February 1, 1994
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights received a petition on
September 14, 1988, and additional information from the petitioner on
August 30, 1989, alleging the following:
On August 22, 1988, in the village of Las Flores, "Cerro
Colorado" canton in the jurisdiction of Ilobasco, department of
Cabañas, El Salvador, agents of the National Police murdered Mr. JURG
DIETER WEIS, a Swiss citizen and theologian.
A report from the Armed Forces Press Committee (COPREFA) said
that Mr. Weis and two other Salvadorans died in an armed engagement
with agents of the National Police. However, according to testimony submitted in evidence, Mr.
Jurg Dieter Weis was first taken into custody and then murdered by
members of the National Police.
There were nine high-caliber bullet wounds in the body and skin
had been torn from the face and neck.
According to the official version, these disfigurements were
caused by birds of prey. The
body also had lacerations approximately 10 cm long in the right chest
It was identified one day after the death, in other words on
August 23, 1988, a local evening newspaper, El Mundo, reported the
story which it obtained from military sources.
October 5, 1988, the Commission instituted the processing of the case
and requested that the Salvadoran Government provide the pertinent
information concerning the material facts of the petition and any
other information to apprise the Commission of the case history and
enable it to determine whether the remedies under domestic law had
been exhausted. The Government was given 90 days in which to reply.
that deadline had expired, the Commission, by note of January 26,
1989, again asked the Government of El Salvador to provide information
and advised it that it had 30 days in which to reply.
August 30, 1989, the Commission received extensive additional
information from the petitioner, which summarized the findings of a
mission of European delegates who were in El Salvador from September
18 to 25, 1988, to investigate the circumstances surrounding the death
of JURG WEIS. The delegation's report was formally presented to the then
President of the Republic of El Salvador, José Napoleón Duarte, to
the Attorney General and to the national and international public.
delegation consisted of Norberto Arhens (journalist, RFA), Gaty Gottwald
(Professor, former member of the German Parliament, RFA), Christian
Locher (Swiss clergyman), Thomas Onken (town councillor, Switzerland),
Bernard Rambert (Swiss lawyer), Jannies Sakellariou (member of the
European parliament, RFA), Hermann Schmidt (scientific member of the Max
Planck Institute of Astrophysics, RFA), Jean Théoleyre (Christian
Action for the Abolishment of Torture, France), and Manuela Wolf
(representative of the Central American Secretariat, Switzerland).
following is a summary of the pertinent parts of the information
provided by the petitioner based on the aforesaid delegation's report:
The forensic report by Professor Dirnhofer confirmed that Mr.
WEIS was hit by nine high-caliber bullets, that he was wounded in the
shoulder and thorax by blows inflicted with round objects.
He had also sustained a deep wound in the heart area, inflicted
with a bladed instrument. Although
he was alive when he sustained these injuries it was impossible to
determine which was the cause of death because of the condition of the
body when it was delivered for the forensic study.
National Police Bulletin 234 stated that Mr. WEIS died in a
violent engagement with a National Police patrol.
The findings of the forensic report, however, do not indicate any
"protection or defense wound" and show the presence of
numerous wounds inflicted before he died.
It also states that those wounds could only have been sustained
at close range; to be specific, the bullet wounds were inflicted at very
close range, anywhere from 20 centimeters to 2 meters, with a downward
trajectory beginning in the upper part and moving downward.
That angle could only have been produced if JURG WEIS was on the
ground or, if standing, was lower than the position of the police.
This version does not square with the version given by the
National Police, which states that during the engagement Mr. WEIS was in
a corn field, above the sugarcane field where the police were said to be
The European Delegation also reports that during its interviews,
the National Police stated that there was no "man-to-man fighting
at any time wherein there would have been bodily contact between the two
sides". This version
of the events leaves no logical explanation for the blows and cuts that
Mr. Weis sustained.
According to the final forensic report of Dr. Dirnhofer,
subsequent to death the body of JURG WEIS was skinned on the face and
neck through human intervention, using a sharp cutting instrument.
