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First finalist 2015

Miguel Mejía

The Pain of Returning


Between the years 1980 and 2000, Peru underwent a period of “political violence” which resulted in 70,000 people that were murdered or went missing, owing to the confrontation between the terrorist group Shining Path and the Peruvian army. Innocent victims such as minors, women and local authorities, mainly from the Andean regions of the country, were killed by both sides. The bodies left from these killings were buried in mass graves high in the mountains. However, when the government changed in 2003, the Final Report from the Truth Commission was published. It was an official document revealing the atrocities committed for 20 years. For this reason, the Forensic Team of Specialists was created and, in November 2013, the team carried out an ambitious expedition into the Chungui district (in the region of Ayacucho), an area amid the Peruvian Andes which the authorities deemed to be the scenario of “the most destructive violence in all the country”. In 1981 the Chungui district had 8,957 inhabitants and in 1993 there were only 4,338 left, according to the official census.

The Forensic Team of Specialists intended to exhume the bodies, identify them and deliver them to their relatives, which in many cases had survived or witnessed murders and later helped the authorities in the process of locating and recovering the bodies. In this case, 19 graves were exhumed and inside them, 56 victims were found: 26 minors, 18 women, 6 men and 6 adults whose gender could not be determined.

In October 2014, after an identification process, the bodies were delivered to their relatives in Ayacucho. The mortal remains were taken to their faraway communities to be given a proper burial.


He was born in Lima (Peru) in 1978, where he currently resides. In 2005 he completed his degree in journalism in the Universidad Pontificia Católica of Peru, where he went on to continue his studies in the School of Arts. After working for several printed media, in 2010 he joined the roster of photojournalists working for the newspaper La República, where he has been working since 2015 as graphic editor.

In 2012 he was awarded the first prize in the Latin American competition “Fototierra”. That same year he was given a scholarship by the Fundación Nuevo Periodismo Iberoamericano to study in the Taller de Edición Fotográfica Violencia y Sociedad (El Salvador). In 2013 he came third at the POY Latam awards, under the category “Celebrations, Traditions & Religion”.

In 2015 he came first in the POY Latam photojournalism competition, under the category “News”. That same year he received four awards at the Humanity Photo Awards (China): two Performance Awards, a Nomination Award and one of the Jury’s Special Awards. In October 2015, he received the award “Honor a la Excelencia Periodística en Fotografía” given out by the Inter American Press Society.

His photos have been published in different media in Peru and also in other international media such as El País, The Guardian and La Tercera. The latest exhibition of his work was in the Cervantes Institute of Beijing (China), Sept-Oct, 2015.