Historic: Peru Jails 10 Military Men for Brutal State Massacre
Claudia Pomacongo holds a card detailing the case of her husband, who was murdered in the Accomarca massacre. | Photo: AFP
Among the military officials sentenced for the 1985 rape massacre of civilians was the Peruvian general nicknamed the “Butcher of the Andes.”
A Peruvian court Thursday sentenced 10 former military officials and soldiers to between 10 and 25 years in prison for the 1985 massacre of 69 civilians, mostly women and children, in the town of Accomarca, in one of the most iconic cases from the South American country’s so-called “war on terror.”
Three high-ranking military men, then-Lieutenants Telmo Hurtado and Juan Rivera Rondon and then-general Wilfredo Mori, were sentenced to 23, 24, and 25 years in jail as the masterminds behind the massacre. Judges singled out Hurtado — infamously known as the “Butcher of the Andes” — and Rivera Rondon as those principally responsible for carrying out the violence as the leaders of the patrols, while Mori was held responsible by giving the orders as the highest in the chain of the command.
Two other accused received 25 years in jail each, and another five were sentenced to 10 years each, all for carrying out the violent tragedy. Six were acquitted, including then-general Jose Williams Zapata. Sentences were not handed down for 11 others accused in the case, because one died before the trial was completed and 10 others are fugitives.
People gathered outside the National Criminal Court in Lima to await the results of the sentencing trial, which was delayed more than eight hours. Families of the victims and other Accomarca community members prepared food to share with those waiting to hear the announcement outside the court.
The outcome of the six-year-old case establishes a precedent for prosecuting similar crimes against humanity at the hands of the state in the guise of cracking down on left-wing insurgency in the 1980s and 1990s.
The Accomarca massacre trial is also groundbreaking because it is the only such case in Peru—aside from prosecutions of members of the military death squad known as Grupo Colina—that brings charges against the military’s entire chain of high command, according to local media.
On Aug. 14, 1985, at the height of the government’s conflict with the notorious Shining Path rebel army, the Peruvian military massacred at least 69 unarmed victims—30 children, 27 women, and 12 men—in Accomarca, located in Peru’s southern department of Ayacucho. Troops raped the women, then herded all the men, women, and children into houses before launching hand grenades at them. They finally burned the houses to kill every last victim.
The National Human Rights Coordinator and the Washington Office on Latin American had stressed in a joint statement leading up the the hearing the importance of the trial and the “need for a sentence that imparts real justice for one of the most heinous crimes and reminders of the internal armed conflict” in Peru from 1980 to 2000.
“Peruvian justice has an enormous debt with the victims in the Accomarca case,” said Jorge Bracamonte, executive secretary of Peru’s National Human Rights Coordinator, in a statement, stressing that the massacre has gone unpunished for too long. “We not only hope for an exemplary sentence, but we also hope that the court will order the collective return of the bodies of the Accomarca victims so that the families can bury their dead and close their grief.”
Human rights organizations have called for comprehensive reparations for victims as part of the process of seeking justice for acts of state terror.
“Justice not only seeks the punishment of those responsible, it also seeks to dignify the victims who, for so many years, have been sidelined and forgotten,” said WOLA’s Jo-Marie Burt in a statement.
In the sentencing hearing, judges also ordered reparations of US$44,000 be paid to the family of each of the victims of Accomarca.
The massacre took place under the state guise of Peru’s counterinsurgency strategy aimed at wiping out left-wing armed groups that challenged the state. But the Peruvian army killed scores of unarmed rural civilians accused of collaborating with guerrilla groups as part of the bloody conflict that claimed a total of 70,000 lives from 1980 to 2000.
Human rights groups have pointed to the Accomarca case as representative of the reign of state terror inflicted on poor and Indigenous communities.
“It has been shown that the Accomarca massacre was not an excess of the counterinsurgency fight nor an overreaction of soldiers overwhelmed by war,” said Burt, “but the result of a state policy of combating subversion using indiscriminate violence against the civilian population.”