REPORT Nº 13/96
allege violation by the Salvadoran Government of rights guaranteed by the
American Convention on Human Rights against several persons connected with
submit the following particulars to support their claims:
1. In 1980 Salvadoran
Government agents murdered Ana Delmi González, daughter of Sofía Escamilla,
a member of COMADRES. The body
showing evidence of torture and rape was found in a clandestine burial ground
in Puerto Diablo, which is usually used by the Salvadoran Security Forces to
get rid of cadavers.
2. In July 1980, a
bomb damaged windows and doors of the institution's headquarters.
3. On June
12, 1985, government security forces entered the COMADRES headquarters and
removed selected information on human rights violation cases, including
photographs and names of persons connected with those cases.
4. On July
9, 1985, María Ester Grande was arrested in Colonia Morán - Santo Tomás, by
National Police officers in civilian clothes, riding in a Cherokee jeep with
license plate 4031. She was forced
to watch her son, Héctor Javier Grande Arbel, a soldier in the Salvadoran army
(San Carlos barracks), kicked and mistreated.
5. In 1986 the Police in
Hacienda arrested and tortured Gloria Alicia Galán.
6. On May 6,
1986, police in civilian clothes kidnapped María Teresa Tula, who was seven
months pregnant, and took her to an unknown place where she was tortured for
three days, being cut with a sharp pointed weapon, beaten and raped by three men
who questioned her on her activities in COMADRES.
On May 8 of this year, she was released in the Cucatlán Park.
7. On May
28, 1986, María Teresa Tula was arrested by Treasury Police when she was
pointed out by Luz Janet Alfaro as a member of the guerrilla group National
Resistance. During her detention, she was beaten and deprived of sleep,
and on condition that she "cooperate," she was offered money and
protection by the Treasury Police, in whose facilities she was held for 12 days
before being transferred to a prison.
8. On May
28, 1987, a bomb exploded in the interior of the COMADRES headquarters, wounding
Angela López, a member of the organization, and her daughter Margarita López,
and severely damaging the furnishings.
9. At 1
p.m., on September 3, 1987, Gloria Alicia Galán and Lucia Vázquez, the latter
also a member of COMADRES, were kidnapped by heavily armed men in civilian
clothes. Gloria Alicia was held for five days by the Treasury Police,
during which time she was tortured and suffered a fractured skull.
Lucía Vázquez was tortured psychologically, with threats to kill her
children if she did not sign an extrajudicial confession.
December 7, 1988, Marta Salmeron, a member of COMADRES, was kidnapped by members
of the First Infantry Brigade.
11. At 7
a.m. on April 19, 1989, Gloria Alicia Galán, a member of COMADRES, was
kidnapped by heavily armed members of the security forces in civilian clothes.
At 9:30 a.m. on that same day, her sister Martha Ofelia Galán, who is
not a member of COMADRES, was also arrested by the National Guard.
October 31, 1989, most of the COMADRES offices were destroyed along with the
organization's files in another attack with explosives.
Three COMADRES members were wounded.
Brenda Hubbard, a U.S. citizen wounded in the attack, accused the
Salvadoran military forces of being responsible for it.
November 15, 1989, Salvadoran security forces raided the offices of COMADRES.
Nine members of COMADRES were arrested and forced to pose for a
photograph with the FMLN guerrilla group flag.
Each woman was blindfolded and handcuffed before being taken to the
Treasury Police headquarters. Brenda
Hubbard and Eugene Terrill, U.S. citizens, along with the Salvadoran women
arrested, were beaten. The U.S.
citizens were released after 53 hours, while the Salvadoran women were illegally
held for four months.
3. At a Commission
hearing on January 31, 1992, América Sosa and María Teresa Tula, members of
COMADRES and victims in this case, testified.
The Commission obtained information directly on their version of the
alleged facts, which complemented the written information previously submitted.
Petitioners repeated their charges, indicating:
This NGO (COMADRES) is the target of attacks and harassment by the
Government because of its activities. Likewise,
its members are the target of constant persecution by the armed forces.
4. Their claims are
based on various events from 1980 to 1989.
