1. In 1978, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights approved a special report on the situation of human rights in El Salvador, as a result of an in loco observation visit that it carried out in the country at the beginning of that year. Since that time the Commission has been carefully observing the development of the situation with respect to the observance and protection of human rights. This has led to the presentation to the General Assembly of periodic reports on human rights.
In recent years, the Commission’s reports have described a situation of generalized violations of human rights, covering virtually all rights, freedoms and guarantees set forth in the American Convention on Human Rights to which El Salvador is a party.
2. The most outstanding event of this period was the holding of a general election, as a result of which Mr. José Napoleón Duarte was elected as Constitutional President of El Salvador. This extremely important fact makes it possible to distinguish between the period prior to June 1, on which the new government was inaugurated, from the subsequent period. This distinction is necessary since it makes it possible to indicate the limitations on the new government in its undertaking to provide effective protection of human rights in the country.
In this connection, it is necessary to indicate that those limitations derive substantially from the situation of serious and generalized violations of human rights which has characterized El Salvador in recent years. In this situation, which remained substantially unchanged in the first part of the period under consideration, a substantial number of organizations was established, often partially interconnected, whose activities have a negative effect on practically all areas of Salvadoran life with respect to the observance of human rights. As was indicated at the time, several of these organizations are part of the State apparatus, while others operate with its tacit consent.
3. Thus, with respect to the right to life, as is well known and has been detailed by the Commission, the statistics on El Salvador are alarming. It is estimated that the total number of persons who have died as a consequence of the violence reached 50,000, many of them assassinated in the most inhumane way, in acts attributable to the security forces or those that operate with their acquiescence.
4. With respect to the right to personal freedom, the IACHR had also indicated that its observance has been severely restricted for several years due to the maintenance of the state of emergency. Under this regime, anyone may be detained without the requirement of a warrant, and for prolonged periods without being brought before a judge. The remedy of “amparo” or of habeas corpus were rendered null since the state of emergency indefinitely suspends such remedies. In this regard, it is important to note that the Constitution of El Salvador, in Article 175, establishes that the maximum period for such suspensions shall not exceed thirty days, which can be extended only in extreme cases, for a similar period; the exception has thus become the rule.
5. The right to personal integrity is another right which has been most frequently violated, in view of weak protection of it by governmental and judicial authorities. Thus, it has been noted that torture has become a common and extremely generalized practice in interrogation processes, and is applied to detainees of both sexes.
Torture apparently has also become a punitive measure for the “presumably subversive elements,” as would seem to be demonstrated by the marks of torture on a great number of persons whose bodies were found in the streets of El Salvador in the first part of the period under consideration.
6. The right to justice has also been deeply affected by the state of emergency that governs in El Salvador. The statement of the Commission in its previous Annual Report should be reiterated: The American Convention on Human Rights does not authorize suspension of the judicial guarantees necessary to protect fundamental rights, even less so when that suspension is in force for unduly long periods, as has happened in El Salvador. To this should be added the lack of independence and authority of its judiciary, against whose members criminal acts have also been practiced.
The extreme restrictions on judicial guarantees have led, as stated earlier, to the failure to conclude of many trials, leading to a lack of confidence in the judicial system among the population. In this situation, a very high number of persons was submitted to police and judicial investigations without the observance of the necessary guarantees to insure them appropriate and just interrogations or judgments.
Within this context, the Commission has repeatedly pointed to the serious violations of other human rights: the right to freedom of thought and speech; the right of assembly; the right not to be subjected to arbitrary or abusive interference in private life, in the home and in correspondence; the right of association; the right to protection of private property; the right to residence and movement.
7. In this regard, the IACHR received and processed many complaints during the first part of the period under consideration. A small percentage of these received satisfactory replies, in other cases there was no reply, and in others the type of reply cited below was received.
San Salvador, February 17, 1984
The Government of El Salvador emphatically rejects any kind of accusation that involves the Armed Forces and that questions the professionalism with which it carries out its mission of protecting Salvadoran institutions.
Alejandro Gómez Vides
Vice Minister of Foreign Relations
8. As indicated, the exercise of political rights has been the most relevant fact of this period. The right to vote was exercised by a significant proportion of the Salvadoran population in the elections of last March and May, leading to the election of a President, Vice-President and members of a Congress in El Salvador. In the March elections, the Christian Democratic Presidential candidate, Mr. José Napoleón Duarte, did not obtain an absolute majority of votes, which lead to the run-off election in May. On that occasion, Mr. Duarte obtained 53.59 percent of the vote, and his opponent of the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA), Major Roberto D’Aubuisson, 46.41 percent.
