February 1, 1994
February 15 and March 7, 1990, the Inter-American Commission on Human
Rights received a petition, the pertinent parts of which are
In December 1989, six individuals disappeared and have not been
seen since. They were all
members of the San Cayetano El Rosario Cooperative, Llano de la Laguna
canton in the department of Ahuachapán.
The disappearance of the members of this cooperative occurred
amid a land dispute with the former owner of the property, Clementina
Avelar Falla, whose hacienda was expropriated by FINATA on July 26,
1985, to be turned over to the cooperative in question.
On December 4, 1989, at 6:00 a.m., two truckloads of soldiers
from Military Post No. 7 in Ahuachapán came to the cooperative and
searched its premises and the homes of its members, but did not find
anything suspicious. At
around 9:00 p.m. the next day, uniformed members of the Las Chinamas
Civilian Defense Force arrested two members of the cooperative, Julio
César Juárez Vásquez (19) and his brother Juan Antonio Juárez Vásquez
(26), at their domicile in the cooperative, in the presence of their
families. Both the Civilian Defense Force and the military post and
other military units denied having them in custody.
On December 26 of that year, Mrs. Anabel e Torres, representing
Condesa de C.V., went to the cooperative and spoke with several
officers. She informed them that she had purchased the property and
that they had one month to vacate the property, which would be divided
into lots in January.
On December 29, 1989, the other four men, Leonardo Pérez Núñez
(age 23 and treasurer of the cooperative), and the three brothers
Gerardo Saldaña Salazar (24 and president), Juan Saldaña Salazar (25
and secretary), and José Eladio Saldaña Salazar (33 and the driver),
were seized at 8:30 a.m. outside the Los Ausoles processing plant not
far from the cooperative. The
four men were travelling with eight other people in a truck owned by
the cooperative. It was
stopped by soldiers, who were accompanied by four men in civilian
dress and driving a white jeep. The
four men who were seized were taken away in the jeep.
One of those who had been with the men in civilian dress drove
the other eight people to Ahuachapán.
There he told them to get out and then abandoned the truck.
The vehicle was returned to the cooperative but was never used
again, so that it might still have the fingerprints of one of those
who apprehended the victims.
Relatives of the victims have exhausted every possible avenue to
ascertain the whereabouts of the disappeared and have reported the case
to the authorities, but without result.
Colonel Mauricio Staben of the Seventh Military Outpost at
Ahuachapán met on two different occasions with members of the
cooperative to tell them that he had no hand in these events and to ask
them to stop circulating rumors to that effect. At one of the last meetings, held on February 6, 1990, he
accused certain members of the cooperative of collaborating with the
guerrilla movement and threatened to take measures against them.
The cooperative had problems in the past with the previous
owners, because a relative of one of the owners was implicated in the
Las Hojas Massacre in 1983.
February 23, 1990, the Commission instituted the processing of the case
and asked the Government of El Salvador to supply information pertinent
to the facts in the petition and any other information that would
apprise the Commission of the case history and enable it to determine
whether the remedies of domestic law had been exhausted.
The Government was given ninety days in which to reply.
communication received on March 7, 1990, concerning the disappearance of
the brothers Julio César and Juan Antonio Juárez Vásquez, was
initially processed as Case No. 10,525, but was subsequently joined with
the original case (Case No. 10,517), pursuant to Article 40.2 of the
July 26, 1990, the Government of El Salvador sent a note to the
Commission, dated May 2 of that year, to the following effect:
...this Secretariat of State made the appropriate overtures with
the Vice Minister for Public Safety, who responded that the report which
the Office of the Director General of the National Guard submitted on
this matter states that `the institution's files have been carefully
reviewed and there is no record of an arrest involving the individuals
named in the communique sent...