In particular, petitioners allege violation of the right to life (Article
4), the right to humane treatment (Article 5), the right to personal liberty
(Article 7), the right to privacy (Article 11), the right to freedom of thought
and expression (Article 13), the right to property (Article 21), and the right
to judicial protection (Article 25).
PROCEEDINGS AT THE COMMISSION
5. On June 1, 1991, the
petition was submitted to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. On September 19, 1991, the pertinent portions of the petition
were transmitted to the Salvadoran Government, asking it to furnish information
in 90 days.
6. On January 31, 1992,
América Sosa and María Teresa Tula, as members of COMADRES and victims of the
acts reported, testified at a Commission hearing.
On December 1, 1992, petitioners urged the Commission to decide on the
case. On December 12, 1992, the
Commission reiterated its request for information from the Salvadoran Government
within 30 days, warning that article 42 of the Commission's Regulations might be
applied. No reply was received from
the Salvadoran Government.
7. On May 13, 1994,
petitioners again asked that a decision be made on the case in view of the
Government's failure to reply.
8. On February 16, 1995,
the Commission placed itself at the disposal of the parties concerned with a
view of reaching a friendly settlement of the matter, in accordance with
paragraph 1.f of Article 48 of the American Convention.
This procedure was exhausted without reaching an agreement.
RAISED BY PARTIES ABOUT ADMISSIBILITY
OF DOMESTIC REMEDIES
allege that exhaustion of domestic remedies was not necessary because, in the
period during which reports on the events were submitted, justice administration
officials did not provide the guarantees to comply with the requirements set
forth in the American Convention, and, accordingly, the exceptions established
in Article 46(2)(a) and (b) of the American Convention are applicable to this
10. The Commission notes that the
file does not contain information disproving petitioners' claim, and that, on
the contrary, there is sufficient reason to concur with what they contend.
The Commission has repeatedly expressed its views on the serious problems
in El Salvador's administration of justice during the period of those events.
11. Also the Commission gathered
information from the Report of the Truth Commission for El Salvador, which
states, that "the Salvadoran Government has not complied with its duty to
guarantee the human rights that the members ...[of COMADRES]... enjoy as
individuals and as members" of that organization.
Accordingly the Commission concludes that Article 46(2)(a) and (b)
applies, so exhaustion of domestic remedies is not required.
12. The Commission finds that the
petition complies with the other admissibility requirements in Articles 46 and
47 of the American convention.
CONSIDERATIONS ON THE MERITS OF THE CASE
13. The Commission considers it to
be of vital importance, first of all, to cite the case law of the Inter-American
Court of Human Rights on the state's responsibility, which remains in force,
regardless of any political changes that might occur within societies, and is
fully applicable to the situation in El Salvador:
According to the principle of the continuity of the State in
international law, responsibility exists both independently of changes of
government over a period of time and continuously from the time of the act that
creates responsibility to the time when the act is declared illegal.
The foregoing is also valid in the area of human rights although, from an
ethical or political point of view, the attitude of the new government may be
much more respectful of those rights than that of the government in power when
the violations occurred.
14. It is important to remember also
that Article 1.1 of the American Convention on Human Rights states that
"The States Parties to this Convention undertake to respect the rights and
freedoms recognized herein and to ensure to all persons subject to their
jurisdiction the free and full exercise of those rights and freedoms, without
any discrimination for reasons of race, color, sex, language, religion,
political or other opinion, national or social origin, economic status, birth,
or any other social condition."
15. In that regard, the Commission
has taken into account that the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, in
referring to the duties of states that, like El Salvador, have ratified the
American Convention on Human Rights, states that:
Article 1(1) is essential in determining whether a violation of the human
rights recognized by the Convention can be imputed to a State Party. In effect, that article charges the States Parties with the
fundamental duty to respect and guarantee the rights recognized in the
Convention. Any impairment of those
rights which can be attributed under the rules of international law to the
action or omission of any public authority constitutes an act imputable to the
State, which assumes responsibility in the terms provided by the Convention. 
16. For the Commission, in addition
to the obligation to guarantee the essential rights established in the American
Convention on Human Rights, the State has, among the other obligations under
Article 1.1 of the Convention, the particular obligation to establish the truth
in those cases in which a person alleges that his basic rights have been
violated. This obligation has been
underscored repeatedly by the Commission
and in this case it is especially important.
