REPORT OF THE INTER-AMERICAN COMMISSION
June 1988, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights received the following
the night of April 14, 1988, soldiers in olive-drab uniforms carrying M-15
automatic rifles came to the community of Las Cañas, where they went to the
house of ARNALDO CERRITO and told them to turn out the lights–there was no
electricity, and candles had to be used–and it could be seen that the soldiers
wore hats but their uniforms could not be described. They put out the candles and VICENTE CERRITO went to the
door, at which point the soldiers pulled him out of the house, went in again and
asked for Arnoldo, and both men were taken out of the house with their hands
tied. Maria Luisa followed them out
and asked where they were being taken and why, but the soldiers threatened to
take her along too, if she didn’t shut up, and so she went back into the house
but kept on insisting, and this time she was threatened with a rifle and pushed.
The soldiers took the two men off to the river without allowing them to
put on their shirts and shoes. Below
the river they met more soldiers who had taken Arturo.
NAVARRO GARCIA and Manuel de Jesus Lopez Ramos had gone to the river to load
sand onto a truck. When they were
about 50 meters away from Arturo’s house they were stopped by some uniformed
soldiers. Arturo’s son, Rosendo
Sorto Navarro, was with them, so the three were made to lie face down on the
ground. One of the soldiers asked,
“Are you ARTURO NAVARRO?” “Yes,”
he answered. “You must come with
us, then.” They told the child to
go home and let Manuel go. The
three captured men were taken seven blocks down the river in front of the Bosque
del Río settlement, where more soldiers were waiting for them with a pickup
truck. The three men were put in
the back of the truck with their hands still tied.
Since it was very dark and the truck’s lights were out, it s make,
color, and license plates could not be distinguished.
the afternoon of April 14, 1988, there had been much active patrolling across
the Cantón of El Tránsito by the “Red Berets” if the Salvadoran Air Force.
There has been a controversy in these communities because the settlers
have spread out along the river and ANTA has offered them daily work and has
organized them into communities, while a landowner has been making threats to
get them to desist. The settlers
believe this to be the reason for the murders, though they have no certain
knowledge, and they say that there has been no political intervention and all
they want to do is survive.
the morning of April 16, 1988, the local military authorities found three
corpses with 45-caliber bullet wounds in their heads. The corpses had been thrown into a ravine at kilometer 10 on
the road from San Salvador to Zacatecoluca, and dried pools of blood, the
remains of blood-soaked hemp sacks and empty 45-caliber cartridges were still at
the spot. FMLN pamphlets were found
under the corpses, which had on only underwear, though one still had a shoe on
its right foot. According to the
report of the Justice of the Peace, they are presumed to have died about 24
the 17th the corpses were exhumed for inspection by relatives and then were
were later made for re-exhumation of the bodies on April 21, 1988.
The Justice of the Peace of San Juan Talpa and his secretary, accompanied
by local members of the Armed Forces, dug up the corpses so that they could be
identified by members of their families. The
corpse of Arturo Navarro was identified by his wife, mother, and sister, and
On June 28, 1988, the relevant parts of this complaint were transmitted
to the Government of El Salvador, which was given 90 days to reply to the
Commission’s request for a report.
3. For his presentation before the plenary session of the Commission in its 74th session, held from September 6 to 16, 1988, the Executive Secretary of the Governmental Commission on Human Rights of El Salvador personally brought the following note in reply:
In this regard the Governmental Commission has opened a file on the death of the persons named in the complaint, in the most important passages in which the members of their families and witnesses stated that the three victims were apprehended by heavily-armed individuals dressed in olive-drag and driving a red pick-up truck, but they could not say with certainty that they were soldiers. The victims were then taken to parts unknown, where they were murdered. The Justice of the Peace of San Juan Talpa set in motion the investigation into the death of these persons. The Governmental CHR has sent an attestation of the action taken to the Office of the General Prosecutor of the Republic so that its Human Rights Unit may continue pursuing the matter before the competent court.
