Doc. 10
18 September 1989
Original:  Spanish




          For more than ten years the IACHR has been monitoring the human rights situation in El Salvador and reporting on it annually to the Organization's General Assembly. The Commission has repeatedly made reference to the continuing problem of internecine warfare in El Salvador between the Army and the irregular forces operating as the Farabundo Martí Front for National Liberation (FMLN). The IACHR has also made reference to serious and illegal actions by armed paramilitary groups. According to statistical data, supplied by non-governmental human rights groups and the Government itself, the conflict has already claimed more than 70,000 lives.


          First, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights will refer to the change of administration that has taken place in El Salvador, with President José Napoleón Duarte reaching the end of his term on May 31 and  handing the reins of government over on June 1, 1989, to Mr. Alfredo Cristiani of the Nationalist Republic Alliance party (ARENA), who therewith began his presidency of El Salvador for a constitutionally mandated term of 5 years.


          The change of Government was brought about by the presidential elections of March 19, 1989, which yielded, according to the Central Electoral Council, the following official returns: Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) 505,370 votes (53.82%), Christian Democratic Party (PDC) 338,369 votes (36.03%), National Conciliation Party (PCN) 39,218 votes (4.07%), Democratic Convergence (CD) 35,642 votes (3.88%), Authentic Christian Movement (MAC) 9,300 votes (0.9%), and the Party of Renovating Action (PAR) 3,207 votes (0.34%). The President of the Electoral Council estimated that 50% did not vote.


          Two months before the elections the FMLN formulated a political proposal “to turn the election into step for peace.” Three basic thrusts were contained in the proposal: acceptance of the electoral process under conditions which would allow its participation, the fairness of the tallying and acceptance of the outcome, and acceptance of the Army of El Salvador as the only armed force. To reach this end, the FMLN believed it was necessary to postpone the elections, put an end to military actions against various social groups, incorporate the Democratic Convergence into the Central Election Board as well as the establishment of the right to vote for all Salvadorans abroad. For its part, the FMLN pledged itself to respect the activities of the various political parties as well as those of the electoral authorities throughout the country. It would order a truce and withdraw its forces from the towns and places the voting was to take place, urging its supporters to take part in the elections.


          This proposal was widely debated by the Government, the political parties and the representatives of the FMLN during a meeting held in Mexico on February 20-21. On March 1, the Government and Congress of El Salvador agreed to form a joint commission to negotiate with the FMLN an eventual postponement of the presidential elections scheduled for March 19. The representatives of the executive branch on the Commission would be Vice-President Rodolfo Castillo and the Minister of Defense, General Eugenio Vides Casanova.


          In spite of a number of meetings held, the FMLN proposal was not accepted. Given this response, the FMLN called on its followers “to massively repudiate the elections by war.” The balloting, as a result, was conducted in the midst of fighting and sabotage aimed at impeding the elections. This included attacks on the Presidential Mansion and the Armed Forces' Radio Training Center. Forty-six persons died and sixty three were injured during the elections. Among the dead were two reporters of the Reuters news agency, Messrs. Roberto Navas and Luis Galdámez, as well as a Dutch journalist, Cornel Lagrouw.


          On June 1, 1989, in his speech to the Legislative Assembly during his swearing-in as the new Head of State, President Alfredo Cristiani cited as foremost among his Government's purposes to search for a solution to the armed conflict, and said that “no one in his right mind can want this fratricidal and unjust war to go on” and he also asserted his resolve to constitute a commission for dialogue toward a solution of the problem with the FMLN and toward the attainment of increasingly effective justice and ever fuller respect for human rights.


          After the elections, on the occasion of a visit by the President-elect of El Salvador to the United States, on April 6 the FMLN presented a new proposal which was rejected under the circumstances. President Cristiani, on July 12, 1989, appointed a special commission consisting of the Mayor of San Salvador, Armando Calderón Sol, the poet David Escobar Galindo, and Mr. Julio Adolfo Rey Prendes, of the Authentic Christian Movement (MAC), to pursue the proposal.


          On April 7, 1989, President-elect Alfredo Cristiani met with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, in an atmosphere of cordiality and frankness.


          At that meeting the Commission expressed its concern to the President-elect in relation to complaints about serious violations of the right to life and personal integrity attributable to the army or to paramilitary forces, and expressed its concern also at the lack of any proper investigation of these acts and at the failure to punish any persons found guilty of them. Among these crimes the Commission cited to Mr. Cristiani many cases in which the victims had been the leaders of human rights organizations.