17. In view of this situation, the
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which has the duty to bring to a
conclusion the proceedings on situations that are brought to it for
consideration, particularly when they involve violation of the basic rights of
persons, warned the Salvadoran Government about the possible application of the
presumption of truth set forth in article 42 of its Regulations, which reads:
The facts reported in the petition whose pertinent parts have been
transmitted to the government of the State in reference shall be presumed to be
true if, during the maximum period set by the Commission under the provisions of
Article 34, paragraph 5, the government has not provided the pertinent
information, as long as other evidence does not lead to a different conclusion.
18. In the analysis of the petition
submitted, the Commission considers of special importance the case law of the
Inter-American Court of Human Rights, that states that "silence of the
accused or elusive or ambiguous answers on its part may be interpreted as an
acknowledgment of the truth of the allegations, so long as the contrary is not
indicated by the record or is not compelled as a matter of law,"
which is reaffirmed by Article 42 of the Commission's Regulations.
19. The Commission considers that
the petitioner should furnish sufficient information for it to make the analysis
called for in Articles 46 and 47 of the American Convention and in Article 32 of
its Regulations, that is, to determine whether the
petitioner has satisfied the requirements for admission and admissability.
Similarly, the Commission must evaluate the petitioner's version of the
facts in accordance with the provisions of the American Convention and the
Regulations of the Commission.
20. The Inter-American Court has
implicitly established the criteria that should be employed to evaluate the
petitioner's version in order to determine whether there is other evidence that
might lead to a different conclusion. Especially
important for that action by the Commission are the criteria of consistency
A third requirement that is absolutely necessary before analyzing
consistency and credibility is specificity, which is deduced as a
corollary of those two factors.
21. In determining whether the facts
are well founded, the State's failure to appear cannot force the petitioners to
meet a standard of evidence equivalent or similar to the one they initially
would have had to meet if the Government had appeared.
If the State of El Salvador had appeared or had answered the complaint,
the petitioners would have had other opportunities to furnish further proof
and/or controvert the government's reply,
and the Commission would have had the opportunity to witness the litigious
debate and enhance its evaluation of the facts. Accordingly, the Commission cannot, in reaching a decision on
the matter, require the same or a similar amount of evidence as it would have
required from the petitioners if the Government had appeared, furnishing
evidence and contesting the evidence of the petitioner.
The Commission must necessarily confine itself to the evidence furnished
by the petitioner, and to other evidence available to it in order to resolve the
22. The Commission therefore
considers that the facts are not presumed to be true merely because the State
did not appear, but rather that the truth of them derives from an analysis of
the alleged facts in light of the criteria established here.
The petitioners must therefore establish the requirements of
admissibility and the minimum elements of consistency, specificity and
credibility in their version of the facts for them to be presumed to be true.
23. The specific facts alleged by
the petitioners are of particular importance because they are, as indicated, the
main referent for determining, in this case, whether there is other evidence.
For that purpose, the criteria of consistency, specificity and
credibility contemplated by the Commission, and supported and developed by other
rules of international law, are applied to the analysis of the facts as follows:
24. Based on the criteria mentioned,
the Commission concludes:
24.1. On the death of Ana
Delmi González in 1980 (event #1), there is not sufficient specificity in the
petitioners' version. No mention is
made of the day and month on which the events occurred.
To be able to presume the truth of the facts and therefore the state's
international responsibility, it is essential to have a detailed version that
would enable the Commission to make an analysis of "other elements,"
which in this case are a matter of chronology.
24.2. As to the bomb of July
1980 (event #2), there are conflicting versions in the documents that the
petitioner furnished to the Commission. While
the version of América Sosa refers to a bomb in July 1980, another version,
that of María Teresa Tula, refers to two attacks in 1980: on March 13 and in
September. Based on this
disagreement on dates, it is impossible for the Commission to presume as true
facts those regarding which there are substantial inconsistencies, such as the
dates on which the events occurred.
24.3. As to the entry into
and the pillaging of the COMMADRES offices on June 12, 1985 (event #3), the
Commission presumes those facts to be true and finds that there was a violation
of the right to property (Article 21) and the right to be free from arbitrary
and abusive interference (Article 11). The
version of the facts is sufficiently detailed for the consistency and
credibility of the version to be analyzed.