The cuts on the skin and the extraction of the cerebral material
were done by human hand, contrary to what surgeon Dr. Matute Castro
reported, which was that "soft tissue had been torn away... by
animals of prey..."
October 4, 1989, the Commission again asked the Salvadoran Government to
supply the pertinent information on the case in question, giving it
another 60 days in which to reply.
This request also carried a warning concerning Article 42 of the
February 12, 1990, the Commission again asked the Government of El
Salvador for information on the investigations conducted into this case,
and warned of application of Article 42 of the Regulations if, by the
expiration of 30 days, no response on the matter had been sent.
May 11, 1990, the Government of El Salvador, through its Human Rights
Commission, sent the following note to the Inter-American Commission on
JURG DIETER WEIS or WEIS JURG DIETER, a Swiss national, died on
August 22, 1988, at 2:30 p.m., in the village of Las Flores, Cerro
Colorado, Ilobasco. On the
day of the events, this Swiss national was a member of a FMLN terrorist
column that engaged agents of the National Police at around noon or 1:00
p.m. As a result, the Swiss
national and two Salvadoran terrorists were killed.
The terrorists gravely wounded policeman Rodolfo Escobar Pérez.
The National Police took their wounded agent and left the three
bodies for two hours; when they returned at around 4:00 p.m., the body
of the Swiss national had lesions on the face.
According to some versions, the FMLN terrorists used a blade to
disfigure the face of the Swiss man to make him unrecognizable, because
the FMLN denies that it has mercenaries.
The body of the Swiss man was identified by the Ilobasco Justice
of the Peace and his remains were turned over to the Swiss Vice Counsel,
Hans Ruedy Simon. The body
in question had various wounds as birds of prey had torn away pieces of
soft tissue and viscera in the lumbar region.
The body was identified one day after the engagement.
10. On November
9, 1990, the Commission sent the petitioner the pertinent parts of the
Government's reply so that said petitioner might make whatever
observations he deemed necessary concerning its content.
11. On January
29, 1991, the Commission received the petitioner's observations on the
information supplied by the Government of El Salvador.
In this submission, the petitioner stated, in short, that the
Government of El Salvador had not given a clear reply on the case in
question and that "the allegations were made without offering any
concrete and objective proof to substantiate them"; the Government
did not specify the source when it offered "information based on
accounts of what transpired."
12. On March 2,
1992, the Commission sent the Government of El Salvador the petitioner's
observations on the information that the Government had supplied in
connection with the case.
13. On August
12, 1992, the Commission sent additional information to the Government
of El Salvador and asked that it inform the Commission what
investigations were being conducted by the authorities.
14. On January
15, 1993, new and additional information was received from the
petitioner, summarizing the history of the proceedings conducted by the
Ilobasco Court of First Instance. This
report states that "the domestic judicial process has not made any
progress since 1989."
15. On January
26, 1993, the Commission again called upon the Government of El Salvador
to provide the information that it deemed appropriate on the case in
question. In that same
communication, the Commission advised the Government that Article 42 of
the Commission's Regulations might be applied if no reply was received
within thirty days.
16. On March 1,
1993, the Commission received a communication from the Government of El
Salvador in connection with the case under investigation.
This reply summarize the measures taken; the pertinent parts are
The Ilobasco Court of First Instance conducted the inquiry into
the deaths of one unidentified person, a Mr. Carlos Mauricio Linares
Magaña, a Swiss citizen by the name of Weis Jurg Dieter (sic) and an
agent of the National Police Rodolfo Escobar Pérez.
The case file contains the medical examination performed on the
corpse of the Swiss citizen, which stated that soft tissue had been
pulled away from the cranium, the face and the front neck by birds of
prey and that there was bone damage to the cranium and the frontal and
orbital lobes; there was a bullet entry wound in the right deltoid 2
centimeters in diameter, with no exit wound; soft tissue had been torn
away in the lumbar region and right flank by birds of prey, around 30
centimeters long and 20 centimeters wide; there were 9 high-caliber
bullet wounds, with the entry wound in the infrascapular and right
lumbar region, with no exit wounds; there were multiple lacerations
around 10 centimeters long in the right pectoral region; the immediate
cause of death were the injuries described above.
