Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has continued to devote
special attention to the human rights situation in El Salvador.
The purpose of this section of the Report is to update the
information for the year 1991, supplementing the annual reports
published since 1980.
has closely monitored the progress of the negotiations aimed at ending
the internal conflict in El Salvador that are being conducted between
the Salvadoran Government and representatives of the Farabundo Martí
National Liberation Front (Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación
Nacional) under the aegis of the United Nations Secretary General.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has for some
time been advocating a political and negotiated solution to the conflict
in El Salvador in the belief that peace is a fundamental precondition
for effective respect for human rights and that such respect offers a
sound basis for achieving and preserving social peace.
context, the Commission would like to say how profoundly gratified it is
with the agreements reached at United Nations headquarters on December
31, 1991, coupled with those reached in Mexico City on January 16, 1992.
Those agreements are a laudable achievement of the Salvadoran
people, whose determined commitment has had the benefit of the
invaluable contribution made by the United Nations
Secretary-General and his personal envoy.
agreements hold particular significance for the Inter-American
Commission on Human Rights. The
Commission is certain that these agreements will help create the
conditions needed to further the democratization of Salvadoran society.
It hopes that this new situation will mean renewed, closed
cooperation between the Government of El Salvador and the Commission.
As for the
evolution of the negotiations during the period covered in this report,
a number of points of the National Constitution were identified which it
is felt need to be reformed in order to eliminate some of the underlying
causes of the armed conflict. The
agreements on these points were arrived at in meetings held in Mexico
City. The Legislative
Assembly considered the reforms and on April 30, 1991 approved those
calling for action to make the armed forces clearly subordinate to the
civil authority, create a civilian national police force and establish
the office of National Attorney for the Defense of Human Rights.
The Legislative Assembly ratified these constitutional reforms on
September 12. The insertion
in the Constitution of a Commission of the Truth was not accepted at
that time. The intended purpose of such a Commission, which was meant to
operate on an ad hoc basis, was to investigate serious crimes and
violations of human rights since 1980.
Ultimately, the final agreements concluded by the parties in
December 1991 led to the creation of the Commission.
In addition, in
an act of special significance for effective respect for human rights in
El Salvador, on July 26, 1991, a United Nations Observation Mission (UNOSAL)
was set up to verify compliance with the San José Agreement on Human
Rights. UNOSAL is given a broad mandate, empowering it to investigate
cases of violation of human rights and assuring it of access to any
penal establishment without prior notice.
As was indicated at the time, the agreements that led to the
creation of this important United Nations human rights observation
mission do not replace El Salvador's obligations deriving from other
international instruments to which it is a party, such as the American
Convention on Human Rights.
important step in the negotiations was the Peace Agreement signed in New
York on September 25, 1991. That agreement was the outcome of
negotiations of which President Cristiani and five FMLN commanders took
part. This agreement calls
for four stages, as follows: first stage comprises the creation of a
National Commission for Consolidation of the Peace (Comisión Nacional
para la Consolidación de la Paz--COPAZ), now already
established, on which both
parties will be represented and which will be responsible for monitoring
compliance with the political agreements that are signed.
The second stage comprises reduction and restructuring of El
Salvador's armed forces and dissolution of the National Guard and the
Treasury Police. The third
stage concerns the composition of the future Civil National Police.
Finally, the fourth stage establishes the economic and social
conditions that will need to prevail.
As a result of
the round of talks held in New York in December 1991, the Act of New
York was signed on December 31, 1991.
There, the parties declared "that definitive agreements have
been reached which, coupled with those signed earlier in San Jose,
Mexico and New York, conclude the negotiations on all substantive
matters of the Caracas agenda and the compact negotiations conducted in
New York. Their
implementation will bring the armed conflict in El Salvador to a final
important Act reflects agreement on all technical-military aspects
of the cease-fire, represents the end of the FMLN military
structure and the reinsertion of its members into the social and
political life of the country.
The New York
undertakings led to the signature of the final agreement of January 16,
1992, embodying the key, definitive aspects of the cease-fire.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights trusts that
the proposed objectives will be attained in a way conducive to the
advancement and consolidation of the observance and protection of human
rights in the wake of years of conflict and suffering endured by the
It must also be
reported that during the period covered by this Report events occurred
which, while not attributable directly to agents of the Salvadoran
Government, are creating a state of alarm among the population. Thus, a
group, self-styled the Salvadoran Anti-Communist Front (Frente
Anticomunista Salvadoreño--FAS) has publicly threatened
UNOSAL and the International Committee of the Red Cross, labelling them
"internationalists that conspire with communism to seize possession
of the national territory." The
Commission has also learned that this group has threatened journalists,
leaders of entities such as the Committee for Displaced Persons of El
Salvador (Comité Pro-Desplazados de El Salvador), describing them
as facades for the FMLN. As
the Commission has repeatedly pointed out, the Government of El Salvador
has an obligation to ensure full and free exercise of the rights and
guarantees recognized in the American Convention on Human Rights and
therefore a duty to investigate acts of intimidation of the kind
described in order to identify the culprits and bring them to justice.
further points out that during the period covered by this Annual Report
a Salvadoran court convicted Col. Guillermo Alfredo Benavides and Lt.