          Regarding the proposal for a dialogue among all sectors of Salvadoran society which the Commission had been advocating repeatedly in recent years, it reiterated to the President-elect that the resumption of that dialogue, with no exclusions, offered, in its view, the best path to peace and reconciliation among Salvadorans, without which there could be no true observance of human rights.


          The Commission thanks the then President-elect of El Salvador for the opportunity for this exchange of views and for his commitment to seeking the observance of human rights in his country.


          The failure of the peace negotiations provoked bitter violence in El Salvador. Recently appointed Minister of the Presidency, Antonio Rodríguez Porth was killed along with two bodyguards. Three dynamite explosions were set off by urban guerillas. The private residence of Vice-President Elect, Francisco Merino was attacked and the new Inspector General, Lic. Roberto García Alvarado was killed when his car was blown up. Attempts were made on the lives of Miguel Castellanos, a guerilla deserter, and Francisco Pecorini, both well known conservatives. Carlos Mendoza, chief editor of Análisis magazine, was wounded. In addition three persons were killed and 40 injured when a bomb was detonated in the crowded central market of San Salvador. Colonel Roberto Armando Rivera, Director of the National Fire Department, was shot down in the center of the capital.


          It should also be noted that there was an attack on the home of the President of the National Assembly, Lic. Ricardo Alvarenga Valdivieso. Three passersby died in an attack on the President of the Supreme Court. Likewise a number of homes of military officers came under attack as well as many municipal employees in towns of the interior.


          This situation prompted Monsignor Rosa Chávez to say that “we are seized by despair and impotence on seeing that barbarism appears to have become permanently established in our midst, stifling any possibility that the parties confronting each other may hear the clamor of an entire people and make peace with each other.”


          On July 7, 1989, the Permanent Mission of El Salvador to the Organization of American States conveyed to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights the concern of the Government of El Salvador at the resurgence of violence of recent days.


          The reaction to this violence led the chief of staff of the FMLN to publicly recognize that numerous civilians had fallen victims to its actions and accordingly recommended to its officers and combatants measures to avoid these occurrences in the future.


          In regard to the right to life the Commission is informed of numerous summary executions of persons supposedly connected with the guerillas, alleged to have been committed by members of the Armed and State Security Forces. Complaints have also been made of shelling of areas of civilian population in areas regarded as under FMLN influence, which have taken a heavy toll on the population. In addition, the Commission has been informed that violations of the rights to life and humane treatment have been committed by Government bombardments of field hospitals belonging to the FMLN such as in the incidents that occurred at Chupadero, the Sumpul River, and the Catarina ranch in the Department of San Vicente. These cases are currently under investigation by the Commission.


          The Armed Forces, for its part, recognized through the Ministry of Defense, that it still continues to commit a limited number of abuses but that it was taking steps to correct this situation.


          Similarly, the Commission has noted with genuine concern the resurgence of the death squads. Last May a clandestine group styling itself ARDE, or “Revolutionary Extermination Action,” announced that it “would execute the FMLN traitors to our country.” This was followed by reports of the emergence of other clandestine paramilitary groups.


          Regarding the formation of armed paramilitary groups, the Commission's concern has been aroused by the activation of a new group called the Patriotic Civilian Defense Forces, set up by businessmen and members of ARENA for intelligence-gathering purposes. It was immediately learned, however, that the Government of then President Duarte did not permit the formation of such forces and that instructions had been issue for their dissolution.


          Given the events first referred to and the fact that they deal with the right to life, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights expresses its hope that the negotiations begun in Mexico City on September 13-15, 1989 and to be continued in San José, Costa Rica on October 16-17, between representatives of the FMLN and the Government will lead to a negotiated political settlement. This has been the position of the Commission for sometime.


          Regarding observance of the right to personal liberty, the Commission continues to receive numerous complaints of fresh cases of forcible illegal detentions by the security forces. Some of those arrested have disappeared from view, most of them temporarily, but in any case in violation of the constitutional guarantees in force under which no one may be detained except pursuant to a judicial warrant and in compliance with the legally prescribed procedures.


          The Commission has also learned that security forces have held political prisoners longer than the law allows, which, in addition to violating the country's laws, implies misuse of authority by the security police officers involved, who presumably have been acting systematically and with the authority and consent of their superiors, without any steps having been taken so far to put an end to these violations of the right to personal liberty.


          In regard to respect for the right to humane treatment, during this period the Commission has also received from diverse non-governmental human rights organizations fresh complaints of continued mistreatment, and in some cases torturing, of detainees. According to those sources, these deeds are committed immediately following detention, when the detainees, of either sex, are taken to cells of the Treasury and National Police, and of the National Guard as well, where they are held incommunicado throughout the period of their detention.


