REPORT OF THE INTER-AMERICAN COMMISSION
For more than ten years, the IACHR has maintained constant vigilance over the situation of human rights in El Salvador, keeping a very close eye on the most important events affecting its observance of those rights. Year after year, it has submitted reports to the OAS General Assembly on the changes the country has undergone in that respect.
All of its previous reports have consistently noted that El Salvador’s main problem has been and continues to be the fratricidal civil war besieging the country, which has left more than 60,000 dead in its tragic wake. The responsibility is of course apportioned among the protagonists of armed conflict, the Army, and the irregular forces grouped under the umbrella of the Frente Farabundo Marti para la Liberación Nacional (FMLN). But forces of the extreme right also bear their share of guilt for the violence inflicted on the country by the horrifying murders perpetrate by the so-called death squadrons.
At year-end 1987, the Joint Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces, General Adolfo Blandon, presented the saddening balance for the year, when 75% of the armed forces–estimated as more than 50,000 troops–had carried out a total of 132 operations. The government forces had suffered 3,285 casualties, with 470 killed and 2,815 wounded, 90% of whom had returned to active service. The rebel casualty list totaled 2,586: 1,004 dead, 670 wounded, 847 captured and 65 deserters.
Despite this grievous situation, in its last two reports to the General Assembly, covering the events from 1985 through 1987, the IACHR was gratified to note certain important advances in the field of human rights. They included a considerable decline in the number of forced disappearances and the depredations of the death squads; fewer accusations of abuse and torture; authorization for humanitarian agencies to supervise the conduct of the security corps during the period of incommunicado detention; and lifting of the state of emergency, with the resultant suspension of Decree No. 50, which had been the target of serious admonitions from the Commission.
The IACHR gives the Government of El Salvador a great deal of credit for preserving–despite the civil war–constitutional guarantees that safeguard and protect the human rights of Salvadorans and all those who happen to be in the country. It would be very sorry to see the state of emergency invoked again for reasons of force majeure, as proposed by a draft decree. The consequent suspension of constitutional guarantees would trigger automatic entry into effect of Decree Law 618, whose similarity with the former Decree Law 50 and incompatibility with provisions of the American Convention–as noted earlier by the IACHR–threaten the rules and principles of human rights which the Government of El Salvador has promised to respect.
The previous IACHR reports to the General Assembly also reported the Government’s efforts to end the war by entering into dialogue with the subversive forces. In that context, which now constitutes one of the points in the Esquipulas II Accords, the Commission has noted various occasions during the period covered by this report when the Government of El Salvador flatly refused to parley with the rebels and others when it has made every effort t achieve such dialogue.
Delegations from the government and the insurgents met in the city of San Salvador on October 5 and jointly decided to renew the peace talks. Those plans ended abruptly when Herbert Anaya Sanabria, head of El Salvador’s nongovernmental Commission on Human Rights, was murdered on October 26, 1987. Three days later the Salvadoran guerrillas renewed their attacks on the army in what their leaders considered a justifiable attempt to avenge that assassination.
Early in February 1988, the FMLN-FDR asked (through the Catholic Church as mediator between the Government and the guerrillas) for a resumption of the dialogue that had been interrupted in October. They suggested that talks take place in Mexico City between two committees created for that purpose, one on the cease-fire and the other to address the rest of the points covered in Esquipulas II, as agreed before the negotiations were interrupted. For his part, Minister of Communications and Culture Roberto Viera, the Government representative, said that the Government would not agree to the proposal and that a new round of talks with the FMLN-FDR was unlikely before the March 20 elections for deputies and borough councils. He remarked that the Revolutionary Democratic Front (FDR), the FMLN’s political ally, could have registered and taken part in the elections to seat 60 deputies in the legislature and 262 borough councilmen throughout the country.
In Mid-May, after the elections, authorized spokesmen for the FMLN proposed a new dialogue with what had come to be known as the three forces, i.e., the Government, the Legislature, and the Army of El Salvador. The FMLN said that it would consider the possibility of holding that meeting outside the El Salvador and Monsignor Arturo Rivera y Damas, Archbishop of San Salvador, serving as mediator.