Yusshy René Mendoza Vallecillos of the assassination of the Rector of
the Central American University, Father Ignacio Ellacuría, and the
Jesuit priests Ignacio Martín Baró, Segundo Montes, Amando López,
Juan Ramón Moreno, and Joaquín López y López, together with two
domestic-service employees of the CAU, Elba Ramos and her daughter
Celina on November 16, 1989. Lt.
Ricardo Espinoza, Second Lt. Gonzalo Guevara, Subofficers Antonio Avalos
and Tomás Zarpate, Corporal Angel Pérez Vásquez and Privates Oscar
Amaya and Jorge Alberto Sierra were acquitted.
The verdict was given on September 29, 1991.
Although it is
recognized that the trial and conviction of two officers in El Salvador,
one of them of high rank, for human rights violations is a novel
development, it has also been pointed out in a considerable number of
sectors, that both the trial and the results were manifestly
unsatisfactory. Thus, the
Society of Jesus, to which six of the victims belonged, issued a
comunique stating its respect for the jury's verdict, construed as
"a condemnation of those who gave the order to kill the Jesuits
from the UCA and leave no witnesses".
The comunique added that "by condemning Col. Guillermo
Alfredo Benavides and Lt. Yusshy Mendoza, his aide, by the jury intended
to show was that accountability for the murders had to be sought in the
upper echelons of the Armed Forces. Thus, there still remains the task
of conducting an investigation to find out who the instigators were that
planned the UCA massacre."
On November 18,
1991, United States Congressman Joe Moakley, who led a Congressional
working party that monitored the investigations in this case, issued a
statement indicating that information obtained from "experienced,
respected and serious persons who were in a position to know the
information they provided ..." but who refused to testify
officially and publicly about that information for fear of reprisals
"on the part of elements of the extreme right of the armed
forces" stated that:
...the decision to assassinate the Jesuits was taken during a meeting of a small number of officers ... among whom were Col. Benavides, commander of the Military School, General Juan Rafael Bustillo, then Chief of the Salvadoran Air Force (today assigned to the Embassy of El Salvador in Israel), General Emilio Ponce, then Chief of Staff and currently Minister of Defense, General Orlando Zepeda, Deputy Minister of Defense, and Col. Elena Fuentes, Commander of the First Brigade.
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has a case in process on
the assassination of the Jesuit priests and their colleagues and will
take a decision on it in due course.
effective respect for the right to life, the Commission has been
informed that, during the period covered by this Annual Report, 52
persons lost their lives due to summary executions; it has also been
informed that during that period 32 forced disappearances occurred and
40 persons met their deaths in confrontations.
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has been informed that
during the morning hours of February 21, 1991, Heriberto Aristides
Robles and his pregnant wife Vilma del Rosario Palacios de Robles were
assassinated on an avenue under constant surveillance by the Security
Forces and in front of numerous witnesses.
Mr. Robles was a UDM party candidate for the Municipal Council of
Ciudad Delgado. The
Government of El Salvador has not provided the Commission with the
necessary information for proper clarification of this serious incident.
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has also received
information concerning military actions that have affected the civilian
population. According to
the information furnished, on April 10 the Air Force carried out bombing
raids on the place known as Plano Samuria, in the vicinity of Jucuapa
and Concepción Batres, both in the Department of Usulután.
As a result of this act, two minors died and five other persons
were injured and a number of dwellings were destroyed. In addition, health service workers in the northern part of
the department of Chalatenango have reported 38 civilians wounded as a
result of crossfire and military operations during the first few months
of the year. The Commission
has also been informed of injuries suffered on August 30 by two
journalists in Hacienda Vieja, a village near the Sumpul River, two
kilometers from San José, Las Flores, Chalatenango.
Tom Long, a reporter for CBS Radio and the Miami Herald, and
Daniel Alder, of United Press International, were wounded by a mortar
shell while talking with villagers near the site.
A third journalist who was traveling with them, Beth Stickney,
managed to evacuate them but their vehicle was stopped by soldiers
manning the military surveillance post at Colima, Chalatenango.
According to the information provided, the soldiers refused to
allow them to pass, even after the journalists showed their identity
documents. After a period of waiting they were allowed to proceed.
right to security of person, reports made to the Commission indicate
that physical and psychological torture continue to be used by the armed
forces and security forces in El Salvador.
Responsibility is attributed to the National Police, the National
Guard, the Treasury Police and the First Infantry Brigade.