Later on September 20, 1988, the Government of El Salvador replied
formally to the request for information with the following statement to the
The Governmental Commission has an open file on the death of the persons named in the complaint, in the most important passages of which the members of their families and witnesses stated that the three victims were apprehended by heavily-armed individuals dressed in olive-drab and driving a red pick-up truck, but they could not identify them because the night was too dark, and could not say with certainty that they were soldiers. The victims were then taken to parts unknown, where they were murdered. The Justice of the Peace of San Juan Talpa set in motion the investigation into the death of these persons. The Governmental CHR has sent an attestation of the action taken to the Office of the General Prosecutor of the Republic so that its Human Rights Unit may continue pursuing the matter before the competent court.
Since the reports provided the Government of El Salvador confirmed that
the events had taken place and that the first investigations had been begun, but
gave no information on their results, on January 26, 1989, the Government of El
Salvador was again asked to inform the Commission on the outcome of the
investigations pursued into the murders of Arturo Navarro Garcia, Arnoldo
Cerrito, and Vicente Cerrito.
On February 17, 1989, the observations of the complainant on the replies
made by the representatives of the Government of El Salvador were transmitted to
that Government. The relevant portions of those observations are as follows:
Lack of positive legal
Government refers in its reply to the initiation by the Justice of the Peace of
San Juan Talpa of inquiries into the death of the three murder victims.
This is indeed true, for it is so stated in the reports enclosed with the
original request. On our side, however, we advise that the First Criminal Court
of Zacatecoluca, which is so far in charge of pursuing the investigation, has
taken no action, and the case is pigeon-holed in the file of cases “pending
regarding the action taken by the Office of the General Prosecutor through its
“Human Resources Unit,” we have found out in the First Criminal Court of
Zacatecoluca that the only thing the Office of the General Prosecutor has done
since the file was forwarded in May last year is to “constitute itself a party
in the case,” and the inquiries are in the state in which they were left by
the Justice of the Peace of San Juan Talpa on April 21, 1988.
Government’s reply implies that the wheels of justice are turning in this
case, and that the Government has the intention of assigning responsibility for
the deaths. That the mater stands,
otherwise is shown by the lack of positive legal action on the case, including
the brevity of the Government’s response to the IACHR, which demonstrates the
necessity that the Inter-American Commission move to identify those responsible
for the violations of the most fundamental human rights in this case.
enclose a copy of the request submitted to the Supreme Court of Justice for
information on the results of the petitions for habeas corpus on behalf of
Santos Leiva Aviles presented on May 10 last year and a copy of the request
presented to the Office of the General Prosecutor of the Republic for
information on the action it has taken and proposes to take in the present case.
These inquiries are too recent for the answers to have been received yet,
but they will be of no significance when they arrive because nothing has been
done so far.
Participation by the
In its reply the Government states that the witnesses “could not say the (the perpetrators) were soldiers.” But we regard the participation of soldiers of the Salvadoran Armed Forces as amply proved by the statements of the injured parties and witnesses. Although none of the declarants is able to identify specific perpetrators, they have all said the same thing: that they were soldiers of the national army under arms and wearing olive-drab uniforms.
all the circumstances point to an operation by elements of the Armed Forces, and
to the probability that they were members of the Salvadoran Air Force.
Some three or four hours before the three victims were captured, the area
where they were taken from was patrolled by the Salvadoran Air Force,
specifically by the so-called “Red Berets.”
This is borne out by the complete openness, coolness, and impunity with
which they acted in an area controlled by the army.
central headquarters of the Air Force is near the community in which the victims
lived. When relatives went to this
headquarters in search of the victims, a soldier inquired over the internal
phone whether the three were on the premises, and identified them by name, and
then told the visitors that they were there.
This information was later denied by armed men in civilian clothes.
The Air Force has been identified as involved in several cases, many of
which occurred in the same area.
There are other
persuasive indications of the guilt of the Armed Forces
least two of the victims, Arnaldo and Vicente Cerrito, were members of the
Asociación de Trabajadores (the National Workers’ Association or ANTA), which
has been subjected to constant repression by the Armed Forces, being wrongly
regarded as a subversive organization. As
proof of this persecution we attach a paid advertisement of ANTA published in
the Diario de Hoy of June 12, 1988, which itemizes some of the many repressions
suffered by the Association.
