The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has continued to devote special attention to the human rights situation in El Salvador.  The purpose of this section of the Report is to update the information for the year 1991, supplementing the annual reports published since 1980.


          The Commission has closely monitored the progress of the negotiations aimed at ending the internal conflict in El Salvador that are being conducted between the Salvadoran Government and representatives of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional) under the aegis of the United Nations Secretary General.  The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has for some time been advocating a political and negotiated solution to the conflict in El Salvador in the belief that peace is a fundamental precondition for effective respect for human rights and that such respect offers a sound basis for achieving and preserving social peace.


          In this context, the Commission would like to say how profoundly gratified it is with the agreements reached at United Nations headquarters on December 31, 1991, coupled with those reached in Mexico City on January 16, 1992.  Those agreements are a laudable achievement of the Salvadoran people, whose determined commitment has had the benefit of the invaluable contribution made by the United Nations Secretary-General and his personal envoy.


          The peace agreements hold particular significance for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.  The Commission is certain that these agreements will help create the conditions needed to further the democratization of Salvadoran society.  It hopes that this new situation will mean renewed, closed cooperation between the Government of El Salvador and the Commission.


          As for the evolution of the negotiations during the period covered in this report, a number of points of the National Constitution were identified which it is felt need to be reformed in order to eliminate some of the underlying causes of the armed conflict.  The agreements on these points were arrived at in meetings held in Mexico City.  The Legislative Assembly considered the reforms and on April 30, 1991 approved those calling for action to make the armed forces clearly subordinate to the civil authority, create a civilian national police force and establish the office of National Attorney for the Defense of Human Rights.  The Legislative Assembly ratified these constitutional reforms on September 12.  The insertion in the Constitution of a Commission of the Truth was not accepted at that time. The intended purpose of such a Commission, which was meant to operate on an ad hoc basis, was to investigate serious crimes and violations of human rights since 1980.  Ultimately, the final agreements concluded by the parties in December 1991 led to the creation of the Commission.


          In addition, in an act of special significance for effective respect for human rights in El Salvador, on July 26, 1991, a United Nations Observation Mission (UNOSAL) was set up to verify compliance with the San José Agreement on Human Rights.  UNOSAL is given a broad mandate, empowering it to investigate cases of violation of human rights and assuring it of access to any penal establishment without prior notice.  As was indicated at the time, the agreements that led to the creation of this important United Nations human rights observation mission do not replace El Salvador's obligations deriving from other international instruments to which it is a party, such as the American Convention on Human Rights.


          Another important step in the negotiations was the Peace Agreement signed in New York on September 25, 1991. That agreement was the outcome of negotiations of which President Cristiani and five FMLN commanders took part.  This agreement calls for four stages, as follows: first stage comprises the creation of a National Commission for Consolidation of the Peace (Comisión Nacional para la Consolidación de la Paz--COPAZ), now already established,  on which both parties will be represented and which will be responsible for monitoring compliance with the political agreements that are signed.  The second stage comprises reduction and restructuring of El Salvador's armed forces and dissolution of the National Guard and the Treasury Police.  The third stage concerns the composition of the future Civil National Police.  Finally, the fourth stage establishes the economic and social conditions that will need to prevail.


          As a result of the round of talks held in New York in December 1991, the Act of New York was signed on December 31, 1991.  There, the parties declared "that definitive agreements have been reached which, coupled with those signed earlier in San Jose, Mexico and New York, conclude the negotiations on all substantive matters of the Caracas agenda and the compact negotiations conducted in New York.  Their implementation will bring the armed conflict in El Salvador to a final conclusion."  This important Act reflects agreement on all technical-military aspects of the cease-fire, represents the end of the FMLN military structure and the reinsertion of its members into the social and political life of the country.


          The New York undertakings led to the signature of the final agreement of January 16, 1992, embodying the key, definitive aspects of the cease-fire.  The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights trusts that the proposed objectives will be attained in a way conducive to the advancement and consolidation of the observance and protection of human rights in the wake of years of conflict and suffering endured by the Salvadoran people.


          It must also be reported that during the period covered by this Report events occurred which, while not attributable directly to agents of the Salvadoran Government, are creating a state of alarm among the population. Thus, a group, self-styled the Salvadoran Anti-Communist Front (Frente Anticomunista Salvadoreño--FAS) has publicly threatened UNOSAL and the International Committee of the Red Cross, labelling them "internationalists that conspire with communism to seize possession of the national territory."  The Commission has also learned that this group has threatened journalists, leaders of entities such as the Committee for Displaced Persons of El Salvador (Comité Pro-Desplazados de El Salvador), describing them as facades for the FMLN.  As the Commission has repeatedly pointed out, the Government of El Salvador has an obligation to ensure full and free exercise of the rights and guarantees recognized in the American Convention on Human Rights and therefore a duty to investigate acts of intimidation of the kind described in order to identify the culprits and bring them to justice.


