REPORT N° 15/92
The petition received by the Inter-American Commission on
Human Rights, dated May 10, 1990 and June 14, 1990, whereby:
At 4:00 p.m. on November 18 of last year (1989), in the La Ermita I Development, Apopa, uniformed soldiers from the First Infantry Brigade arrested Erik Felipe Romero Canales, a 17-year-old student, when he was some two blocks from his home at First Avenue North, Block C22 in that development, in the jurisdiction of Apopa, Department of San Salvador.
same day, the young man who had been arrested was seen by three youths
as they were on their way to the store that is on Main Street in the
Ermita Development. According
to one of the witnesses, "... near the store, in a trench down the
middle of the street, were soldiers
from the First Brigade; Erik
Felipe Romero Canales was with them and told the woman at the store to
go tell his mother that he had been arrested; this woman didn't want to
go, perhaps because she was afraid; we went to tell Erik's mother,
...[I] am certain they were soldiers from the First Brigade because I
saw the insignia that said First Brigade."
what Erik's mother, Silvia Elizabeth Canales de Romero, was able to
ascertain, her son was taken by Lieutenant Oscar Sanabria Pena, on
orders from Captain Erick Samayos Leiva of the First Infantry Brigade.
When she learned that her son had been apprehended, Mrs. Canales
de Romero went to the place where Erik Felipe was being held.
The lieutenant told her that a Mrs. Palomo had supplied
"information" against Erik Felipe, accusing him of being a
guerrilla. Mrs. Canales
Romero was able to speak with her son, who also said that someone
"had fingered" him. Lieutenant
Sanabria allowed Mrs. Canales de Romero to bring her son food that night
and the next morning at 7:00 a.m.
9:00 a.m. on November 19, Mrs. Canales de Romero went to Apopa
Headquarters "to ask why my son had been arrested; a soldier at the
gate ...told me that Captain Leiva was unable to receive me because he
was very busy."
around 10:30 on the morning of the 19th, Erik Felipe was taken away,
blindfolded and with his hands tied; he was put in a military jeep from
First Brigade headquarters, accompanied by a number of soldiers and
other unidentified individuals. Presumably
he was taken to the First Brigade.
To date, he is still "disappeared."
Monday, November 20, 1989, a photograph of a group of prisoners appeared
in the Diario de Hoy. One
of the faces in the photo appeared to be that of Erik Felipe Romero
Canales. The caption said only the following: "TERRORISTS.
This is the group of terrorists implicated in last week's events.
They have confessed everything."
We have been unable to find out from the Diario de Hoy who took
the photograph and the caption did not indicate where the picture was
days after the soldiers took Erik Felipe, Mrs. Canales de Romero
inquired about him at the First Brigade.
They told her that they did not have him.
The National Police, National Guard and Treasury Police told her
the same. Mrs. Palomo's
brother, Lieutenant Agustin Palomo, high up in the Central Headquarters
of the National Guard, told Mrs. Canales de Romero "that he had
already heard about the case but did not know where the young man was
being held." He
threatened her and her family if she said anything to Nora Palomo in
connection with the case for having "fingered" Erik Felipe.
days after he was taken, the victim's mother saw Lieutenant Sanabria
Pena, who went up to her and told her that it was his Captain Erik
Samayoa Leiva "who gave me the order to kill him .... and I told
him that we ought to give the kid a chance, because we don't know
whether or not he is."
description of the "disappeared" young man
general description of the "disappeared" young man is as
follows: dark skin, dark
eyes, wavy dark brown hair,
delicate complexion, height 1.65-1.70 meters; he was dressed in
faded blue jeans, a dark blue sport shirt with an insignia, and
January 29, our institution sent a formal letter to the Commandant of
the First Infantry Brigade, Colonel Francisco Helena Fuentes, asking for
information on the legal situation of the young Romero Canales. On February 19, when we called First Infantry Headquarters,
we were told that Erik Felipe's name did not appear in the log.
In letter No. 0226 D-II, dated March 29, 1990, Colonel Helena Fuentes
replied that "the prisoners" log kept at this Command Post was
reviewed and the names of the individuals in question did not appear
there; nor have they been held at this Brigade Command Post ..."
family has reported the case to the International Committee of the Red
Cross, Christian Legal Aid, the Center for the Protection of Minors, the
government's Human Rights Commission, the Legal Aid Service of the
Archdiocese, and the Lutheran Church, as well as the Human Rights
Commission of El Salvador (CDHES).
On December 13, a petition of habeas corpus was filed with the
Supreme Court of Justice, but no reply has been received.
A brief on the case was presented to the Attorney General of the
Republic and to the Justice of the Peace of Apopa on April 5, 1990.