          According to the complainants, the police continue to employ methods of physical mistreatment and psychological pressure: keeping the detainee on his or her feet for 48 hours or longer without sleep or food, restricting the relief of their physiological needs, and in many cases confining them naked in rooms kept at low temperature by air-conditioning. Complaints have also been received of, in some cases, the administration of drugs and use of the hood (the “capucha”).


          The administration of justice in El Salvador has been severely criticized for its slowness, lack of independence, and ineffectiveness in protecting and defending the rights of Salvadoran citizens whose constitutional rights are violated. Similarly, the IACHR notes the deplorable judicial precedents associated with many assassinations almost none of which was ever properly investigated, and the perpetrators of which were never allowed to be punished.


          In December 1988 the Supreme Court of El Salvador, consisting in its majority of members of the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA), handed down a decision suspending the warrant for the arrest of Salvadoran Army Captain Alvaro Saravia, who resided in the United States, and against whom extradition proceedings were in progress between the Government of El Salvador and the United States for his participation in the assassination of Archbishop Monsignor Oscar Romero in March 1980. The Supreme Court's decision stated that “there were no grounds for the arrest of Saravia” and that there should be an end to “the restriction of his liberty ordered by the Judge of the Fourth Criminal Court, who should withdraw the orders issued for his arrest.” The decision stated further that the then Chief Prosecutor, Mr. Roberto Girón, who had requested his extradition, “lacked the legal competence” to do so.


          In response to a judicial request of the Salvadoran authorities, this former Army captain was set at liberty by order of a court in Miami, Florida, to the sorrow of the then President of El Salvador himself, Mr. José Napoleón Duarte. Mr. Julio Samayoa, Minister of Justice of El Salvador, then released the findings of the investigation made by the Commission for the Investigation of Crimes by the Salvadoran Government, according to which there is evidence that former Captain Saravia had been the leader and coordinator of the operation, and that the person who had shot and directly assassinated the Archbishop (who fell dead with a bullet in his heart fired from the door of the church, where the pickup truck stopped for brief seconds) was the dentist and expert marksman Héctor Antonio Regalado who, according to Mr. Duarte, is Mr. Roberto D'Audbuison's personal bodyguard to this day. When the homicide had been accomplished, the killers' vehicle was driven around in circles several times before arriving at Mr. D'Audbuison's home to report accomplishment of the mission of finishing off the prelate. Minister Samayoa stated that “the judicial truth was incomplete,” and announced in February 1989 that the dossier on the investigation would be forwarded to the courts.


          The quashing of the investigation of Monsignor Romero's assassination has generated protests both in and outside El Salvador. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights deplores that the organs for the administration of justice in El Salvador have proved ineffectual once again, and voices its concern that this assassination remain unpunished.


          As for the guarantees of due process, the Commission has noted, in all these cases of persons arrested and held incommunicado for longer than the 72 hours permitted under the Constitution and the law, the ineffectiveness of the guarantees of judicial protection referred to in Article 25 of the American Convention to shield citizens against violations of their fundamental rights by government.


          Another source of concern to the Commission is the lack of proper compliance with the rules on judicial guarantees, which are duly recognized in Salvadoran law, and the noncompliance with which deprives detainees of their right to prompt assistance at the time of their detention by defense counsel, to be told the reasons for their arrest, not to have to testify against themselves, and to all other judicial guarantees.


          A heightening of tensions and violence has moved the officers of the Government of El Salvador to look upon trade unions, cooperatives, universities, human rights organizations and other such bodies as “fronts” and “havens of the guerillas or insurgents,”  etc., and they are said to have been penetrated by the FMLN for manipulation as instruments of the armed struggle. As a result, they have been subjected to harassment and attack by the security forces.


          In January 1989 a combined force of the Public Security Corps, the 1st Infantry Brigade and the Air Force of El Salvador cordoned off the facilities of the University of El Salvador (UES) as part of what the Armed Forces Press Office (COPRESA) referred to as “Operation Tornado” for the stated purpose of reducing to a minimum the operations of urban commandos that had been mounting severe attacks on various structures in the city, including the building of the Ministry of Defense, while at the same time accusing the University, on the basis of evidence asserted to be on hand, of serving as an arsenal, haven and shelter for terrorists, and charging that the campus was the place where the preparations for bombing were carried out.