November 9, 1990, the Commission sent the petitioner the pertinent parts
of the Government's reply, asking that the petitioner convey his
observations within 45 days. That
request was repeated on January 17, 1991.
note of January 31, 1991, the Commission sent the Government of El
Salvador additional information supplied by the petitioner and repeated
its earlier request for information, giving the Government another 30
days for its reply. The new
information reported concerned events that transpired subsequent to the
disappearances, as summarized below:
On January 24, 1990, Mrs. Anabel de Torres and Mrs. Clementina de
Avelar Falla sent a group of men to the cooperative to take the
necessary measures to divide the hacienda into lots.
These men began to trample some of the cooperative's crops.
On February 12, at 9:40 a.m., neighbors from the Los Magueyes
canton, among them the wife of one of the disappeared Gerardo Antonio
Saldaña, saw her husband and Leonardo Pérez Núñez in the custody of
uniformed soldiers from the Military Outpost, on board a military truck.
Both of them were dirty and appeared to have been beaten.
On February 23, soldiers from the Outpost dragged the wife of
Gerardo Antonio Saldaña and his mother-in-law from their home to demand
that they say which of the trucks from the Outpost they had seen take
the two members of the cooperative away.
Since all of the trucks are the same style and color, they were
unable to identify it.
On March 2, Colonel Staben returned to the cooperative, this time
in the company of soldiers from the Outpost, agents of the National
Guard and reporters from COPREFA to threaten the families of the
disappeared and those who witnessed the captures into signing a document
wherein they cleared the Outpost of any part of the seizure of the six
members of the cooperative.
The Armed Forces had denied any role in these events and the Army
itself has tried to intimidate the families and members of the
cooperative who have been brave enough to denounce the case.
When the pressure about the case reached a certain level, a
decision was made to dismiss Colonel Staben, who had for some time been
linked to cases involving serious human rights violations.
A proper investigation of the case to determine who was
responsible and the fate of those taken has not been made.
March 2, 1992, the Commission again asked the Government of El Salvador
to provide information on the investigations conducted into the present
case and gave it sixty days in which to reply.
August 20, 1992, the Government of El Salvador sent a note of reply to
the Commission, the text of which follows:
On instructions from the President of the Republic, an exhaustive
investigation was instituted to ascertain the facts of this case, and
the following conclusions were reached:
Soledad Saldaña, María Jesús Vásquez Mendoza, Julia Nuñez de
Pérez, Reyes Coronado Martínez, Simeón Vásquez and Araceli del
Carmen López did not identify the individuals who captured the missing
persons, as shown at pages 7 (front and back), 10 (front and back) and
17 (front and back).
Neither the aggrieved parties nor witnesses identified the
vehicle in which the missing persons were allegedly transported, who
were taken to an unknown destination, as shown at pages 7 (front and
back) and 17 (front and back).
The theory is that the Vásquez brothers' disappearance on
December 5, 1989, may be due to the fact that a well on the San Cayetano
Cooperative was fenced in; when neighbors were unable to supply
themselves from the fenced-in well, problems arose to the point that
they even threatened them with death, as their mother María Jesús
Vasquez stated, as shown at page 9 (reverse side) and page 10 (front
Because Mrs. Clementina de Falla had her property expropriated by
virtue of Agrarian Reform Decree 207, the beneficiaries being the
members of the San Cayetano Cooperative, the theory is that there was
friction between this woman and the members of the Cooperative, and Mrs.
Soledad Saldaña, mother of the three Saldaña Salazar brothers,
believes that Mrs. Clementina de Falla is behind her sons'
disappearance, as shown at pages 7 (front and back).
These proceedings have clearly established that both the
aggrieved parties and the witnesses exonerated the Armed Forces of any
blame. According to all the
statements, the real perpetrators are unknown persons; certain
statements even mention some of the above-named individuals as the
possible guilty parties.
Based on the statements attached to page 7 (front and back), 10
(front and back) and 17 (front and back), in the instant case there is
clear evidence that FEDECOPADE resorted to political manipulation by
only requesting the fingerprints of the aggrieved parties and not
reading to them the content of the paid published notices, which were
solely intended to smear the image of the Armed Forces and of the
Government, both nationally and internationally...
