REPORT N° 13/92
The original petition received by the Inter-American
Commission on Human Rights on June 2, 1989, to the effect that:
On February 28 of this year (1989), soldiers from the Military Detachment of Armed Force Engineers (Destacamento Militar de Ingenieros de la Fuerza Armada - DMIFA) seized and later killed Andres Colindres Vasquez, 48, his wife Maria Luisa Panameno, also 48, and their son Miguel Colindres Panameno, 18. One of the murdered couple's other sons, Manuel Antonio Colindres Panameno, 18, discovered the three bodies on March 7, near the home of this peasant family, in the Las Animas district, Jurisdiction of Santiago Nonualco, Department of La Paz, El Salvador.
summary executions followed a series of arrests, torture and threats
against the Colindres Panameno family, always from the DMIFA, which has
its headquarters in Zacatecoluca, La Paz.
We are presenting this petition to denounce these facts to the
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and to ask it to
investigate the events recounted here and to condemn the State of El
Salvador for these grave violations of the American Convention on Human
Rights. What follows is a
detailed description of the events and our petition with regard thereto.
Background leading up to the murders:
arrests, threats, and torture
early 1986, Miguel Colindres Panameno was arrested and sent to the
Mariona Prison, where he remained as a political prisoner until released
in late 1987 under the most recent amnesty decree.
April 24, 1988, Manuel Antonio Colindres Panameno was arrested and held
for one week in the quarters of the Military Detachment of Armed Force
Engineers, accused of being a collaborator for the guerrillas (of the
Farabundo Marti Front for National Liberation, FMLN).
On December 10 of that year, troops from that post seized Andres
Colindres Vasquez and his youngest son Pedro Colindres Panameno, who was
16 at the time. They were held for 19 days, without being formally
charged or brought before a judge.
To the contrary, they were interrogated and threatened that they
would be killed if they refused to say that two other sons of the
family, Miguel and Manuel Antonio Colindres Panameno, were guerrillas.
They were released once the International Committee of the Red
Cross established that they were being held at that post.
Before they were released on December 29, 1988, the Commandant of
the DMIFA gave them a "statement" wherein he asserted that Mr.
Colindres "is someone who has left the terrorist organizations and
has given himself up voluntarily to this Command; he said that he wished
to resume his daily work." It
also said that he was required to make an appearance at the DMIFA every
six weeks later, on February 12, 1989, Manuel Antonio Colindres Panameno
was taken by members of the Santiago Nonualco Civil Defense, under the
command of the Military Detachment of Armed Force Engineers.
He was brutally tortured for hours at the Santiago Nonualco
Command Post. They stripped
him and "tied a nylon cord around his testicles and pulled on it
until they lifted him off the ground... they struck matches and put the
lighted matches on his penis, and threw hot coffee on him," all of
which caused him to faint repeatedly; this was all done in order to get
him to admit he was a guerrilla and delivered rifles.
next day he was transferred to the DMIFA, where he was hung up by his
hands, which were tied behind him, and beaten.
When he could not withstand any more torture, "he
confessed" to being a guerrilla and having a rifle (which was not
true). They dressed him like a soldier and took him to the Las
Animas district. There was
a clash in progress at the time, and they put Manuel and two other
detainees in the middle of the shooting, exposing them to the danger of
the crossfire. Manuel was
later taken to the National Guard, then to the Zacatecoluca Municipal
Police and from there to the Santiago Nonualco jails, where he was
released on February 17.
Arrest and subsequent murder of mother, father, and son
February 28, 1989, Andres Colindres Vasquez, Maria Luisa Panameno de
Colindres, and Miguel Colindres Panameno were on their way from the
Santiago Nonualco municipal market to their home in the Las Animas
district when they were arrested. According
to statements made by people living in the area, they were taken by
soldiers from the DMIFA. However,
DMIFA headquarters denied this. It
was not until March 7 that Manuel Colindres Panameno discovered the
bodies of his mother, father, and brother near their house.
three bodies were exhumed on March 30.
It was established that in the case of Andres Colindres Vasquez,
at both wrists there is a sectioning of the third distal of the radius
and ulna bones (amputation) produced by a cutting instrument:
by itself this could be the direct cause of his death. The body of Maria Luisa Panameno was incomplete and
identification was difficult because it had decomposed; however, one
could see the fracture and destruction of the third distal of the left
femur, indicating that that member had been amputated.
That injury was the immediate and sole cause of death.
Miguel's body showed a wound caused by a heavy-caliber
firearm; the entry orifice is at the 7th left rib; there is no exit
wound; there is severe hemorrhaging in the left hemithorax, which caused
the left lung to collapse. A
careful search for the bullet found nothing.
The direct and sole cause of death was the injury to the left
side of the body.
The responsibility of the Military Detachment of the
Armed Force Engineers
victims themselves and the
DMIFA's own statements clearly point to the latter's role in the earlier
arrests and torture of the Colindres Panameno family.
