The recent attack on the human rights defenders (HRDs) of Pro-Búsqueda brings back painful memories of wartime abuses in El Salvador.
November 16 marked the 24th anniversary of the murder of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and her teenage daughter at the Central American University (UCA) in 1989. This brutal attack shocked the world, creating pressure for the Salvadoran government to finally negotiate an end to the war.
Just two days before this anniversary, however, Salvadorans were given a horrible reminder of the type of wartime atrocities that they had hoped were behind them.
At 4:30 a.m. on November 14, armed gunmen forced their way into the offices of Pro-Búsqueda, an organization that seeks to reunite Salvadorans who were abducted by the military when they were children with their biological families. Pro-Búsqueda also seeks justice for those who were disappeared by legally challenging the 1992 and 1993 amnesty laws that protect wartime human rights violators. After threatening and physically abusing the staff members in the office, the assailants proceeded to steal valuable evidence contained on hard drives and laptops. They then set fire to physical files in the archives.
Human Rights Counsel (Procurador para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos) David Morales expressed his “worry over the characteristics of the act, which is similar to the attacks carried out against human rights defenders during the civil war…in the 80s…it evidently had the main goal of destroying the institutional archives that document investigations into cases of human rights violations.”
Why would anyone repeat these horrible events from the nation’s past? As the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) points out, this attack took place in the context challenges to the amnesty laws that protect wartime abusers. If the Supreme Court of Justice overturns the amnesty laws, military officers and other figures who abducted children – and sometimes sold them – will face the prospect of prosecution.
Indeed, Pro-Búsqueda had taken part in a court hearing on November 11, which was postponed when military officials failed to appear. Pro-Búsqueda also won an important 2005 decision before the Inter-American Human Rights Court, which held the Salvadoran government responsible for the abduction of Ernestina and Erlinda Serrano Cruz, a pair of young sisters who were disappeared in 1982. The Court also ordered the Salvadoran government to investigate and clarify the fate of other missing children from the war.
Please take action and tell Salvadoran authorities that they must thoroughly investigate the attack against Pro-Búsqueda and prosecute those responsible for this crime. Please also urge the Salvadoran government to provide appropriate protection to Pro-Búsqueda staff in accordance with their wishes.