          The Commission further points out that during the period covered by this Annual Report a Salvadoran court convicted Col. Guillermo Alfredo Benavides and Lt. Yusshy René Mendoza Vallecillos of the assassination of the Rector of the Central American University, Father Ignacio Ellacuría, and the Jesuit priests Ignacio Martín Baró, Segundo Montes, Amando López, Juan Ramón Moreno, and Joaquín López y López, together with two domestic-service employees of the CAU, Elba Ramos and her daughter Celina on November 16, 1989.  Lt. Ricardo Espinoza, Second Lt. Gonzalo Guevara, Subofficers Antonio Avalos and Tomás Zarpate, Corporal Angel Pérez Vásquez and Privates Oscar Amaya and Jorge Alberto Sierra were acquitted.  The verdict was given on September 29, 1991.


          Although it is recognized that the trial and conviction of two officers in El Salvador, one of them of high rank, for human rights violations is a novel development, it has also been pointed out in a considerable number of sectors, that both the trial and the results were manifestly unsatisfactory.  Thus, the Society of Jesus, to which six of the victims belonged, issued a comunique stating its respect for the jury's verdict, construed as "a condemnation of those who gave the order to kill the Jesuits from the UCA and leave no witnesses".  The comunique added that "by condemning Col. Guillermo Alfredo Benavides and Lt. Yusshy Mendoza, his aide, by the jury intended to show was that accountability for the murders had to be sought in the upper echelons of the Armed Forces. Thus, there still remains the task of conducting an investigation to find out who the instigators were that planned the UCA massacre."


          On November 18, 1991, United States Congressman Joe Moakley, who led a Congressional working party that monitored the investigations in this case, issued a statement indicating that information obtained from "experienced, respected and serious persons who were in a position to know the information they provided ..." but who refused to testify officially and publicly about that information for fear of reprisals "on the part of elements of the extreme right of the armed forces" stated that:


...the decision to assassinate the Jesuits was taken during a meeting of a small number of officers ... among whom were Col. Benavides, commander of the Military School, General Juan Rafael Bustillo, then Chief of the Salvadoran Air Force (today assigned to the Embassy of El Salvador in Israel), General Emilio Ponce, then Chief of Staff and currently Minister of Defense, General Orlando Zepeda, Deputy Minister of Defense, and Col. Elena Fuentes, Commander of the First Brigade.


          The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has a case in process on the assassination of the Jesuit priests and their colleagues and will take a decision on it in due course.


          Regarding effective respect for the right to life, the Commission has been informed that, during the period covered by this Annual Report, 52 persons lost their lives due to summary executions; it has also been informed that during that period 32 forced disappearances occurred and 40 persons met their deaths in confrontations.


          The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has been informed that during the morning hours of February 21, 1991, Heriberto Aristides Robles and his pregnant wife Vilma del Rosario Palacios de Robles were assassinated on an avenue under constant surveillance by the Security Forces and in front of numerous witnesses.  Mr. Robles was a UDM party candidate for the Municipal Council of Ciudad Delgado.  The Government of El Salvador has not provided the Commission with the necessary information for proper clarification of this serious incident.


          The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has also received information concerning military actions that have affected the civilian population.  According to the information furnished, on April 10 the Air Force carried out bombing raids on the place known as Plano Samuria, in the vicinity of Jucuapa and Concepción Batres, both in the Department of Usulután.  As a result of this act, two minors died and five other persons were injured and a number of dwellings were destroyed.  In addition, health service workers in the northern part of the department of Chalatenango have reported 38 civilians wounded as a result of crossfire and military operations during the first few months of the year.  The Commission has also been informed of injuries suffered on August 30 by two journalists in Hacienda Vieja, a village near the Sumpul River, two kilometers from San José, Las Flores, Chalatenango.  Tom Long, a reporter for CBS Radio and the Miami Herald, and Daniel Alder, of United Press International, were wounded by a mortar shell while talking with villagers near the site.  A third journalist who was traveling with them, Beth Stickney, managed to evacuate them but their vehicle was stopped by soldiers manning the military surveillance post at Colima, Chalatenango.  According to the information provided, the soldiers refused to allow them to pass, even after the journalists showed their identity documents.  After a period of waiting they were allowed to proceed.


          Regarding the right to security of person, reports made to the Commission indicate that physical and psychological torture continue to be used by the armed forces and security forces in El Salvador.  Responsibility is attributed to the National Police, the National Guard, the Treasury Police and the First Infantry Brigade.  According to the information provided, the majority of the victims suffered physical torture, usually accompanied by psychological torture.