Other persons confirm that Andres and Pedro were held for 19 days
at the headquarters of the DMIFA and describe torture by DMIFA officers
that are similar to those used on Manuel.
the DMIFA can be singled out as the force responsible for the summary
executions of the three members of that family, based on information
concerning their arrest together with the history of the DMIFA's
persecution of the Colindres Panameno family and the accusations it made
against them alleging ties with the FMLN.
the Las Animas district is one of the areas in which the DMIFA focuses
its activities, because its headquarters is in the nearby city of
Zacatecoluca. For example,
in December the DMIFA put a curfew into effect in this area and mounted
a military operation there that lasted several months.
In December 1988, members of the DMIFA killed Francisco Alvarez
Garcia, whom they had seized near his house in the same area where they
would later take the Colindres Panameno family; the summary execution of
the Colindres Panameno family is an isolated example of the DMIFA's
human rights violations, but just one of many murders, abductions, and
tortures that this branch of the Armed Force has committed.
little could be seen on the bodies of the three victims indicates that
their deaths were neither accidental nor caused in combat; two of the
three had limbs amputated: both
of Andres Colindres' hands had been amputated, while Mrs. Panameno's leg
had been amputated.
this information points to but one conclusion:
that the DMIFA, with or without the aid of the Civil Defense,
killed this family for the same reasons it had abducted and tortured the
father and sons earlier, accusing them of either collaborating with or
being members of the FMLN.
should be noted here that this family is still being persecuted.
On May 26, Manuel and Pedro were captured in the western part of
the country, where they had moved after the murder of the father, mother
Response of the domestic system of justice and the lack of
results because of the judicial system's inability to function
Pedro and his father were taken by the DMIFA in December of last year
(1988), along with other peasants, Maria Luisa Panameno, as an aggrieved
party, reported it to the Justice of the Peace of Santiago Nonualco. The men who abducted her husband and son were never tried and
it would be 14 days before the two were finally released.
February of this year (1989), a petition of habeas corpus on behalf of
Manuel was filed with the Supreme Court of Justice, but was not
executed. Two days later,
Manuel Colindres Panameno was released.
Likewise, when Andres, Maria Luisa, and Miguel were taken on
February 25, a petition of habeas corpus was filed, but the next day the
three were found already murdered.
inquiry into "the death of Maria Luisa Panameno and others" is
in the Criminal Court of the city of Zacatecoluca, under number 133/89.
The Justice of the Peace of Santiago Nonualco conducted the
identification proceedings on March 9 and two sons of the murdered
couple, Tomas Colindres Panameno and Pedro Colindres Panameno, filed
complaints as the aggrieved parties, and accused the DMIFA of the
murders. Two prosecutors
appeared as counsel in the case on March 13, and on March 30 the
exhumation of the three bodies was conducted.
That was the status of the case as of April; no attempt was made
to summon the troopers or officers from that post, much less to bring
them to trial.
because there is no functional judicial system in El Salvador, we
believe that there is no hope of establishing criminal liability in this
case so as to punish the guilty parties and compensate the aggrieved
parties. In a recently
published report, the judicial system's inability to function is
summarized as follows:
lack of cooperation from the Armed Service effectively prevents the
human rights cases from being resolved.
Under Salvadoran law, the evidence presented in a court of law
has to be produced either by an examining magistrate or some law
enforcement agency. This provision paralyzes the judiciary: the only law enforcement agencies with the authority to
present evidence in cases involving the security forces are the security
Armed Service weakens these cases and the civilian government is either
unable or unwilling to institute fundamental changes.
These two factors combined have brought El Salvador's system of
justice dangerously closely to collapse.
Today that system is influenced by fear, intimidation, and
political interference. Judges
and attorneys are often the targets of bribery attempts and threats of
violence. A number of brave judges and attorneys who tried to advance
the cause of justice in difficult cases have resigned in the last twelve
months, fearing the consequences of their quest for truth.
sweeping amnesty decree enacted in October 1987 has only served to
further discourage those judges and attorneys who honestly seek justice. Understandably, with the harassment and death threats many no
longer want to risk their lives because they now believe that, no matter
what they do, even the most violent acts will be pardoned.
the situation as it is, the IACHR should admit this petition without
waiting for the remedies under domestic law to be exhausted or should
consider them to have been exhausted. Regulations,
case involves numerous violations of the American Convention, starting
with the first arrests and then the murders and the constant threats to
the three surviving sons.
arrests violated the rights upheld in Articles 5, 7, and 8 of that
Convention; Andres and Pedro were threatened and held for long periods
of time, while Manuel was the victim of brutal torture, all in violation
of Article 5; finally, the murders denied the three victims their right
to life, Article 4.
lack of an effective judicial response to the first complaints and in
the inquiry into the deaths of the three people, is a violation of
Article 25. Indeed, this
case is a sad example of the consequences of an ineffective judicial
system; had those who were responsible for the earlier arrests and
torture been punished, the deaths that followed might have been avoided.
In general, once again this case shows the Salvadoran State's
systematic failure to comply with its obligation to guarantee "full
and free exercise" of the rights to which the articles in question
refer, which in itself is a violation of Article 1.1 of the American
we respectfully request that the IACHR:
Admit the present petition.
Conduct an on-site observation concerning the conduct of
the Military Detachment of Armed Force Engineers and the Civil Defense
in the instant case, to establish the identity of the individuals
responsible for the crimes described above.
