Press Conference on the First TRC Public Hearings
Speech by TRC President
Journalist Ladies and Gentlemen,
Next Monday April 8th the Truth and Reconciliation Commission
will start the public hearings program, a central element of
our work plan mainly aimed, as we have already explained in
several occasions, to pay attention and show respect to the
victims of human rights abuses.
We have chosen the Department of Ayacucho as a stage to begin
this cycle of hearings for easily understandable reasons. As
we know, it is the area that was most affected by violence
in the country in past decades.
Before starting these activities, we have considered it important
to hold this meeting with the press. We will do the same with
Ayacucho’s journalists next Saturday, to briefly explain
the purpose and character these public hearings will have and
also to ask you help us convey the message of respect to others’ grief
and the invitation to solidarity we wish to convey to all Peruvian
Why Public Hearings?
This is the first time a Truth Commission or similar entity
holds public hearings on human rights in Latin America. Neither
Argentina or Chile, neither El Salvador or Guatemala, just
to name some well-known cases, held sessions in which the
victims or their families publicly exposed the facts of violence
as they had suffered them and as they remember them. In our
case, it will be done in this way. Commissioners will listen
to these narratives, undoubtedly horrifying, and the whole
of society will participate from these hearings through us.
We must point out that according to the decree that created
the TRC, it is legally authorized, but not obliged to carry
out these sessions. Hence, the commissioners have the power
to organize them and carry them out. We have assumed this legal
power is a true moral obligation that is shown in our work
plan. The reason is very clear. We are convinced that our main
duty is to pay attention to the victims and we understand that
they have not only suffered physical aggression but also have
been stripped off their dignity.
Many factors have come into this divestiture and one of them
is the indifference society showed for decades to the victims’ suffering.
Therefore, we understand that listening to them now, giving
them the voice denied for so long, allowing them to publicly
expose the actions they suffered is one way of giving them
social acknowledgment and, thus, giving them back their dignity
somehow. These hearings must be, then, understood in relation
with the victims. They are a social acknowledgement act and
they give them back their voice and dignity. This is how we
want you to assume it.
Public hearings and the cases presented
in them are not instruments for data to ponder a greater
or lesser guilt of regimes or
governments. They are not statistic data or tools for political
discussion. They are radically human cases and each one of
them must be understood as the absolute reality it is: a
lost human life, a torn family, a destroyed community. We want
communicators, to help us make our countrymen and countrywomen
understand what we will present in through these public activities.
What is a Public Hearing?
Public hearings are solemn sessions in which commissioners
directly receive the testimony of victims of violence or
of their families or friends. These sessions are guided by
a declaration of principles and will be subject to a protocol
that shall highlight their formal character and permit them
to follow this sequence: the hearings are not public debates,
confrontations and, even less, trials. They are spaces for
victims to provide public testimony.
This testimony is enormously important for complying our complex
task. It shall permit us, on the one hand, to perfect the knowledge
of facts to which the case in point is referred. On the other
hand, the story of victims shall also be the door to understand
the causes and factors underneath the violence lived through
in the country. Thirdly, the hearings will provide us with
elements to better understand the sequels of violence and to
study the type of redress for damages we must propose and the
national reconciliation perspective we must present to the
country as part of our mandate. As you see, a public hearing
comprises several aspects of TRC’s work. We mainly conceive
it, though, as an element to give the victims back their dignity
and, in this regard, as a healing and redressing activity.
To achieve this we need the activity to take place under a
fundamental principle: respect for those who provide testimony.
This is why we say it is a solemn session. We want to respect
other people’s pain and, through us, the country to start
expressing consideration to victims. It is essential to have
the press accompany us. Otherwise, what is said would be limited
to the room where the testimony is given and it would not be
really public. At the same time, we need you help us preserve
this ambience of solemnity and respect, to flee sensationalism
and thoughtless invasion of the victims’ privacy. We
have taken measures so that information flows to you accurately
and on a timely basis. However, we also want you to assume
that, in this opportunity, journalists themselves would be
part of the message and the news. The treatment you give victims
would be the first token of this humane and respectful treatment
all the country must give to those who have suffered aggressions
and who, generally, belong to the humblest segments of the
What is the Nature of Public Hearings?
We have explained several times that commissioners are not
judges or prosecutors. We have no power to accuse, acquit
or condemn. We comply with a work of moral cleansing, whose
core is the public exposition of truth. This must be taken
into account when public hearings are held. Commissioners
shall listen to testimonies. They will be the ears of the
Nation. The fact that these versions are presented in public
hearings does not mean that we are passing judgment and making
a decision in its regard.
I have mentioned already that what is essential for the TRC
is to pay attention to victims. Thus, we make no distinction
between victims. All those who died because of violence merit
our consideration. TRC offers them impartial treatment to cases.
Naturally enough, not all cases can reach a public hearing.
We must, therefore, select them. I must clarify that this selection
is not guided at all by political criteria or by the will of
demonstrating any thesis. The general criterion is to offer
a faithful representation of what occurred in the country.
This selection is made by coordinating with civil organizations
of each zone.
In this case, we shall start with hearings of cases from victims,
but these are not the only ones. We shall also have topical
hearings to shed light on specific aspects of violence, hearings
on regional history and hearings on institutional behaviors.
In all these cases, our leading principle will always be impartiality
and the will of publicly exposing the truth.
This search for truth approaches us to your task. We sincerely
expect that by accompanying us in these public hearings you
will also approach us, our purposes and our principles to share
a task that can be transcendental to the country: showing that
Peruvians can treat each other respectfully and thoughtfully
and that despise, manipulation and use of the humble, which
have had such an important role in past violence, are being
Salomón Lerner Febres
Truth and Reconciliation Commission