Despite the progress made in human rights affairs in the past two years, the IACHR is sorry to have to include in the present report certain lapses noted in the country, particularly in regard to the right to life and the infringement of other rights and guarantees–especially personal freedom. This obviously represents a regression in the improvement that had previously been perceived in this respect in El Salvador.
The right to life: The Commission has observed with regret the rising number of victims of violence in El Salvador during the period covered by this report. The assassination of the nongovernmental Human Rights Commission Coordinator, Herbert Anaya Sanabria, as he left his home on October 26, 1987, aroused outrage and general repulsion, while serving as a reminder of past attacks on other heads of human rights organizations. Those responsible for the death of Herbert Anaya have not yet been found, and the investigation is beset with confusion and contradictions. In January of this year, for example, the Government reported that it had captured one of the assassins: 19-year-old Jorge Alberto Miranda Arévalo, who had even described his part in the murder. But he later recanted and retracted his statement.
The Commission also deplores the assassination of Military Judge of First Instance Jorge Alberto Serrano in from of his house on May 11. Magistrate Serrano had worked closely with the IACHR on various occasions, and was in charge of a number of highly sensitive investigations. One of them was the case of the Zona Rosa, a chic area of San Salvador where a FMLN terrorist group had murdered thirteen persons, including four U.S. marines. Another involved a kidnapping attributed to a death squad whose members were reportedly linked with a known political rightist group. And there were many other important cases that focused particularly on crimes against public order and national security.
During the period under review, fatality statistics in El Salvador for the first six months of 1988, excluding the victims of armed conflict, were reported by highly reliable sources as: political murders committed by death squads of the far right–32; deaths attributed to the military and security forces–48; and deaths attributed to the guerrilla–19. Each of these groups had been responsible for 24, 60, and 29 deaths, respectively, in 1987, thus representing an increase in executions performed by the death squads.
The right-to-life situation was so shocking that El Salvador’s own Governmental Commission on Human Rights was impelled to issue a dramatic pronouncement in April of this year. It viewed “with sorrow and dismay the resurgence of past horrors, threatening to plunge us into a blood bath with uncontrollable and disastrous consequences. Names such as Puerto del Diablo, Ilopango, Soyapango, San Luis Talpa, and Tepemechin are now imbuing the most sensitive fibers of the nation’s conscience with the threat and terror of nocturnal deaths whose shadow once again stalks through the country with impunity. The fundamental right of every human being not to be unjustly deprived of life is brutally trampled in El Salvador by creatures possessed of the most irrational intolerance or wild fanatics who think they are entitled to crush and infringe the Republic’s most sacred principles and juridical precepts.
Faced with such a grave situation, [the aforementioned Commission] submits an impassioned plea to the government authorities responsible for criminal investigation, particularly the agencies that support the administration of justice, to redouble their efforts to seek out and punish the perpetrators of such horrible crimes; to violence-dominated groups, to cease their quashing of human rights; to Salvadoran society, not to let the daily spectacle of corpses strewn over the hills and highways of our country numb their ability to feel the pain of their brothers or deaden their indignation over such criminal savagery. For every time a Salvadoran dies unjustly, something very important and precious dies in each of us.”
The right to personal freedom: The Commission is sorry to report the repeated accusations it has received of unlawful and violent detention by the security forces, which in some cases keep people in captivity longer than the law allows before turning them over to the competent courts. According to the accusers, the detainees are also subjected to abuse during the period: food or permission to use the sanitary facilities is withheld for a time and all sorts of psychological pressure and physical abuse are used to force them to admit their guilt and sign self-incriminating confessions of the acts ascribed to them.
A serious attack on the right to personal freedom–and one that has greatly concerned the IACHR–is the case of Miguel Angel Rivas Hernandez, a 20-year-old secondary school student from Ilopango, in the Department of San Salvador. He was captured at 7:30 p.m. the evening of November 29, 1986 in Ilopango, near San Salvador, on his way home from work at the Texaco service station in the Ilopango district. According to eyewitnesses, his captors, who were dressed in civilian clothes and heavily armed, took him away in a pick-up truck in a typical kidnapping operation.
