"Armed political violence and wars are situations that contradict the human being and must be avoided or disappear. We are all committed to this task. In this aspiration, justice and the law are the best weapons for prevention and control; they are the weapons for identifying those responsible and punishing them".
By Antonio Peña Jumpa*
March 31, 2023.- The film "All Quiet on The Western Front" (Germany, 2022) reminds us about the horrible story of the young soldiers who died in the trench battles of the First World War in 1914-1918 under the ideals of patriotism or military decisions. In the same vein, the death of 6 young soldiers on Sunday 5 March 2023, trying to cross the river Ilave, in the Puno region of Peru, shows a similar episode of treatment or mistreatment of these young soldiers. The lives of the young soldiers of the first world war like those of Puno appear worthless; exposed and sacrificed without cause or rational explanation.
The young soldiers of 1914-1918:
The young soldiers of the First World War knew that they could die. But forced conscription following the German, French, English, Austro-Hungarian, Italian, Serbian, Turkish, Russian, or American patriotic idealism of the 1900s, was stronger. The already consolidated concepts of State and sovereignty of that time, thought in terms of expansion or protection, could lead to immolation where the youngest recruited for the armies suffered the worst consequences. In the end, more than 10 million young soldiers died, and more than 20 million were wounded (France 24, online). The civilian population also suffered the terrible consequences: some estimate that at least the equivalent of the deceased soldiers died, others affirm that more than 13 million civilians died (online information).
The deaths of the millions of young soldiers in the First World War were primarily the responsibility of the authorities and military commanders at that time.
But the causes of the First World War and its agonising continuation did not depend on the young soldiers killed or wounded. The decisions of war are made by the political and military authorities who run the state, even if they are not necessarily on the front lines of its battles. The deaths of the millions of young soldiers in the First World War were primarily the responsibility of the authorities and military commanders at that time.
The young soldiers of Puno:
Unfortunately, the situation of the death of young soldiers has been repeated in other similar or proportionally similar events, although not necessarily in world wars or wars between countries. We have just experienced one of these events in Peru, following the death of 6 young soldiers from the Peruvian army who went to "fight" social protests in the Puno region, in the Southern Andes of Peru.
The soldiers of Puno were forced to confront a people enraged by the management of a politically weak central government that had caused, through police and military actions, the death of at least 60 people in Peru, including 18 deaths in the Puno region itself. They were fulfilling a function that constitutionally does not correspond to them in the face of an Aymara people who have historically been on the margins of the state or in a slow process of integration. Following the latest political-military events in the country, these Aymara people did not hesitate to reject the central government through an effective regional strike and did not accept the militarisation of their region.
Under these conditions, the Aymara people rejected the military forces in their region, including the patrols of young soldiers led by officers following political orders from the central government. Members of the Aymara people forced the patrols to withdraw to their barracks. One of these patrols, according to facts still under investigation, had to cross the Ilave River on its route back to the barracks. Apparently, without information about the flow and the cold temperature of the Ilave River, they dared to cross it under superior orders. The result was tragic: 6 young soldiers could not reach the other bank alive, they drowned.
Legal responsibility for these facts:
Did the soldiers who died know how to swim in freezing cold water with their combat gear? Who are responsible for these deaths? Who do the mothers and fathers of these young men who died trying to cross the Ilave River in Puno have to claim from?
These are difficult questions to answer in a context of war or social protest. However, justice and law cannot be limited in any situation. In a state of war, which is certainly not applicable to the case of Puno, there are special rules that judge the military commanders responsible, and in situations of social protests, which is applicable in the case of Puno, there is no reason to apply the general rules, common to all citizens, to judge the military commanders and politicians who are responsible.
the death of the six young soldiers constitutes a case to be resolved under civil law and common criminal law
Given the situation of social protest in Puno, even though it is in a state of emergency, the death of the six young soldiers constitutes a case to be resolved under civil law and common criminal law. Criminally they are cases of homicide, with special conditions or variables of the punishable act and its authorship. The criminal liability involving direct superior officers and immediate commanders and politicians must be denounced by the competent Public Prosecutor so that the judge can then decide through his sentence. Civil compensation is payable to the bereaved or relatives of the deceased, which can be determined in the same criminal proceedings or in a parallel civil proceeding under the direct jurisdiction of the judge.
Events that cannot be repeated:
In any case, the deaths of the six young soldiers in Puno are events that we must avoid. Just like the deaths of the soldiers in World War I, or other similar wars, they are events that show the weakness of states and their military and political authorities, and that lead us to a total rejection. Armed political violence and wars are situations that contradict the human being and must be avoided or disappear. We are all committed to this task. In this aspiration, justice and the law are the best weapons for prevention and control; they are the weapons for identifying those responsible and punishing them.
(Written in Lima on March 10, 26 and 29, 2023).
Antonio Peña Jumpa is Professor at the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú and lecturer at the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos. Lawyer, master’s in social sciences and PhD. in Laws.