There is no evidence available to the Commission that would lead to a
24.4. As to the detention of
María Ester Grande and the torture to which she and her son were subjected
(event #4), the Commission presumes the claims to be true and finds that there
was a violation of the right of the two victims mentioned to have their
physical, mental and moral integrity respected (Article 5).
There is sufficiently detailed and consistent documentary proof of this,
and it is credible. There is no
evidence that would lead to a different conclusion.
24.5. As to the alleged
detention and torture of Gloria Alicia Galán (event #5), the Commission cannot
presume the facts to be true, because it finds that the version submitted lacks
sufficient specificity to make possible the above-mentioned analysis.
Among other things, the day and month on which the alleged events
occurred are not given.
24.6. As to the kidnapping
and torture on May 6, 1986 reported in the petition
(event #6), the Commission presumes the facts to be true and finds that
the right to human treatment (Article 5) and the right to personal liberty
(Article 7) were violated. The main
document and the notices published by COMADRES and by the nongovernmental Human
Rights Commission of El Salvador (CDHES) establish the name of María Teresa
Tula as a victim of the alleged acts. All
of this is confirmed in a third detailed document entitled
"affidavit," signed by the victim, which gives a detailed account of
24.7. As to the reported
events of May 28, 1986 (event #7), the Commission presumes that the facts
presented are true and finds that the right to humane treatment (Article 5) was
violated. The petitioners's version
is reinforced by the version published by the Los Angeles Times on September 24,
1986, which quotes the then President of El Salvador, José Napoleón Duarte, as
saying that he would investigate the events.
This constitutes a public and well-known fact that corroborates the
credibility of those facts. The
Commission has received no report of any investigation being made.
24.8. Regarding the attack
with explosives on May 28, 1987, the Commission presumes the facts related are
true, and finds that the right to property (Article 21) and the right to humane
treatment (Article 5) were violated. The
Commission finds that, while it is true that the petitioners do not indicate
Government agents as responsible for commission of the acts, the case file does
not show that an investigation has been conducted on this matter by the
24.9. On the events
petitioners said happened on September 3, 1987 (event #9), the Commission finds
that the version submitted on the case by Gloria Alicia Galán lacks the minimum
elements of specificity to enable the Commission to evaluate the consistency and
credibility of the version. It is
mentioned that the skull of one of the alleged victims was fractured while he
was held captive, but petitioner does not include minimal further information on
whether he was released or the kind of torture to which he was subjected, or
basic documents such as medical certificates, for example, which normally would
exist in such cases.
24.10. Regarding the events
that occurred on December 7, 1988 (event #10), the Commission finds that the
information contributed is not detailed, which prevents analyzing the
consistency and credibility of the version, and to establish the existence and
type of alleged human rights violation. The
Commission refrains from presuming these facts are true.
24.11. On the events of
April 19, 1989 (event #11), the Commission finds that the information is not
sufficiently detailed to make an analysis on the consistency and credibility of
the version, or to determine the existence and type of human rights violations. The Commission cannot presume these facts to be true.
24.12. As to the attack with
explosives against the COMADRES headquarters on October 31, 1989, the Commission
presumes the alleged facts (event #12) to be true and finds that the rights to
humane treatment (Article 5) and to private property (Article 21) were violated.
The facts alleged are based on a detailed report of América Sosa.
These facts are confirmed with newspaper clippings on the attack. In addition, the Commission agrees with the conclusions of
the Truth Commission for El Salvador, which determined in its report
that there was "ample proof that the Salvadoran Government has not
fulfilled its duty to guarantee the human rights" of COMADRES members, and
that there is "substantial proof that the competent officials of El
Salvador did not conduct a complete and impartial investigation" of the
attack against the COMADRES headquarters.
24.13. Regarding the events
that took place on November 15, 1989 (event #13), the Commission presume them to
be true and finds that the right to be treated with respect for the inherent
dignity of the human person (Article 5.2) and the right not to be subjected to
cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment (Article 5.2) were violated. The version furnished by petitioners is sufficiently detailed
to establish that it is consistent and coherent.