The witnesses who testified during the proceedings were agents of
the National Police. They said that on August 22, 1988, they were on patrol from
the Ilobasco National Police headquarters, for routine highway duty from
7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.. The
area they covered included the Ilobasco road.
At around 1:00 p.m., they decided to check whether what they had
been told was true, i.e., that in the village of Las Flores, in Cerro
Colorado Canton, there was a bomb on the property of a family by the
name of Abarca; that when they arrived on the scene, they began to fire
at them, whereupon they returned fire.
The exchange of fire lasted between thirty and forty minutes.
When the shooting stopped, they found the body of an unknown man
clutching an Ar-15 rifle; agent Rodolfo Escobar Pérez was also wounded,
and two people were killed. Their
two M-16 rifles and cartridges were removed from them.
The testimony was that at the time guerrillas would bury any
casualties sustained in confrontations in order to avoid desertion in
the ranks; if they were unable to bury them, they disfigured the face so
that the individuals could not be identified.
The matter of the Swiss citizen is regrettable, but he died in an
engagement. For all these
reasons, the Government of El Salvador is asking that this case be
17. By note
dated April 1, 1993, the Commission transmitted the pertinent parts of
the Government's reply to the petitioner and gave the petitioner 45 days
in which to present observations.
18. In a
submission dated May 11, 1993, the petitioner made observations on the
Salvadoran Government's reply, stating that "the information needed
to establish the facts in this case has not been supplied [and] the
Government had simply repeated its original assertions, which have been
completely discredited by our observations thereon.
19. On October
5, 1993, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, sitting at its
84th Regular Meeting considered this case and issued Report No. 15/93,
pursuant to Article 50 of the American Convention on Human Rights.
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights resolved to send the Report,
on a confidential basis, to the Government of El Salvador, granting it
three months to implement the recommendations contained therein.
21. The Government
of El Salvador failed to answer the Commission's request of October 18,
the question of admissibility:
petition satisfies the formal requirements for admissibility contained
in the American Convention on Human Rights and in the Regulations of the
petition is not pending settlement in another international proceeding
and is not substantially the same as a previous petition already
examined by the Commission.
the competence of the Commission:
Commission is competent in the instant case because it concerns
violations of rights recognized in the American Convention on Human
Rights, chiefly Article 4 on the right to life; Article 5 on the right
to humane treatment; Articles 8 and 25 on the right to a fair trial and
the right to judicial protection, respectively, as provided in Article
44 of that Convention, to which El Salvador is a State Party.
1.1 of the American Convention, which is binding upon El Salvador,
The States Parties to this Convention undertake to respect the
rights and freedoms recognized herein and to ensure to all persons
subject to their jurisdiction the free and full exercise of those rights
and freedoms, without any discrimination for reasons of race, color,
sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social
origin, economic status, birth, or any other social condition.
the content of the petition:
the fact that nearly five years have passed since the events occurred
and despite the egregious nature of the charges, the Government of El
Salvador has not satisfactorily responded to the facts submitted by the
petitioner as to the material findings of the judicial investigation
concerning the time, manner and place in which Mr. JURG WEIS died or who
bears the responsibility.
first reply that the Government sent to the Commission, wherein it
states that "The National Police took their wounded agent and left
the three bodies for two hours; when they returned at around 4:00 p.m.,
the body of the Swiss national had lesions on the face.
According to some versions, the FMLN terrorists used a blade to
disfigure the face of the Swiss man to make him unrecognizable, because
the FMLN denies that it has mercenaries", not sufficiently proved,
because it was based on versions whose source and credibility are
unknown and the short amount of time that elapsed makes this possibility
Indeed, the argument used by the National Police to the effect
that members of the FMLN skinned the face and neck of Mr. WEIS was not
very credible, because by the police's own account the bodies were left
alone for only a short period, no more than two hours, during which time
they contend the FMLN guerrillas disfigured Mr. WEIS' face supposedly in
order to prevent him from being identified.
