Liz Adams - Lima, Peru
Back in the 80s and 90s, a revolutionary group named Sendero Luminoso tried to lead a communist revolution against the government of Peru in place at that time. They were a violent group that used bombs and automatic weapons. They also killed a lot of innocent people. The government, in turn, condemned them as a terrorist group and was brutal with anybody they suspected of being a terrorist. Whenever a terrorist act was committed, somebody had to pay the price. As a result, many innocent people were accused of terrorism to salvage the reputation of the government. This resulted in many horrendous acts being committed by the military (as you may have picked up, the innocent people of Peru were the ones that suffered the most). In fact, the president of Peru at that time has since been convicted of crimes against humanity and is the first president in the world to be sentenced to time in prison for these types crimes.
Paz y Esperanza has brought several cases involving genocide before the courts. Yesterday, there was a hearing for one of them. This case involves a military patrol that took 14 people from one of the villages in the south and made them walk up a mountain to a mine. Once inside the mind, they shot all 14 and blew up their bodies with dynamite to get rid of the evidence. Out of the 14 people they killed, three of them were women and five of them were little children. Paz y Esperanza is now fighting to see those military men put behind bars, but there's still quite a bit of work to do. My boss is the one bringing the case, and he is a great lawyer here in Lima. But on the other side, defending the military patrol, is one of the most well-known lawyers in Lima. He is known for defending the president that is now in prison, as well as being very theatrical in his appearances before the court. It should be an interesting case!
Tonight, I leave for Ayacucho, which is a town in the Andes in southern Peru. Milton has been called down there to work on another famous genocide case where the military killed and buried an entire village of people. There were about 90 people living in this village, and the military suspected that about 10 of them were terrorists. So, they figured that if they killed the entire village, then they would kill the terrorists, as well as anybody else that might be involved or get involved with the terrorists in the future. In 2008, they exhumated the mass grave, which dates back to 1984. Therefore, the lawyers and investigators have been working on gathering as much information as possible these past three years. Milton has asked me to accompany him there to learn about the case and participate in his conversations with the investigators. So far, this case has not been brought before the court as there is still work to do.
However, neither of these cases has been my main focus. Rather, I am deeply involved in a case involving child sex abuse in one of the poorest communities in Lima. One man is accused of luring little girls into his house, making them watch pornography, and then sexually abusing them one at a time. Nobody knows at this point how many girls he has abused. We suspect that he has abused little boys as well. I have visited the houses of the known victims, and I have spoken with their mothers. The girls are only seven and eight years old, which makes the case more difficult because only the psychologist is talking with them about what happened. Not even their families want to ask them about their experiences and remind them of the horrors that they had to go through. Most of the girls were not one-time victims. Rather, they were taken time and time again in the night, with their mouths covered and being dragged by the hand into the dark house of the aggressor.
Looking into the faces of the little girls, and talking with their mothers as they cry out for justice has been an incredibly intense experience. It was one thing for me to read about the declarations that have been made against the man, but it has been another thing entirely to deal personally with the families. One evening I went to their homes with another girl who is interning with Paz y Esperanza. They live up high on the dirt piles (they're not really mountains, though they look like it from a distance). They live in shacks that they have made from random material that they found after squatting on the land. They barely have enough food to get by each day, and their education level is very low. The burden of going through the legal process is difficult for them, and they repeatedly thank us for helping them when they would otherwise never have enough money to hire a lawyer. They say they consider us friends, and one of their only encouragements in a place where most people are against their cause. Most of their community is afraid to speak out against the aggressor because he has friends in high places, but these few families are braving the hostility of their neighbors to ensure that this man never abuses another child.
In the recent interviews, we have uncovered several new facts that were unknown before, and these may lead to us securing a life sentence for this man. That is our hope. But there is still much to uncover, and even more that must be proven. The legal process here is long, but we are confident that justice will ultimately prevail.