25. The Commission also underscores
the conclusion of the Truth Commission for El Salvador that there is
"sufficient proof" on "systematic and repeated attacks against
the life, physical integrity and liberty" of COMADRES members.
These conclusions have been taken into consideration by the Commission in
making the above analysis. The
conclusions serve as a reference to evaluate the credibility of the petitioners'
version, and to establish that the right of freedom of association (Article 16)
was indeed violated by the Salvadoran Government.
26. It can therefore be concluded,
from the information in events #3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 12 and 13, that there is no
evidence to lead the Commission to a different conclusion.
The following Court ruling is recalled:
Thus, in principle, any violation of rights recognized by the Convention
carried out by an act of public authority or by persons who use their position
of authority is imputable to the state. However,
this does not define all the circumstances in which a state is obligated to
prevent, investigate and punish human rights violations, nor all the cases in
which the state might be found responsible for an infringement of those rights.
An illegal act which violates human rights and which is initially not
directly imputable to a state (for example, because it is the act of a private
person or because the person responsible has not been identified) can lead to
international responsibility of the state, not because of the act itself, but
because of the lack of due diligence to prevent the violation or to respond to
it as required by the Convention.
27. On these basis, the Commission
considers that the right to judicial protection (Article 25) has been violated
by the Salvadoran State in the present case.
28. Since the Government has not
furnished the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights with information to
disprove the facts reported, and taking into consideration the petition
submitted, as well as the lack of new evidence, the Commission has decided to
find the facts true, and accordingly rules that the Salvadoran State is
responsible for the above-mentioned violations.
the Commission makes the pertinent recommendations, trusting that they will be
properly implemented by the Government of El Salvador, based on Article 50.3 of
the Convention and Article 47 of the Commission's Regulations.
1. That a speedy,
impartial and exhaustive investigation be made on the events reported, so as to
fully clarify the circumstances in which they occurred, that the guilty parties
be identified, and that they be brought to justice so that they receive the
punishment that such grievous conduct demands.
2. That the necessary
monetary compensation be made for violation of the above-mentioned rights and
that fair compensatory damages be paid to the persons affected and to their
families, as the case may be.
3. That the necessary
steps be taken to avoid the commission of similar acts in the future, taking
into consideration particularly the recommendations in the Report of the
Truth Commission for El Salvador regarding the administration of justice and
those of the Commission in its Report on the Situation of Human Rights in El
the Government of El Salvador to adopt, within 90 days, the necessary measures
in accordance with paragraphs 1, 2 and 3.
VIII. TRANSMISSION TO THE
GOVERNMENT AND DECISION TO PUBLISH
30. The above report was
duly transmitted to the Government of El Salvador on April 21, 1995, and a
period of 90 days was given for compliance with the recommendations.
That period having elapsed without any reply being received from the
Government, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, at its 91st regular
session, considers that the Government of El Salvador has not taken appropriate
measures in keeping with the preceding recommendations, and decides to adopt
this report and to publish it in its Annual Report as provided in Article 51 of
the American Convention on Human Rights.
"Monseñor Oscar Arnulfo Romero" Mothers Committee (COMADRES) is a
nongovernmental organization established in 1977 to support mothers and
families of persons who disappeared or were killed for political reasons.
Rodríguez case, Judgment of July 29, 1988 of the Inter-American Court
of Human Rights, par. 143. The
determination of consistency is the logical/rational comparison of the
information furnished by the petitioner, to establish that there is no
contradiction between the facts and/or the evidence submitted.
Rodríguez case, Judgment of July 29, 1988 of the Inter-American Court
of Human Rights, par. 146. The
credibility of the facts is determined by assessing the version submitted,
including its consistency and specificity, in evaluating the evidence
furnished, taking into account public and well-known facts and any other
information the Commission considers pertinent.
 It is
important to note that the Commission has stated on several occasions that
there was a serious human rights situation in El Salvador from 1980 to 1989
(Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Report on the Situation of
Human Rights in El Salvador, OEA/Ser.L/V/II.85, Doc. 28 rev., February
11, 1994, ps. 1 - 6). Also, the
1993 Report of the Truth
Commission for El Salvador contains information pertinent to this case,
although only in relation to one of the events (see supra event # 12.
bomb in COMADRES headquarters on October 31, 1989).