First, the face is not the only means to identify an individual;
second, it is senseless to disfigure a face to prevent identification
only to leave behind a passport that proves the individual's identity
autopsy conducted in Switzerland on the body of JURG WEIS confirmed that
judging from their location, trajectory and the width of the entry
wounds, the bullets that hit the deceased were undoubtedly fired at very
short range: "The firing distance indicates that they were likely
what is known as `burn shots' (20 to 60 centimeters) up to two
meters". This does not
square with the official version of the death, as told by members of the
National Police and not disputed by the authorities, i.e. that the
individual died in combat.
From the autopsy in question, there were serious signs that the
violence was inflicted upon the body of Mr. WEIS while he was still
alive. The report stated:
"that the person was still alive when he sustained these
injuries is shown by the fact that there was heavy hemorrhaging; in
other words at the time the violence was inflicted and the blood vessels
were destroyed, the heart was still pumping, forcing the blood into the
surrounding tissue...". Although
this argument was officially conveyed to the Government, there has been
Government of El Salvador insists on the theory that "birds of prey
had torn part of the tissue and viscera in the lumbar region...".
This argument was also refuted by the forensic evidence which
states that the removal of skin from the face and from part of the neck
was undoubtedly done by a blade wielded by a human hand subsequent to
death. The forensic report
ends by saying that "any possibility that these lesions in the
lumbar region were caused by animals of prey has to be discarded".
Indeed, it is strange that birds of prey would attack a body
within hours of its death, and stranger still that these animals would
attack only one body when there were two other dead bodies at the same
site. There is also the
fact that in the course of the investigation, no one mentioned having
seen these birds of prey in the vicinity of the place where the dead
bodies were located.
other aspects related to processing:
facts prompting this petition are not such that they can be resolved
through recourse to the friendly settlement procedure and neither the
Government nor the petitioners asked the Commission to use this
procedure, provided for in Article 48.1.f of the Convention and Article
45 of the Commission's Regulations.
the friendly settlement procedure does not apply, the Commission must
comply with the provisions of Article 50.1 of the Convention, issuing
its opinion and conclusions on the matter placed before it for
legal and statutory procedures set forth in the Convention and in the
Commission's Regulations have been exhausted, and beyond the stipulated
extension deadlines have been allowed.
the exhaustion of remedies under domestic law:
the instant case, the petitioner has been unable to secure effective
protection from bodies having jurisdiction, since the criminal
proceedings to investigate the circumstances under which Mr. WEIS died
did not achieve any results and the State, according to the reply it
sent to the Commission, believes that the case was now closed on the
theory that Mr. Weis died in an engagement.
Hence, the remedies have been exhausted in accordance with
Article 46 of the Convention, as described below.
effect, the first proceeding conducted by the Justice of the Peace of
Ilobasco was the identification of the body of JURG WEIS on August 23,
1988, i.e., one day after his death.
Then, the body was turned over to the Honorary Council of
Switzerland in El Salvador, Mr. H. Simon.
The case file was then sent to the Ilobasco Court of First
Court has done little to investigate the case in question.
In the initial proceedings, the Judge received the reports from
the National Police concerning the identification of the deceased
persons, the alleged encounter during which they died and information
from the Chief of the Technical Assistance Department concerning the
immigration papers of Mr. WEIS.
