On 13 December 1984, 123 villagers, including infants and the elderly, were gunned down by members of the Peruvian military in the community of Putis in the south-eastern highlands of Ayacucho Department. Many of the young women were gang-raped before being killed.
General Morí Orzo was in command of the Ayacucho Second Infantry Division of the Peruvian Army, which executed the massacre with support from a unit known as The Lynxes Company. The Lynxes, led by Grados Bailetti and also under the command of Morí Orzo, have been linked to other human rights atrocities in the region including the now emblematic 1985 Accomarca massacre, in which 69 civilians were murdered by security forces.
The mass graves in Putis were exhumed in 2007, under the supervision of Dr. Cristina Olazabal, the Ayacucho public prosecutor at the time, and with support from the Peruvian protestant human rights organization and CSW partner, Peace and Hope. The remains of the victims were recovered and subjected to DNA analysis in order to identify them. In some cases, where entire families had been wiped out, definitive identification was not possible.
The five-year delay between the exhumation and this week’s decision is largely due to stonewalling from the Ministry of Defence. Despite repeated requests from the public prosecutor’s office, the ministry and the military refused to identify the individual soldiers responsible for carrying out the massacre. In the absence of this information, the public prosecutor’s office took the decision to proceed with filing charges against the officers in command of military operations in the area.
Dr Milton Campos, a lawyer from Peace and Hope representing the families of the victims, said that the court’s decision has “revived confidence in the relatives of the more than one hundred victims of this massacre, who hope that the judicial authorities will recognize their right to justice and the truth, carrying out a detailed investigation of this barbaric act and handing down an exemplary punishment to those responsible.”
Mervyn Thomas, Chief Executive of Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), said, “The people of Putis have waited 27 long years for justice. With this long overdue decision to try the military officers responsible for this horrendous crime, they are one important step closer. We congratulate the Ayacucho public prosecutor’s office and our partners at Peace and Hope and other organisations, who have investigated and tirelessly pursued this case over the years. We now call on the military and the government, specifically the Ministry of Defence, to cooperate fully as the trial proceeds and to take concrete steps to end the culture of impunity in Peru.”