A few days later, his family was told that Miguel Angel was being held prisoner at the Ilopango Air Base. There were also told that he would be released by Christmas 1986, but that did not happen. The family has exhausted every existing remedy in El Salvador to secure acknowledgement of his detention and an explanation of the reasons for it and to have him turned over to a judge or released–all to no avail. The armed forces and security agents deny having arrested Miguel Angel Rivas. But different reliable sources have confirmed his arrest and transfer to the custody of the National Guard, although that security force continues to deny that it is holding him.
In addition to the usual official communications in the present case, the Commission has made many personal overtures to Salvadoran authorities in connection with the Rivas Hernandez case. Other direct efforts to that end were also put forth in the hope of securing his release when one of the lawyers from the Commission’s Secretariat visited El Salvador in November 1987.
Faced with the total lack of a pronouncement or reply from the Government of El Salvador, the Commission adopted the resolution that is included in Chapter III of this report.
Following the issue of that resolution, the Commission was apprised by Miguel Angel’s parents that their son had been seen on March 27, 1988, alive and seated inside the National Guard headquarters.
The Commission is greatly concerned over the Rivas Hernandez situation. Thus far, the Government of El Salvador has refused to send an official reply regarding his personal situation. Unofficially, however, it has been admitted that not only is Mr. Rivas Hernandez alive, he is being held under unlawful arrest, with no investigation, no due process, no proper defense, and no access to the judicial guarantees set forth in the Constitution of the Republic of El Salvador.
Political rights: The IACHR has observed with great interest the parliamentary and municipal elections held on March 20, 1988 to reseat 60 deputies and 262 borough councilmen. Seven thousand voting tables were set up to serve the electorate of almost two million persons. The Central Elections Council (CCE) ordered the electoral colleges to open at 7 a.m. and to close at 5 p.m. Participants in the electoral campaign included the major national parties, such as the Christian Democrats (PDC), National Conciliation (PCN) and the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA).
The Salvadoran socialist parties united in the so-called Democratic Convergence (CD) had announced earlier that they would abstain from any part in the elections due to the absence of true democracy, the lack of security, and the climate of violence existing in the country. The Salvadoran guerrilla forces, which had spurned the elections, stepped up their military action several days earlier and called for a transportation strike to mark the occasion. Two masked members of the FMLN appeared on television to caution the population and the transportation services to stay off the streets during the rebel strike. One of the guerrillas, identified as Comandante Esther, denounced the militarization of the voting centers, cities, towns and highways and warned that only press vehicles and ambulances belonging to humanitarian agencies or the church could circulate without risking attack by FMLN forces. During the strike, the guerrillas cut off the power supply in broad sections of the country, thus making it difficult to tally the returns. Despite these obstacles, almost 1.6 million Salvadorans, i.e. more than 70% of the registered voters went to the polls.
The official election results provided by the Central Council were completed on Saturday, March 26, 1988. A total of 205 borough council seats went to ARENA, one of whose members, Armando Calderon Sol, was also elected mayor of San Salvador, thereby defeating the Christian Democrats’ candidate Alejandro Duarte, son of the President of the Republic. ARENA also secured the largest number of seats in the Legislative Assembly–30, as compared with 23 for the PCD and 7 for the National Conciliation Party (PCN). Upon learning the results, the ARENA party said this was a maneuver to deprive it of its parliamentary majority and that it would ask the Council to declare the voting invalid.
The outcome of this situation, in which none of the fractions represented in the single-house congress received the necessary majority for the Assembly to open, was a power vacuum in El Salvador’s Congress. There was also a confrontation between the legislative judicial branches when the Supreme Court of Justice ordered that a deputy disputed by the two majority parties could not be seated. The Christian Democrats contested ARENA’s installation of the Legislative Assembly on May 1 on the grounds that it was unconstitutional, since according to law it could be installed only in the presence of half of the elected deputies, plus be installed only in the presence of half of the elected deputies, plus one (in other words, 31). The directing council of the Assembly was finally installed when ARENA managed to obtain a majority, thanks to a deputy who switched from the ranks of the National Conciliation Party (PCN) to ARENA.