Condemn the Government of El Salvador for the violations that
have been committed and recommend that said Government take the
necessary measures to punish the guilty parties and compensate the
4. Consider referring this case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
In a note dated June 26, 1989, the Commission began to process
this case and, therefore, requested the Government of El Salvador to
furnish the pertinent information on the facts reported in that
communication and any other information that would enable it to
determine whether the remedies under domestic law had been exhausted in
the instant case; the Government was given 90 days in which to respond.
On May 7, 1990, the Government of El Salvador replied, reporting
Andres Colindres, Maria Luisa Panameno, and Miguel Colindres Panameno: The above-named individuals left their home on the morning of February 28, 1989, on their way to the Municipal Market in Santiago Nonualco to make purchases. They never returned home, but their bodies were later discovered on the Colindres property. The bodies were examined by the Justice of the Peace of Santiago Nonualco, Department of La Paz. The above-named individuals died under circumstances that have not yet been clarified.
Manuel Antonio Colindres Panameno was remanded for trial to the Justice of the Peace of Santiago Nonualco, Department of La Paz, on February 16, 1989.
At its 79th session, the Commission adopted Report N°
22/91, which was dispatched to the Government of El Salvador so that it
might formulate whatever observations it deemed appropriate, within
three months of the date of dispatch. The report indicated that if the
case was not settled by the Government, or submitted by it to the Court,
the Commission would decide whether to publish the report.
The Commission is competent to hear the present case, as it
involves violations of human rights recognized in the American
Convention on Human Rights--Article 4 on the right to life,
Article 7 on the right to personal liberty, and Article 25 on the right
to judicial protection--as provided under Article 44 of that
Convention, of which El Salvador is a State Party.
The petition satisfies the formal requirements for admissibility
as stipulated in the American Convention on Human Rights and in the
Regulations of the Commission.
The petition is not pending action in any other international
arrangement and is not a restatement of a petition already examined by
In the instant case, it is obvious that the aggrieved parties
were unable to secure effective protection from the organs having
jurisdiction, as is clear from the fact that the investigation to
determine those responsible for the triple homicide of Andres Colindres
Panameno, Maria Luisa Panameno and Miguel Colindres Panameno produced no
results whatever, and neither the investigation concerning young Manuel
Antonio Colindres Panameno. Hence, the requirements on exhaustion of the remedies under
domestic law, contained in Article 46 of the Convention, do not apply.
Despite the time that has passed, the Commission's overtures, and
the very serious nature of the facts denounced, the Government has not
supplied a satisfactory reply concerning the facts in the instant case.
In the instant case, it is obvious that the Colindres Panameno
family has been harassed and persecuted by members of the Military
Detachment of Armed Forces Engineers since 1986.
The response supplied by the Government of El Salvador in its
note of May 7, 1990, does not supply any information concerning the
investigations to ascertain the facts and determine those responsible
for the murder of Andres Colindres Vasquez, Maria Luisa Panameno de
Colindres and Miguel Colindres Panameno and confines itself to a brief
description of what occurred and a statement to the effect that the
circumstance of their deaths have not yet been clarified.
Further, the response concerning MANUEL ANTONIO Colindres fails
to make any reference to the torture to which he was subjected during
the period he was in custody.
Since the friendly settlement procedure provided for in Article
48.1.f of the American Convention does not apply because of the nature
of the facts denounced, the Commission must comply with Article 50
paragraph 1 of the Convention and so issue its conclusions and
recommendations on the petition submitted to it for consideration.
9. That the Government of El Salvador has not submitted observations on Report N° 22/91.
INTER-AMERICAN COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS,
To declare that the Government of El Salvador is responsible for
the violation of the rights to life, personal liberty and judicial
protection (Articles 4, 7, and 25 of the Convention) of Andres Colindres
Vasquez, Maria Luisa Panameno, Miguel Colindres Panameno and Manuel
Antonio Colindres Panameno, based on the communication received at the
Commission on June 2, 1989.
To declare that the Government of El Salvador has failed to
comply with its obligations under Article 1 of the American Convention
on Human Rights, to respect human rights and fundamental guarantees.
To make the following recommendations to the Government of El
Salvador, based on Article 50.3 of the American Convention and Article
47 of the Regulations of the Commission:
a. That it conduct a thorough, swift and impartial investigation into the facts denounced to identify those responsible and bring them to trial, so that they may receive the punishment that such grave conducts warrants, and the necessary investigations and punishments.
That it adopt the measures necessary to avoid similar acts from
being committed hereinafter.
That it make reparations for the consequences of the situation
created by the transgression of the aforementioned rights and pay a fair
compensation to the injured parties.
Request the Government of El Salvador to inform the Commission
regarding the measures it is adopting in the present case, in accordance
with the recommendations formulated in paragraph 3 of the operative part
of this report.
Publish this report by including it in the Annual Report to be
presented to the General Assembly, in accordance with Article 48 of the
Regulations of the Commission; since the Government of El Salvador did
not inform the Commission of the measures it has taken to remedy the
situation, within the period prescribed in Report N°