          The Rector, the faculty and the student body protested against this action as a “violation of university autonomy,” an intensification of the war, and a campaign of defamation launched by the Government with intent to nullify the University's academic function and its commitment to the people. Finally, on July 18, after a student demonstration, intense gunfire broke out and continued for more than an hour. The Army alleged that it had been provoked and had reacted in self-defense, repulsing the gunfire, which came from within the academic precincts. The FMLN has accused the Government of firing on unarmed students. Several students were wounded in the incident.


          The period considered also witnessed many acts of hostility against the Confederation of Associations of Cooperatives of El Salvador (COACES) and its affiliates, and against the premises and leadership of trade union institutions. Following are some of the events recorded: on May 25 the Armed Forces surrounded and searched the premises of almost all the labor and popular organizations in El Salvador, such as 1) the National Unit of Salvadoran Workers (UNTS), 2) the Confederation of Associations of Cooperatives of El Salvador (COACES), 3) the Independent Trade Union Federation of El Salvador (FEASIES), 4) the Unified Federation of Salvadoran Trade Unions (FUSS), 5) The National Trade Union Federation of Salvadoran Workers (FENASTRAS), and 6) the Christian Committee of Displaced Persons of El Salvador (CRIPDES). The complaint also charges that in the search of the COACES premises the sums of US$4,000 and 4,000 colons were removed.


          In face of incidents of this kind, the trade union leaders have said that “it is clear to us that when the Government and Armed Forces of El Salvador suffer attacks from the insurgents, they vent their ire on the organized people.”


          On May 26, 1989, members of the National Police Force, with the authorization and assistance of the Judge of the First Criminal Court, searched the premises of the Non-governmental Human Rights Commission of  El Salvador on a charge of harboring several terrorist delinquents who had attacked the facilities of the 1st Infantry Brigade, the National Police Battalion, and the General Traffic Department. According to the leaders of the Human Rights Commission of El Salvador, the charge was baseless and part of the policy of hostility and harassment maintained against them by the security forces.


          Moreover, the Commission deplores the situation of more than 100 disabled members of the FMLN whom it has not yet been possible to evacuate to where they may be given proper medical care.


          In connection with this problem, in its 72nd session the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights decided, on humanitarian grounds, to accede  to a request that it use its good offices to bring about the evacuation of a group of disabled persons from the Refugio de la Calle Real del Arzobispado and those in the war zones.


          In response to this approach on May 19, 1988, the Government of El Salvador advised that the wounded and disabled combatants from the Calle Real Catholic Church Refuge had been evacuated, but said nothing about the situation of the other disabled persons.


          The situation of those disabled persons, on whose behalf the Commission used its good offices, remains uncharged, and their number has increased since then to more than 100.


          The Commission is informed that President José Napoleón Duarte had arranged with the International Committee of the Red Cross the terms under which those people would be evacuated. However, when it became known that they would be leaving the country, the resulting political reaction in El Salvador halted and broke up those arrangements.


          The IACHR has learned that the President of the Legislative Assembly and the Prosecutor General of the Republic have reportedly stated that, instead of allowing the disabled combatants to leave, the police agencies were duty-bound to keep them in the country and bring them to justice as presumed culprits.


          Last August 20th, a group of wounded and injured FMLN members occupied the Metropolitan Cathedral in San Salvador demanding that their requested evacuation from the country be honored by the Government. President Cristiani promised that he would present a bill for “special amnesty” covering these persons to the Congress.


          The Commission deplores the suspension of the evacuation and is of the view, as Monsignor Arturo Rivera y Damas has said, that it is temporary, not final, and has recommended that a formula for remedying the situation of those persons be sought as soon as possible.


          The Commission has underscored the importance for the constitutional Government of El Salvador of having had to deal, in these last years, with a severe internecine war without resorting to the imposition of a state of emergency with the attendant suspension of guarantees. Moreover, it has been informed that the new Administration intends to make changes in the Government's legal system, and especially in the criminal and procedural codes with a view to forging a legal “tool” for the defense of democracy.


          Several human rights bodies at home and abroad have expressed concern over the possible implications of legal rules against terrorism, and the Commission has, therefore, once again presented its recommendations for a study of the rules now in preparation in light of the international obligations of the Republic of El Salvador in the area of human rights.


          In view of what has been stated in this report, the Commission reiterates its past arguments for the need to humanize armed conflict by strict compliance with the provisions of the Geneva Conventions, and once again recommends humanitarian measures such as evacuation of wounded and disabled combatants, and investigation of the complaints of murders attributed to members of the army and of paramilitary formations so that the guilty may be punished.


          The Commission, in light of the conversations conducted in Mexico City this September between the Government and the FMLN renews its hope that the war in El Salvador will be ended and a political solution negotiated to achieve peace, a condition sine qua non for the full respect for human rights.


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