...The Government therefore requests that this case be filed and
that the proper notifications be made.
October 5, 1993, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, sitting
at its 84th Regular Meeting considered this case and issued Report No.
16/93, pursuant to Article 50 of the American Convention on Human
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.
Government of El Salvador failed to answer the Commission's request of
October 18, 1993.
the question of admissibility:
petition satisfies the formal requirements for admissibility contained
in the American Convention on Human Rights and in the Commission's
petition is not pending with any other international proceeding and is
not substantially the same as a previous petition already examined by
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, principally Article 4 on the right to life, Article 5 on the
right to humane treatment, Article 7 on the right to personal liberty
and Article 25 on the right to judicial protection, as provided in
Article 44 of the Convention, of which El Salvador is a State Party.
Article 1.1 of the American Convention, which is binding upon El
Salvador, states that:
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 and exhaustion of the remedies under
the fact that almost 4 years have passed since the events occurred and
despite the seriousness of the charges, the Government of El Salvador
has not given a satisfactory response concerning the events reported by
the petitioner in terms of ascertaining the whereabouts of the detained
cooperative members or investigating and punishing those responsible for
replies sent by the Government of El Salvador, dated May 2, 1990 and
August 20, 1992, report no active measures or legal proceedings by the
responsible authorities to investigate the commission of punishable
offenses --such as the forced disappearance of persons-- or the findings
of any such inquiries. The
American Convention stipulates that this is a duty incumbent upon the
State. The Inter-American
Court of Human Rights has interpreted that duty as follows:
The duty to investigate facts of this type continues as long as
there is uncertainty about the fate of the person who has disappeared.
Even in the hypothetical case that those individual responsible
for crimes of this type cannot be legally punished under certain
circumstances, the State is obligated to use the means at its disposal
to inform the relatives of the fate of the victims and, if they have
been killed, the location of their remains.
failure to comply with the duty to investigate by taking positive
measures aimed at producing a result that sheds light on the facts is
evident from the very content of the Salvadoran Government's replies. There, the Government merely states that "the
institution's [the National Guard's] files have been carefully reviewed
and there is no record of an arrest involving the individuals ..."
(according to the note of May 2, 1990); that relatives of the victims
"did not identify the individuals who captured the missing
persons"; that "Neither the aggrieved parties nor witnesses
identified the vehicle in which the missing persons were allegedly
transported, who were taken to an unknown destination ..."; and
even that "These proceedings have clearly established that both the
aggrieved parties and the witnesses exonerated the Armed Forces of any
blame the real authors are identified as unknown persons. According to
all the statements, the real perpetrators are unknown persons."
this connection, in the judgment cited earlier, the Inter-American Court
of Human Rights stated the following concerning the State's
responsibility as an active subject that must pursue the investigation
and not leave it to third parties:
In certain circumstances, it may be difficult to investigate acts
that violate an individual's rights.
The duty to investigate, like the duty to prevent, is not
breached merely because the investigation does not produce a
satisfactory result. Nevertheless,
it 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 interest 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 that 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
above observation takes on particular relevance when one reviews the
text of the Government's final response, to the effect that "The
theory is that the Vásquez brothers' disappearance on December 5, 1989,
may be due to the fact that a well on the San Cayetano Cooperative was
fenced in; when neighbors were unable to supply themselves from the
fenced-in well, problems arose to the point that they even threatened
them with death, as their mother María Jesús Vasquez stated."
Despite evidence pointing to the identity of those responsible
for the enforced disappearance, the State did not head the investigation
in that direction, but rather confined itself to
`theories' about who was responsible for the events, thereby
failing to fulfill its legal obligations under the American Convention
on Human Rights.
in the previous case, the failure to comply with the duty to investigate
can be inferred from the Government's own statements about the
disappearance of the Saldaña brothers.