Connections between Mr. Rene Mendoza, the presumed owner of the lands adjacent
to the Rio Cañas community, in which the victims lived, and the Government (see
clipping from the Diario de Hoy of August 11, 1988), and his threats against
workers who were extracting sand from the river to earn a livelihood, are
indications that he may have provided the initial justification for the capture
of the victims by the Armed Forces.
No reply having been received from the Government of El Salvador, on
March 2, the Commission again transmitted the observations of the complainant
and granted an extension of 30 days.
This extension granted to the Government of El Salvador having also
expired without, again, any reply or any request for an extension of time being
received, on June 19, 1989, the Commission repeated its request to the
Government of El Salvador to supply, within an additional 30 days’ time,
information in relation to the case, and advised that, if no reply were received
the Commission would, as prescribed in Article 42 of its Regulations and under
the weight of the abundant confirmatory information, presume the facts reported
to be true.
This further extension of time granted to the Government of El Salvador
has expired long since with no response of any kind having been received any
request for additional time in which to do so.
That the complaint meets the formal requirements for admissibility in
Article 46 (d) of the American Convention on Human Rights and Article 32 of the
Regulations of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights;
That in the present case, the petitioner has been unsuccessful in
prevailing upon the judicial authorities to obtain effective protection and,
therefore, the requirements concerning the exhaustion of domestic under Article
46.2.b of the American Convention are inapplicable;
That the procedure for friendly settlement referred to in Articles 48 (f)
and 45 of the American Convention and the Commission’s Regulations,
respectively, is inapplicable to the present case;
That the complaint is not pending settlement by some other international
procedure and so is not subject to the disqualification envisaged in Articles 47
(d) of the American Convention or paragraph 1, Article 39 of the Commission’s
That the complaint does not duplicate a previous petition already
examined by the Commission, and thereby escapes the same disqualification of
Articles 47 (d) of the American Convention and paragraph 1, Article 39 of the
That in the present case all steps have been taken to obtain from the
Government of El Salvador satisfactory information on the murder of the persons
mentioned, and all the legal and regulation procedures established in the
Convention and the Commission’s Regulations have been exhausted;
That in its replying notes the Government of El Salvador confirms the
commission of the acts referred to in the complaint concerning the murder of the
victims and the participation of uniformed men in those acts;
That the facts described in the complaint are corroborated by the
personal testimony of members of the victims’ families, who confirm the text
of the complaint and agree that responsibility for the murder of ARTURO NAVARRO
GARCIA, ARNOLDO DERRITO, and VICENTE CERRITO rests with the Armed Forces;
That the Government of El Salvador has had nothing to say about the
petitioner’s allegations of inadequate investigation of the facts and the
officially granted impunity of the perpetrators;
That the requirements established in Articles 48 of the American
Convention on Human Rights and 34 et. seq. of the Commission’s
Regulations, have been fulfilled.
INTER-AMERICAN COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS,
the powers vested in it,
To declare, in light of the foregoing, that the Government of El Salvador
has violated Articles 4 (right to life), 5 (right to human treatment), 7 (right
to personal liberty), and 8 (right to a fair trial) of the American Convention
on Human Rights by its responsibility for the detention, mistreatment and
summary execution of, and failure to guarantee due process for ARTURO NAVARRO
GARCIA, ARNOLDO CERRITO, and VICENTE CERRITO.
To recommend to the Government of El Salvador that it order a thorough
and impartial investigation of the acts charged in order to establish the
responsibility of the members of its Armed Forces that participated directly or
indirectly in their commission so that they may be punished in accordance with
Salvadoran law, that fair compensation be granted to the families, and that it
advise the Commission within 90 days on the steps taken.
To transmit this resolution to the Government of El Salvador and to the
To include this resolution in the Annual Report to the General Assembly
of the Organization of American States if the information is not received from
the Government of El Salvador.