instrumental in the creation and institutionalization of the broader movement. Protestant churches,
involving a far smaller proportion of the population, have also been active in the organized defense of
civil and religious liberties since 1950 and are involved in today's broader rights movement.
The first human rights groups per se were created in the late 1970s. The second phase of the military
government had begun to reverse some of the more popular reform measures undertaken by the
preceding Velasco regime, had laid off thousands of public employees, and had applied an economic
structural adjustment program which brought serious deterioriation in living standards. From the start,
therefore, human rights groups in Peru have combined the ethical perspective of the Church and a
concern for social justice with conventional defense of human rights and civil liberties.
In the early 1980s, a number of other organizations were established to document and denounce the
atrocities taking place in the fight against the Shining Path terrorist movement in remote regions of the
highlands and particularly Ayacucho. Their efforts brought international attention to the dirty war
between the terrorists and the armed forces, which claimed more lives and caused greater damage to the
country under civilian rule than the previous twelve years of military dictatorship.
In 1985 the
Coordinadora Nacional de Derechos Humanos
(CNDDH) was formed as an umbrella
organization to coordinate disparate human rights activities. Today the
all of Peru's main human rights organizations, which number more than 50 groups nationwide. With
members ranging from small grassroots groups working in rural areas to Lima based NGOs staffed by
lawyers with international prestige and experience, the CNDDH is considered a model worldwide for its
breadth and unity, ability evolve its strategy over time, and effectiveness in curbing human rights abuses
and raising public consciousness.
As the most grave human rights violations associated with the dirty war subsided in the 1990s, the
human rights movement has been able to move effectively into defending democracy and documenting
and denouncing a broader range of human rights and civil liberties. As noted by WOLA Senior Associate
Coletta Youngers, it has also made the leap from
(from denunciation to making
proposals), encouraging legislative and other reforms to protect human rights and democracy
(Youngers, 2000, p. 5).
The Peruvian human rights movement is unique for several reasons, in addition to the outstanding unity
and leadership of the
. First, the nature of the dirty war in Peru led human rights groups
to take a strong stand against violence of any kind, and to document and denounce abuses by the
terrorists as well as the armed forces. This has provided them legitimacy with a population that suffered
considerably at the hands of the Shining Path and MRTA. Second, although they have often been the
targets of attacks by government, the military, and the terrorists, human rights groups have not suffered
the same level of repression as their counterparts in Central America in the 1980s or in Colombia. Their
relative freedom of association has enabled them to grow nationally, making the transition from
traditional denunciatory work to addressing a broader agenda of democracy and civil rights concerns.
Historical references in this section are drawn from Joanna Drzewieniecki, The Coordinadora Nacional de
Derechos Humanos: A Case Study, a draft document prepared for the Civil Society and Democratic Governance in
the Andes and Southern Cone Project, Ford Foundation and PUCP, December 1999. The rest of this section draws
heavily from Coletta A. Youngers, Human Rights and Politics in Peru Today, a paper prepared for delivery at the
2000 Meeting of the Latin American Studies Association, March 18, 2000.
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