From the Worldwide Faith News archives

[PCUSANEWS] Peru commission praises, blames churches

Date Fri, 29 Aug 2003 17:35:17 -0500

Note #7913 from PCUSA NEWS to PRESBYNEWS:

Peru commission praises, blames churches
August 29, 2003

Peru commission praises, blames churches

Truth panel's report says 69,000 died or 'disappeared' in civil war

By Rebecca Howard
Ecumenical News International

LIMA, Peru - A government-appointed commission that looked into the deaths or
disappearances of more than 69,000 Peruvians between 1980 and 2000 had both
praise and criticism for the nation's churches.

The death toll cited by the truth and reconciliation commission is more than
twice the original estimate. The group's report, released on Aug. 28, was
based on about 17,000 interviews conducted throughout Peru about human-rights
violations committed after the Shining Path rebel group launched a national
insurgency in Peru's Andean highland province of Ayacucho in 1980.

Shining Path used terror tactics to force peasants to join them in their bid
to overthrow the government. In response, the Peruvian military and
government-backed peasant militias were equally savage, using torture, rape
and executions to suppress the insurgency.

The commission found that three-quarters of the victims were Quechua-speaking
Andean peasants caught in the crossfire. While the report has sparked
controversy, Evangelical and Catholic leaders have consistently backed the
Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was appointed in 2001 to look into
the country's 20 years of internal war.

"There is a need to confront the past, not to open wounds, but to heal them,"
said the Rev. Dario Lopez, the leader of the National Council of Evangelical
Churches. "The process will be long, but (is) necessary."

The roles played by Evangelical and Catholic churches were recognized - in
some cases, praised - in a 104-page section of the nine-volume report.

"Throughout 20 years of political violence, churches were not only affected
by the actions of terrorist groups," the report says, "but also (subjected
to) indiscriminate repression on the part of authorities."

Shining Path dismissed religion as the "opiate of the people," and in many
instances attacked churches and murdered priests and nuns, especially in the
Andean highlands.

Government forces tried to repress the Catholic Church, which it accused of
supporting the rebels. The crackdown was particular severe when church
leaders began raising their voices in defense of human and civil rights.

While the commission acknowledged that "many lives were saved and many other
abuses were impeded" by the actions of Catholic leaders, it criticized the
inaction of some in the church hierarchy in the province of Ayacucho.

The report excepted from its criticism the then-Archbishop of Ayacucho,
Monsignor Juan Luis Cipriani, who it said consistently spoke out against
human-rights abuses.

Cipriani has charged that the commission was biased in favor of the rebels.

Many pastors and members of evangelical churches also lost their lives in the
conflict. In a particularly notorious case, Shining Path attacked a
Pentecostal Church in Ccano La Mar, Ayacucho, slaying 31 people during a
prayer meeting, then burning the bodies.

"We stand before an injustice that could and should have been avoided,"
commission President Salomon Lerner said as he delivered the report to
Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo. "The final two decades are marked by
shame and dishonor."

The commission recommended more prosecutions of civilian and military
perpetrators, and financial compensation to victims.

But reconciliation demands more, said the Rev. Humberto Lay, a commission
member. "The church must be aware of the problems of violence and the need
for profound changes in our country," he said, "so that the terrible time of
death and terror is never repeated."

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