While it theorizes that "Because Mrs. Clementina de Falla
had her property expropriated by virtue of Agrarian Reform Decree 207,
the beneficiaries being the members of the San Cayetano Cooperative, the
theory is that there is friction between this woman and the members of
the Cooperative, and Mrs. Soledad Saldaña, mother of the three Saldaña
Salazar brothers, believes that Mrs. Clementina de Falla is behind her
sons' disappearance," the Government nevertheless did not institute
an inquiry to ascertain the facts and determine who was responsible for
citation from the jurisprudence of the Inter-American Court in this
regard parallels the earlier observations.
In effect, the Court stated that "States Parties have an
obligation to provide effective judicial remedies to victims of human
rights violation (Art. 25), remedies that must be substantiated
according to the rules of due process of law (Art. 8 (1)), all in
keeping with the general obligation of such States to guarantee the free
and full exercise of the rights recognized by the Convention to all
persons subject to their jurisdiction."
the matter of the content of the Salvadoran Government's replies and its
request can best be summed up by again citing the Court:
"Thus, in principle, any violation of rights recognized by
the Convention carried out by an act of public authority or by persons
who use their position of authority is imputable to the State.
However, this does not define all the circumstances in which a
State is obligated to prevent, investigate and punish human rights
violations, nor all the cases in which the State might be found
responsible for an infringement of those rights.
An illegal act which violates human rights and which is initially
not directly imputable to a State (for example, because it is the acts
of a private person or because the person
responsible has not been identified) can lead to international
responsibility of the State, not because of the act itself, but because
of the lack of due diligence to prevent the violation or to respond to
it as required by the Convention."
regard to other matters related to the processing of the case:
facts prompting the petition in the instant case are not such that they
can be resolved through recourse to the friendly settlement procedure;
moreover, neither the Government nor the petitioners asked the
Commission to invoke 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 Article 50.1 of the Convention, and therefore issue its
opinion and findings on the matter put to it for consideration.
legal and statutory procedures established in the Convention and the
Commission's Regulations have been exhausted, even beyond the stipulated
reference to the crime of enforced disappearance and the many rights
violated when this crime is committed, the Inter-American Court of Human
Rights stated that "the forced disappearance of human beings is a
multiple and continuous violation of many rights under the Convention
that the States Parties are obligated to respect and guarantee. The kidnapping of a person is an arbitrary deprivation of
liberty, an infringement of a detainee's right to be taken without delay
before a judge and to invoke the appropriate procedures to review the
legality of the arrest, all in violation of Article 7 of the Convention
which recognizes the right to personal liberty (...).
Moreover, prolonged isolation and deprivation of communication
are in themselves cruel and inhumane treatment, harmful to the
psychological and moral integrity of the person and a violation of the
right of any detainee to respect for his inherent dignity as a human
being. Such treatment,
therefore, violates Article 5 of the Convention, which recognizes the
right to the integrity of the person (...).
The practice of disappearances often involves secret execution
without trial, followed by concealment of the body to eliminate any
material evidence of the crime and to ensure the impunity of those
responsible. This is a
flagrant violation of the right to life, recognized in Article 4 of the
regard to noncompliance with Report 16/93 of October 1993
The three-month deadline given to the Government of El Salvador
has elapsed and it has not complied with the Commission's
recommendations in Report No. 16/93, nor has it answered the
communication of October 18, 1993, notifying it that the report was
adopted and sending it a text thereof.
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights concludes that the Government
of El Salvador is responsible for the facts denounced in the
communications of February 15 and March 7, 1990, concerning the
disappearance of Julio César Juárez Vásquez (19), his brother Juan
Antonio Juárez Vásquez (26), Leonardo Pérez Núñez (23) and the
three brothers Gerardo Saldaña Salazar (24), Juan Saldaña Salazar (25)
and José Eladio Saldaña Salazar (33).
All the victims were members of the San Cayetano El Rosario
Cooperative in the canton of Llano de la Laguna in the department of
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 victims'
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.