A copy was sent to the American Embassy in El Salvador, to the
Deputy Minister of Public Security, Colonel Inocente Orlando Montano,
and to the Criminal Investigating Commission.
Thus far none of these measures has produced any results.
no response whatever at the internal level and because the justice
system in our country is notorious for its inability to function, we
believe that Article 37.2.b should be applied in this case, to obviate
the need to exhaust the remedies under internal law.
this case, there is overwhelming evidence that the First Infantry
Brigade was responsible for the capture and subsequent disappearance of
Erik Felipe Romero Canales.
case, like the other cases of disappearances in our country, involves a
number of violations of the American Convention on Human Rights,
including Articles 4 (right to life), 5 (right to humane treatment), 7
(personal liberty), 8 (the right to a fair trial), and 25 (judicial
protection). Moreover, because of these violations by its Armed Force
and/or Security Forces, and its lack of action to ascertain the
whereabouts of the young man in question, the State has violated Article
respectfully ask that the IACHR:
Admit this case, demanding a swift and exhaustive investigation
on the part of the State to determine the whereabouts of Erik Felipe
Ask the Government of El Salvador specifically to identify the
place shown in the photograph, to name all those prisoners who appear
therein, and to investigate the Lieutenant and Captain named in this
denunciation, in order to establish the whereabouts of the young man and
determine those responsible for this case.
Condemn the State of El Salvador for the violations committed and
recommend that said Government take the necessary steps to punish the
guilty parties and compensate the victims.
Consider conducting an on-site observation on the case and
any other measure necessary to shed light on the whereabouts of the
"disappeared" young man, to guarantee his physical safety and
that of his relatives and the witnesses in the case.
information (June 14, 1990)
a letter dated May 14 of this year, we presented to the IACHR our
petition in connection with the arrest and subsequent disappearance of
the young Erik Felipe Romero Canales on November 18, 1989.
On November 21, Erik Felipe's mother brought us up to date on the
measures she had taken to ascertain the whereabouts of her son.
Canales de Romero said that the petition of habeas corpus filed with the
Supreme Court in March had produced no positive result.
She also said that "eight days after filing the petition of
habeas corpus, the magistrate came to my house to ask for my statement
on my son's capture and told me to appear at the Supreme Court in 15
days. I went there, but the
receptionist told me that my son was listed as missing and that there
was nothing else to do."
our petition of May 10, we failed to mention that our institution
conveyed information on this case to the Head of the Joint Chiefs of
Staff of the Armed Force, Col. Rene Emilio Ponce, at a meeting held on
On May 9, Major Lic. Roberto Molina Rodriguez, Chief of the
Office of Human Rights of the Staff of the Armed Force, sent us a letter
in which he says that "the Human Rights Office has been instructed
to conduct an inquiry. Findings
will be sent shortly."
Canales de Romero now informs us that two detectives from the Joint
Chiefs of Staff came to her home on May 17 and asked for information
about Erik Felipe's capture. The
daughter of Mrs. Canales de Romero gave them a statement about what had
happened. The detectives
then called the mother at work and asked her for a photograph of her son
and a copy of the photograph that appeared in the newspaper.
According to Mrs. Canales de Romero, she left the photographs
with her daughter and on May 19 "they came to pick them up; my
daughter said that when one of them saw my son's photograph, he said
that we have seen this boy alive at headquarters, but I don't remember
which one. But he is
alive." Mrs. Canales
de Romero added that "on Saturday, May 19, a women who is a
religious sister told me that another brother of the church
had told her that he had seen Erik Felipe, my son, at the
Bracamonte Battalion 15 days ago. That
battalion is part of the First Infantry Brigade."
spite of reliable and concrete proof of the capture and detention of
young Erik Felipe, the First Infantry Battalion continues to deny having
had any hand in this event. On
April 27, Col. Helena Fuentes, Commandant of the First Brigade, sent the
Vice Minister of Public Security an official report informing him that
"personnel from this Brigade Command and Capt. Erick Antonio
Samayoa Leyva (the officer who witnesses say ordered Erik Felipe's
arrest) never took Erik Felipe Romero Canales into custody."
We received a copy of that official report on June 13.
In the face of this new evidence and in the hope of finding Erik Felipe still alive, we are asking the IACHR to intervene immediately to follow this trail, since none of the measures taken internally have yielded any result.
Through a note dated July 2, 1990, the Commission began its
processing of this case and requested the Government of El Salvador to
supply information relevant to the facts reported in that communication
and any other information that would make it possible to establish
whether in the instant case the remedies under domestic law had been
exhausted; the Government was told that it had 90 days in which to
On November 9, 1990, the Commission again asked the Government of
El Salvador to supply information on the investigations conducted into
the present case; thus far, despite the considerable pieces of evidence
and the documentation sent, no response has been received fron the
At its 79th session, the Commission adopted Report N°
24/91, 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.
