One of the most moving moments of my tenure as president of Peru occurred in August 2003, when our country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission presented me with its final report on the violence that had led to more than 70,000 deaths or disappearances at the hands of terrorist and paramilitary organizations during the previous decade.
It was not only a harrowing document — and a historic milestone for Peru — but also the first step in ending our long national tragedy.
Restoring trust in our democratic institutions had been among my top priorities when I was elected two years earlier. In response to the report, we created a high-level, diverse commission intended to bring about national reconciliation and to provide reparations to families and communities affected by the violence.
With growing concerns once again in our country about protecting indigenous rights and safeguarding democracy, following the recent violence in the Amazon, it is important to remember how much we, like other Latin Americans, owe to the institutions committed to the defense and protection of human rights and justice around the hemisphere.
Chief among them is the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which is marking its 50th anniversary this year. Those of us with strong democratic convictions have strong faith in the Commission and Court’s protection and promotion of human rights.
The relationship between the Commission and the governments that make up the Organization of American States derives strength from the democratic practices of its member states. Greater democracy and respect for democratic governance in each of our countries is crucial to the success of the Inter-American system.
The reverse is also true: The less democratic a given government, even when it has arisen legitimately from the ballot boxes, the greater the resistance to accepting the decisions of the Commission and the Court.
Nondemocratic governments often complain about “extraterritoriality,” which is a code word for what they consider intrusion in their national affairs. We have witnessed this tendency in recent cases in Peru and elsewhere. Governments that make alliances with sectors that have little interest in the promotion of human rights on our continent are the same ones that reject the autonomous decisions of the Commission.
Restoring trust in our democratic institutions had been among my top priorities.
But a genuine democracy should not fear being part of the effort to advance and improve the Inter-American system’s institutions and to work toward expanding respect for human rights across the hemisphere.
Our region’s most important struggles today are against poverty and inequality, and against corruption. Protecting human rights, which include access to healthcare and education, depends on maintaining a full respect for the democratic rule of law.
Alejandro Toledo was President of Peru from 2001 to 2006