The Commission also wishes to address the implications that promulgation of the amnesty law have had in El Salvador. The law was enacted in conformity with the commitments assumed by the Central American countries under the Esquipulas II accords. On August 7, 1987, the presidents of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua undertook the commitment of the participating states that
In each Central American country, except where the international Committee for Verification and Follow-up determines that it is not necessary, decrees for amnesty shall be issued that will establish all of the provisions to ensure inviolability of life, freedom in all of its forms, material property and safety of the persons to whom those decrees are applicable. Simultaneously with the issuance of the amnesty decrees, the irregular forces of the country concerned shall release all persons in their power.
On October 28, 1967 the Legislative Assembly approved Decree Law No. 805, known as the Law of Amnesty to achieve National Reconciliation. It was approved by the votes of 33 deputies from the government party, the Christian Democrats, after the 27 deputies from opposition parties refused to vote because they did not agree with its provisions. The amnesty law took effect on November 5, 1987, thereby benefiting 1,000 political prisoners and some 4,000 rebels who, according to unofficial sources, turned themselves in to the army and were released. Almost 120 political prisoners were also freed thereafter.
Law 805 grants absolute and lawful amnesty to all persons, national and foreign, who have acted as the immediate or proximate perpetrators or accomplices in the commission of political crimes or common crimes related to political or common crimes perpetrated prior to October 22 of this year in which no fewer than twenty persons were involved. This option is also extended to those who have taken up arms if they come forth and state their wish to renounce violence and receive amnesty within fifteen days of the date law enters into effect.
El Salvador’s amnesty law refuses its benefits to those who: took part in the assassination of Monsignor Romero; committed kidnappings for the purpose of personal gain; engaged in clandestine or fraudulent drug traffic; and, pursuant to the last part of Article 1, paragraph 1, anyone who took part in the assassination of Herbert Anaya, head of the nongovernmental Human Rights Commission.
The amnesty law led to the release, on November 12, 1987, of some 150 political detainees accused of belonging to insurgent organizations who had been incarcerated in the Mariona men’s prison and the Ilopango women’s prison.
Reactions to the amnesty law have been contradictory. Some members of the National Assembly were opposed and criticized the Government, charging that he law would work exclusively in favor of the FMLN. A number of FMLN and FDR leaders said that it was a double-edged sword and would put El Salvador in the same plight as other countries, where amnesty recipients had later been murdered. And certain human rights agencies recipients have criticized the amnesty law for forgiving and forgetting the crimes committed mainly by members of the armed and the paramilitary forces who were the cause of numerous murders, tortures and forced disappearances in recent years.
Since enactment of the amnesty law, various human rights agencies have noted the resurgence of the death squads, who reported killed 32 people in the first six months of this year alone. Furthermore, a number of international human rights organizations–as well as the Government of El Salvador itself–have objected to the release of a number of prisoners, as ordered by the country’s police officials under the general amnesty.
On the other hand, the voluntary repatriation of 4,400 Salvadoran citizens on October 11, 1987 and 1,200 more from August 11-14 of this year, thanks to the efforts of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees with the cooperation of the Government of El Salvador, should be mentioned as a very positive development which took place during the period covered by this report.
In short, over the period covered by the present report and ever mindful of the civil war in El Salvador, the Commission feels that, unfortunately, the country’ s human rights situation has worsened. It finds that he area in which the failure to respect human rights has been most flagrant is the right to life, because of the renewed outbreak of violence in the country. Despite these problems, the Commission recognizes the meritorious formal maintenance of all constitutional rights and guarantees, although in practice they too have been violated.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights voices a renewal of its appeal for the humanization of armed conflict; compliance with the rules of international law by providing facilities for evacuation of the wounded and mutilated victims of war; the exertion of every possible effort to eliminate the activities of the so-called death squads; and resumption of the path of dialogue in pursuit of peace. It also hopes that the Government of El Salvador will continue its very active cooperation and assistance in the work of the IACHR.