That the Commission is competent to hear the instant case
inasmuch as it concerns violations of 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 in Article 44 of that
Convention, of which El Salvador is a State Party.
That the petition satisfies the formal requirements for
admissibility set forth in the American Convention on Human Rights and
in the Commission's Regulations.
That the petition is not pending processing in any other
international arrangement, and is not a copy of a previous petition that
the Commission has already examined.
That in the instant case the petitioner has been unable to secure
effective protection from the organs having jurisdiction, as evident by
the fact that the petitions of habeas corpus filed with the Supreme
Court and the petitions addressed to the Attorney General of the
Republic and the Justice of the Peace of Apopa have failed to yield any
results; hence, the requirements concerning the exhaustion of remedies
under domestic law, contained in Article 46 of the Convention, do not
That the procedure used in the abduction and forced disappearance
of Mr. Romero Canales, the fact that the judicial system is unable to
protect and safeguard his rights, the Salvadoran Armed Forces' own
agencies are incapable of remedying situations such as the one denounced
and the frequency with which forced disappearances occur in El Salvador,
as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has repeatedly
established, lead to the conclusion that the Government of that country,
through its security forces, is engaging in the practice of forced
disappearances, since facts such as those denounced here cannot be
isolated incidents caused by the excesses of one individual; instead
they are the modus operandi of the institutions in question.
That despite the time that has passed (since the detention of
Romero Canales) and the repeated overtures made by the Commission, the
Government of El Salvador has not responded to the facts denounced in
the instant case.
That by not responding, the Government has failed to comply with
its international obligation to supply the Commission with information
within a reasonable time period, as provided in Article 48 of the
That Article 42 of the Regulations of the Commission provides the
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.
That the Commission has repeatedly asserted its categorical
rejection of the grave phenomenon of the forced disappearance of
persons, stating in various documents that:
this procedure is cruel and inhuman and disappearance not only
constitutes an arbitrary privation of freedom but also a very grave
threat to the victim's personal integrity, safety and even life itself.
That for its part, the General Assembly of the Organization of
American States underscored the need for the countries where forced
disappearances have occurred to put an immediate end to this practice,
and has urged the governments to make the necessary efforts to ascertain
the situation of these people. The
General Assembly has also declared that the forced disappearance of
persons in America is a crime against humanity.
That the Inter-American Court of Human rights, in a
judgment of July 29, 1988, in the Velasquez Rodriguez case, stated the
practice of disappearances, in addition to directly violating many
provisions of the Convention (...) constitutes a radical breach of the
treaty in that it shows a crass abandonment of the values which emanate
from the concept of human dignity and of the most basic principles of
the inter-American system and the Convention.
That in the instant case, the victim is a minor.
That as the friendly settlement procedure provided for in Article
48.1.f of the American Convention does not apply because of the very
nature of the facts denounced, the Commission must comply with Article
50.1 of the Convention, issuing its conclusions and recommendations on
the petition submitted to it for consideration.
That the Government of El Salvador has not submitted observations
on Report N°
INTER-AMERICAN COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS,
To presume as true the denounced incidents in the correspondences
of May 10, and June 14, 1990, pertaining to the situation of Erik Felipe
Romero Canales. He was
captured on November 18, 1989, at 16:00, in the colony "La Ermita
I", Apopa, by ununiformed soldiers of the First Infantry Brigade.
Posteriorly, he disappeared.
To declare that the Government of El Salvador is responsible for
the violation of the right to life, the right to personal liberty and
the right to judicial protection (Articles 4, 7 and 25 of the
To declare that the Government of El Salvador has failed to honor
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, pursuant to Article 50.3 of the Convention and Article 47 of
the Regulations of the Commission:
That it conduct an exhaustive, rapid and impartial investigation
of the facts denounced, so that young Erik Felipe Romero Canales will
turn up alive and those responsible for his disappearance will be
identified and brought to trial, so that they may receive the
punishments that such grave conduct warrants.
That it adopt the measures necessary to prevent the commission of
similar crimes in the future.
c. That it make reparations for the consequences of the situation that its violation of those human rights has created and pay the injured parties fair compensation.
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 4 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°
Annual Report 1978, 1980-81, 1982-83, 1985-86,
Res. 443 (IX-0/79), AG/RES. 510 (X-0/80), AG/RES. 543
(XI-0/81), AG/RES. 618 (XII-0/82), AG/RES. 666
(XIII-0/83), and AG/RES. 742 (XIV-0/84).
Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Velasquez Rodriguez
Case, Judgment of July 29, 1988, Series C, No. 4, paragraph 158.