The results of the elections had a special importance, because they led to the first civilian candidate to be democratically elected in El Salvador in 50 years. It should be noted, however, that a substantial part of the process was carried out under the same restrictions of the state of emergency.
Prior to officially assuming office as President of El Salvador, Mr. Duarte traveled to the United States, where in several public appearances he reiterated his commitment to introducing reforms to re-establish the full observance of human rights, carrying out investigations to clarify assassinations such as that of Monsignor Romero, and putting an end to the activities of the death squads.
9. With respect to the first 90 days of the new Government, it should be noted that in his presidential inauguration speech, on June 1, 1984, President Duarte established as a fundamental policy of his Government the protection, promotion and full observance of human rights in El Salvador. To that end, and in accordance with a report sent to the Commission by the Government the protection, promotion and full observance of human rights in El Salvador. To that end, and in accordance with a report sent to the Commission by the Government of El Salvador, the following measures, among others, have been adopted:
a) To give priority to denunciations of the violations of human rights both through the Commission on Human Rights of El Salvador and agencies of Public Security and the corresponding organ of the Judiciary.
b) To carry out regular inspections of detention centers to enforce observance of human rights.
c) To strengthen the procedures of the Courts of Instruction, in order to guarantee impartial trials in the cases of persons judged under the provisions of Decrees 507, 943 and 50.
d) To strengthen the institutional structure of the Commission on Human Rights for daily visits to the sites of the security forces, military garrisons, hospitals and other institutions, in order to investigate complaints of disappeared or kidnapped persons.
e) To dissolve the Treasury Intelligence Police, two of whose members are on trial and two who are fugitives, on the basis of denunciations and investigations.
f) To support the judicial proceedings against former guards accused of killing the American nuns. The verdict was guilty.
g) To create, in June, a Subsecretariat of Public Security to achieve more effective control over the security forces under the Vice Minister. Colonel Reynaldo López Nuila, member of the Commission of Human Rights of El Salvador, was appointed to the position.
h) To create, in July, an investigating commission charged with clarifying the acts committed by the “death squads.”
i) To investigate denunciations of alleged military attacks on the civilian population.
10. The Commission is deeply satisfied that after fifty years the people of El Salvador have a civilian President elected by popular vote, as well as by the promising statements and measures which, according to our information, have been adopted by the new Government of El Salvador in the area of human rights. On the other hand, it is a matter of concern that the Commission has continued to receive, although less frequently, denunciations of death squad activity, assassinations, kidnappings and disappearances, indiscriminate bombing of the civilian population in conflict zones, and illegal detentions.
11. With respect to the measures adopted by the Government of President Duarte on human rights, the Commission has received the following observations that bear on the protection of such rights. With respect to the dismantling of the Treasury Intelligence Police:
a. Members of the dissolved unit, against whom there are serious charges of being linked to the death squads, have not been subject to any investigation; the new administration, following the same policy of previous administrations, has proceeded to transfer them to other zones in the interior of the country.
b. Members of the dissolved intelligence unit have not been eliminated or removed from the Treasury Police, but rather continued to serve in it, working in the same intelligence field, but in other areas of the country;
With respect to the creation of a commission to investigate the death squads:
a. It is noted that a Commission has been created, composed of members of the Armed Forces, and headed by a colonel who is taking special training courses in investigation. The members of that group, according to statements of June 20 by President Duarte, would at this time be in a preparatory stage.
b. It is known that the death squads are paramilitary groups, and by their own definition, irregular military commands that carry out nonconventional special operations in the anti-subversive war, and whose possible link to the Armed Forces is never official. Because of this, it is unlikely, according to reports, that the Investigating Commission will have success, if this entails dismantling the State Security apparatus of a country in a state of internal war. It is thus highly questionable, still in keeping with critical comments received by the Commission, to request a group of officers of the Armed Forces to reveal military secrets, which they would predictably be required to make; nor is it realistic to hope that it will indict the authors of military operations, particularly if the Chief of the Commission is an army colonel, subordinate and subject hierarchically to military obedience and discipline, within whose organization, and at the highest levels of the General Chief of Staff, decisions were made on a large part of such unconventional activities.
