By Kevin Sullivan
When the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) visited Peru in the middle of 2015, WEIGD Chief Ariel Dulitzky noted that – at the current rate of location and identification of missing persons – it would take more than 100 years to account for all of the individuals still missing from the civil conflict of the 1980s and 1990s. Of 15,000 victims of enforced disappearance, around 1,300 have so far been accounted for.
According to a number of studies, in the war between Government security forces and left wing rebels (principally Shining Path and the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement) the armed forces were responsible for most of the illegal detentions and killings, with disappearances being used as a matter of policy at the height of the insurgency. However, only a handful of military officers have been tried and convicted.
One case that has gained wide attention is that of Ernesto Castillo, a sociology student from the Catholic University of Peru, who disappeared in 1990 while researching the impact of government economic policy on citizens. Four military officers who were found to have been responsible for Castillo’s detention were tried and convicted but three were released after serving only a fraction of their sentences.
The insurgents were also responsible for systematic abductions. Shining Path at the height of its power was notorious for its brutality – towards representatives of the state and also towards the civilian population whose liberation it claimed to espouse. The rump organization that survived Shining Path’s military defeat in the 1990s has diversified into the drugs trade. In the middle of 2015 the Peruvian military rescued 39 captives from a Shining Path jungle camp, including 26 children. Some of the older prisoners were abducted decades ago.
In 2010 ICMP provided training in DNA typing from bone samples to Gian Carlo Iannacone De La Flor, the Director of the Molecular and Genetic Biology Laboratory of the Peruvian Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensics. ICMP staff briefed Mr Iannacone on the process of DNA extraction, analysis and matching, and provided DNA profile results on eight bone samples that had been had brought from Peru, relating to three missing persons cases.
In 2014 the Peruvian Prosecutor’s Office asked for ICMP assistance in DNA testing and matching on a case where identification had been made but was believed not to be conclusive. ICMP was able to verify the original identification.
It is clear that technical assistance, particularly in view of the enormous advances that have been made in the use of DNA for human identification, could have a major impact on efforts in Peru to account for large numbers of missing from the conflict period. An effective effort to address the country’s legacy of missing persons will require a comprehensive program that includes legislative, administrative, and social initiatives as well as the application of advanced technology. This can succeed on the basis of broad political agreement that resolving Peru’s thousands of missing persons cases is a national priority.