According to the information provided, the majority of the
victims suffered physical torture, usually accompanied by psychological
situation with respect to the right to personal liberty and to due
process, the Commission reports that in the period covered by this
Annual Report judgment was given in the case of José Abraham Dimas
Aguilar, Juan Miguel García and William Rivas Bolaños, who were
accused of the events that occurred in the "Zona Rosa" and had
remained imprisoned for more than five years while awaiting trial.
The Commission will go into the situation in detail when it
issues its opinion, in due course, on the case it has under examination.
received by the Commission indicates that the situation with respect to
political prisoners in El Salvador has not improved at all.
This points to the persistence of unsatisfactory prison
conditions and of such situations as the mixing of political and
ordinary prisoners and the imposition of rigid requirements for the
registration of visits. The Commission must also report that on June 17,
1991, an FMLN Front command attacked the Mariona Penal Center and the
military positions of the First Infantry Brigade.
The attack resulted in the death of ten persons and the escape of
135 prisoners, 35 of whom were being held for political reasons.
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights referred in its previous
Annual Report to the unsatisfactory conditions in which communities of
repatriates find themselves in various parts of El Salvador.
The Commission has learned that these communities face acute
humanitarian needs the satisfaction of which is being impeded by the
numerous requirements imposed by the military authorities of the regions
where they live, in terms both of the goods and services they have to
use and the limitations imposed on the movement of persons, matters
which are being handled in an extremely arbitrary manner.
The Commission has also been told that these resettlers suffer
frequent acts of harassment in the form of arbitrary detention and of
recruitment. It is reported
that the repatriate communities have frequently had to endure the
effects of battles that develop in the areas where they live and that
have involved them directly.
It is the
Commission's hope that with the agreements reached at the negotiating
table, this situation will be satisfactorily resolved, for the sake of
those Salvadoran people who return to their country after the end of the
It is also
pointed out that some of the actions of the FMLN Front have created
situations that have violated the rights of the civilian population.
Thus, in March two minors, aged 6 and 7 years, were killed by a
mortar shell fired by FMLN members in an unsuccessful attack on the
Third Infantry Brigade in the town of San Miguel.
In addition, twelve private dwellings were damaged in a rebel
attack on the military installations of the Armed Forces Transmissions
Instruction Center (Centro de Instrucción de Transmisiones de la Fuerza
Commission has also learned of the death of Ramón Orellana, aged 19,
who found himself in the immediate neighborhood of Tenancingo, Cucatlán. The FMLN is said to have sent a note to the family admitting
responsibility for the act and stating that it was a mistake.
On April 2, 1991, FMLN units invaded the frontier post on the
Honduran border known as El Poy, in the department of Chalatenango.
In the fighting, which lasted more than eight hours, three
members of the National Advance Police (Policía Nacional y de Avance)
were killed and another four wounded.
The customs facilities were set on fire and the rebels carried
off six prisoners who were later handed over to the CICR.
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights also has to report that
the Government of El Salvador has ceased to furnish the cooperation
required to be able to perform the functions laid down in the American
Convention on Human Rights, to which El Salvador is a party.
Despite the requests presented to it, the Salvadoran Government
has not provided any information concerning its implementation of the
recommendations set forth in various resolutions on massacres and forced
disappearances to which the Commission had drawn attention and
responsibility for which rests with the Government of El Salvador.
The Commission is including in this Annual Report thirteen
reports on individual cases of particularly serious acts concerning
which the Commission hopes to receive a constructive reply from the
Government. Once again, the
Commission would like to say that it is confident that the new
conditions in El Salvador will bring about an attitude of cooperation
with the organs charged with protecting and defending human rights, in
accordance with the international commitments that El Salvador has
investigation conducted in connection with the El Zapote case deserves
special mention. As the
Commission stated in its previous Annual Report, on January 23, 1991, 15
persons were assassinated in the El Zapote housing block on the
outskirts of San Salvador. Upon
receipt of the denouncement by the Commission, the Chairman of the IACHR
requested the Ambassador, Permanent Representative to the Organization,
to negotiate authorization to conduct an investigation in situ
into this grave act, pursuant to Article 48 d of the American
authorization having been granted, an official of the Executive
Secretariat traveled to El Salvador, where he proceeded to conduct a
preliminary investigation. That investigation brought to light important matters that
required greater clarification. The
Government was accordingly requested to authorize new follow-up
visits in order to observe developments with respect to these matters.
The Government of El Salvador refused to grant this
authorization, indicating that the case had already been resolved, even
though the investigation had brought to light elements that supported an
opinion on the facts different from the official version and no judicial
finding existed with respect to it.
Commission wishes to repeat its satisfaction over the successful
conclusion of the peace negotiations and hopes that implementation of
the measures will be truly conducive to stronger institutions,
particularly the judicial power, and to real progress in defending and
safeguarding the fundamental rights of the Salvadoran people.