          Concerning the situation with respect to the right to personal liberty and to due process, the Commission reports that in the period covered by this Annual Report judgment was given in the case of José Abraham Dimas Aguilar, Juan Miguel García and William Rivas Bolaños, who were accused of the events that occurred in the "Zona Rosa" and had remained imprisoned for more than five years while awaiting trial.  The Commission will go into the situation in detail when it issues its opinion, in due course, on the case it has under examination.


          Information received by the Commission indicates that the situation with respect to political prisoners in El Salvador has not improved at all.  This points to the persistence of unsatisfactory prison conditions and of such situations as the mixing of political and ordinary prisoners and the imposition of rigid requirements for the registration of visits. The Commission must also report that on June 17, 1991, an FMLN Front command attacked the Mariona Penal Center and the military positions of the First Infantry Brigade.  The attack resulted in the death of ten persons and the escape of 135 prisoners, 35 of whom were being held for political reasons.


          The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights referred in its previous Annual Report to the unsatisfactory conditions in which communities of repatriates find themselves in various parts of El Salvador.  The Commission has learned that these communities face acute humanitarian needs the satisfaction of which is being impeded by the numerous requirements imposed by the military authorities of the regions where they live, in terms both of the goods and services they have to use and the limitations imposed on the movement of persons, matters which are being handled in an extremely arbitrary manner.  The Commission has also been told that these resettlers suffer frequent acts of harassment in the form of arbitrary detention and of recruitment.  It is reported that the repatriate communities have frequently had to endure the effects of battles that develop in the areas where they live and that have involved them directly.


          It is the Commission's hope that with the agreements reached at the negotiating table, this situation will be satisfactorily resolved, for the sake of those Salvadoran people who return to their country after the end of the armed conflict.


          It is also pointed out that some of the actions of the FMLN Front have created situations that have violated the rights of the civilian population.   Thus, in March two minors, aged 6 and 7 years, were killed by a mortar shell fired by FMLN members in an unsuccessful attack on the Third Infantry Brigade in the town of San Miguel.  In addition, twelve private dwellings were damaged in a rebel attack on the military installations of the Armed Forces Transmissions Instruction Center (Centro de Instrucción de Transmisiones de la Fuerza Armada--CITFA).  The Commission has also learned of the death of Ramón Orellana, aged 19, who found himself in the immediate neighborhood of Tenancingo, Cucatlán.  The FMLN is said to have sent a note to the family admitting responsibility for the act and stating that it was a mistake.  On April 2, 1991, FMLN units invaded the frontier post on the Honduran border known as El Poy, in the department of Chalatenango.  In the fighting, which lasted more than eight hours, three members of the National Advance Police (Policía Nacional y de Avance) were killed and another four wounded.  The customs facilities were set on fire and the rebels carried off six prisoners who were later handed over to the CICR.


          The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights also has to report that the Government of El Salvador has ceased to furnish the cooperation required to be able to perform the functions laid down in the American Convention on Human Rights, to which El Salvador is a party.  Despite the requests presented to it, the Salvadoran Government has not provided any information concerning its implementation of the recommendations set forth in various resolutions on massacres and forced disappearances to which the Commission had drawn attention and responsibility for which rests with the Government of El Salvador.  The Commission is including in this Annual Report thirteen reports on individual cases of particularly serious acts concerning which the Commission hopes to receive a constructive reply from the Government.  Once again, the Commission would like to say that it is confident that the new conditions in El Salvador will bring about an attitude of cooperation with the organs charged with protecting and defending human rights, in accordance with the international commitments that El Salvador has undertaken.


          The field investigation conducted in connection with the El Zapote case deserves special mention.  As the Commission stated in its previous Annual Report, on January 23, 1991, 15 persons were assassinated in the El Zapote housing block on the outskirts of San Salvador.  Upon receipt of the denouncement by the Commission, the Chairman of the IACHR requested the Ambassador, Permanent Representative to the Organization, to negotiate authorization to conduct an investigation in situ into this grave act, pursuant to Article 48 d of the American Convention.  This authorization having been granted, an official of the Executive Secretariat traveled to El Salvador, where he proceeded to conduct a preliminary investigation.  That investigation brought to light important matters that required greater clarification.  The Government was accordingly requested to authorize new follow-up visits in order to observe developments with respect to these matters.  The Government of El Salvador refused to grant this authorization, indicating that the case had already been resolved, even though the investigation had brought to light elements that supported an opinion on the facts different from the official version and no judicial finding existed with respect to it.


          Lastly, the Commission wishes to repeat its satisfaction over the successful conclusion of the peace negotiations and hopes that implementation of the measures will be truly conducive to stronger institutions, particularly the judicial power, and to real progress in defending and safeguarding the fundamental rights of the Salvadoran people.  


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