memories of the violence.

"I remember the car bombs when I was a little boy. I remember when they put the flags in the ground to mark the armed strikes. I hope this serves as an example so it doesn't happen in other countries."

Another visitor to the museum, who didn't want to give her name, said she fled Peru during the violence and has since returned to her country.

"It's real history. We lived this and those of us who survived all this - we cannot forget. I think the world should know and must know," she said.

Young boy forced to work for Shining Path (Image courtesy of Caretas)
This young boy was forced to work for Shining Path rebels (Image courtesy of Caretas)
Peruvians know the healing process will take a long time. But a year after the Truth Commission published its report, making a series of recommendations, little has been achieved.

Mr Lerner says although the Peruvian government apologised on behalf of the state for the political violence late last year, it has been dragging its feet.

It has not punished the guilty, says Mr Lerner. It has been waivering over desperately needed institutional reform and there has not yet been any compensation for thousands of Peruvians who lost loved ones or whose lives were ruined by the violence.

On Thursday, however, Prime Minister Carlos Ferrero announced the creation of a reparations plan that would not just provide collective compensation to groups of victims, but to individual victims of the violence as well. Peruvian media said this should be effective from next year, but there was no sign that it had been factored into budget for 2005 and it was not immediately clear how much money the government was considering.

In the past, the Peruvian government has defended itself against criticisms, saying it will take time to implement the recommendations made by the Truth Commission.

For his part, Mr Lerner hopes that the government will heed the commission's recommendations and ensure that those who suffered throughout 20 years of violence are never forgotten, and the past is not repeated.

And he hopes Yuyanapaq really can help Peruvians remember, but in order for it to do that the state has a moral duty to secure the museum's future.

"It's up to the state, not a private organisation to ensure the museum has a permanent place, where it can show, like Yuyanapaq does, what happened in these 20 years. This is part of the symbolic reparations the state owes to Peruvian society, so this photo exhibit serves as a lesson to all Peruvians for the future."

Peru remembers political victims
09 Dec 03  |  Americas
Toledo 'sorry' for Peru killings
22 Nov 03  |  Americas
Peru strife killed 69,000
28 Aug 03  |  Americas
Analysis: Peru's Shining Path
11 Jun 03  |  Americas
Peru's violent past
21 Mar 02  |  Americas
Analysis: Peru confronts the past
10 Apr 02  |  Americas

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