October 27, 1988, the Special Prosecutor, Sotero Consuett Díaz, asked
the Judge of First Instance, Dr. Edgar Gutiérrez Morán, for a list of
the police officers who had taken part in the operation; exhumation of
the bodies of Mr. LINARES MAGAÑA and the unknown deceased person, who
were accompanying Mr. WEIS; an investigation into the caliber of the
shells found at the scene of the events; a statement from Mr. Abarca,
owner of the property where the events occurred; the clinical report on
National Police Agent Rodolfo Escobar Pérez, who allegedly died as a
result of wounds sustained in the engagement; and information from the
Commission of Criminal Investigation of the National Police concerning
the extrajudicial steps taken to ascertain the facts in the death of
with regard to the tests which the special prosecutor requested of the
judge, only the exhumation of the bodies was conducted, and that was
done on January 16, 1989. The
official forensic report of Dr. Matute Castro revealed the presence of a
5.56 millimeter armed projectile in the upper left scapular of the
unidentified body; in the body of Mr. LINARES MAGAÑA, a splinter from a
projectile was found, but it was impossible to determine its caliber.
In effect, the prosecutor's other requests did not produce any
additional information on the investigation.
No analysis was made of the shells found at the scene of the
events. The response from
the Commission of Criminal Investigations was negative, since it
reported that it had not taken any steps in the case.
There was no additional information on the clinical history of
Police Agent Escobar Pérez either.
The only document concerning his death is the record filed by two
national police detectives on September 10, 1988, to the effect that
agent Escobar Pérez died as a result of septic shock caused by bullet
wounds, after having been wounded in the alleged encounter.
of the lack of investigatory activity in the criminal proceedings, the
Commission would like to once again cite the finding of the
Inter-American Court of Human Rights to the effect that "The State
is obligated to investigate every situation involving a violation of the
rights protected by the Convention.
If the State apparatus acts in such a way that the violation goes
unpunished and the victim's full enjoyment of such rights is not
restored as soon as possible, the State has failed to comply with its
duty to ensure the free and full exercise of those rights to the persons
within its jurisdiction. The
same is true when the State allows private persons or groups to act
freely and with impunity to the detriment of the rights recognized by
to the witnesses who testified in the judicial proceeding, the
Commission is surprised that the only witnesses called were "police
agents." According to
the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the obligation to investigate
"must be undertaken in a serious manner and not as a mere formality
preordained to be ineffective. An
investigation must have an objective and be assumed by the State as its
own legal duty, not as a step taken by private interests that depends
upon the initiative of the
victim or his family or upon their offer of proof, without an effective
search for the truth by the Government. This is true regardless of what agent is eventually found
responsible for the violation. Where
the acts of private parties which violate
the Convention are not seriously investigated, those parties are aided
in a sense by the Government, thereby making the State responsible on
the international plane."
regard to noncompliance of Report 15/93 of October 1993
The three-month deadline given the Government of El Salvador has
elapsed and it has not complied with the Commission's recommendations in
Report No. 15/93, nor has it answered the communication of October 18,
1993, notifying it that the report was adopted and sending it a text
on the information and observations stated above, the Inter-American
Commission on Human Rights concludes that the Government of El Salvador
is responsible for the facts denounced in the petition of September 14,
1988, in the death of Mr. JURG DIETER WEIS by agents of the National
Police, in the "Las Flores" hamlet of the "Cerro
Colorado" Canton, in the jurisdiction of Ilobasco, department of
Cabañas, El Salvador, on August 22, 1988.
further finds that the Government of El Salvador has violated the rights
to life, humane treatment, a fair trial and judicial protection, upheld
in articles 4, 5, 8, and 25, respectively, of the American Convention on
Human Rights, in relation to Article 1.1 of the Convention, of which El
Salvador is a State Party.
makes the following recommendations to the Government of El Salvador:
it reopen the criminal proceedings and conduct a rapid, impartial and
thorough investigation of the facts denounced so that the circumstances
under which they occurred may be fully brought to light and those
responsible identified and brought to trial to receive the punishments
that such serious conduct demands.
it make the necessary reparations for the violation of the
aforementioned rights and pay a fair compensation to the aggrieved
invites the Government of El Salvador to accept the jurisdiction of the
Inter-American Court of Human Rights in this specific case which is the
subject of this report.
publish this report pursuant to Article 48 of the Commission's
Regulations and Article 53.1 of the Convention, because the Government
of El Salvador did not adopt measures to correct the situation denounced
within the time period.