12. With respect to human rights institutions, the Commission observes that little has been done to strengthen the nongovernmental and unofficial human rights organizations. As a result of existing circumstances, the activities of Socorro Jurídico Cristiano and of the Human Rights Commission of El Salvador (nongovernmental) continue to be carried out outside of El Salvador, in Costa Rica and Mexico. The Legal Services Office of the Archbishop’s Archdiocesan Commission on Justice and Peace is the only independent agency working within El Salvador.
In addition, with respect to the Commission on Human Rights of El Salvador, an official agency that is the only one that has received the full support of the new Government of El Salvador, despite its limited resources has carried out a task which although modest, is effective with respect to investigations of violations of human rights, and thus has contributed to creating an awareness that fosters observance of those rights. Nevertheless, it is alleged that it has become an official channel for the replies that the Government wishes to transmit as the true version of events.
Reports from both the Government and other sectors interested in protecting human rights make it possible to evaluate the magnitude of the task faced by the new authorities. Although it is difficult to establish priorities in the area of human rights, it may be noted that in the current situation in El Salvador it would appear to be necessary for the new authorities to immediately achieve effective control of the Security Forces, as well as to authorize effective independence and authority of the judiciary, giving its members the necessary guarantees to allow them to carry out their important tasks. Evaluation of the way in which these purposes have been set forth and carried out will make it possible to issue a well-founded judgment of the real possibilities of bringing about an effective observance of human rights in El Salvador.
13. The Commission wishes in particular to refer to what is needed to overcome the violence that afflicts El Salvador. Several independent sectors and civilian associations in the country, and numerous agencies and prominent figures throughout the region, agree that through dialogue and within the legal framework of the country a political, peaceful and global formula should be found to solve the overall problem.
To terminate efforts aimed at finding a solution to the armed conflict implies the alternative of continuing the war. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights can only deplore such a regrettable possibility, in particular because the continuation of a state of internal war has, as has been repeatedly noted, a highly negative effect on the observance of human rights.
14. In connection with the situation of violence which still prevails in El Salvador, recent information has described the following circumstances:
a. According to the Minister of Defense, General Eugenio Vides Casanova, when he presented his annual report to the Legislative Assembly, the Army of El Salvador has suffered over 3,000 casualties, among deaths and wounded, in the last year in its struggle against the guerrillas, of which 1,057 died (23 officers, 25 cadets, 1,007 soldiers), 1,783 were wounded (37 officers, 33 cadets, 1,713 soldiers) and 270 disappeared (4 officers, 7 cadets, 259 soldiers);
b. As indicated by the Archbishop of San Salvador in his Sunday homily of August 5, in a single week between Sunday, July 29 and Saturday, August 4, 158 persons were assassinated in what was described as the most violent week of the year.
c. Due to the upheaval in the country, the Legislative assembly extended the state of siege last August 24, which has been in force since March 1980, by which the country is maintained in the same situation of instability and lack of constitutional guarantees for the population;
d. Reliable sources report that the forced recruitment of young Salvadorans continues, who are obliged to leave their families for military service or who are pressed into service by the guerrillas. The Committee of Mothers, one of the groups that has reacted most strongly against this situation, has declared that this situation is a flagrant violation of human rights committed against Salvadoran youth;
e. Human rights organizations in El Salvador and other nongovernmental organizations that provide information have expressed their concern at the lack of investigation into recent denunciations of violations of human rights. They state that the lack of penalties for those responsible for such acts make them fear the possibility that they will continue to enjoy impunity under the new administration;
f. Further denunciations of alleged bombardments by the air force of civilian populations are also a matter of concern. Nevertheless, it is to be hoped that such acts may be controlled in accordance with the assurances offered by President Duarte himself, who also introduced new regulations to ensure that no bombardment of populated zones may take place without prior written approval of the Joint Chief of Staff of the Ministry of Defense.
15. The above leads the Commission to formulate the following conclusions and recommendations:
a. Positive changes have taken place in Salvadoran political life which are auspicious of a possible stage of changes in the situation of human rights in that country;
b. Despite the change of Government, it is considered that problems persist in the are of violation of human rights, although to a lesser extent;
c. It is necessary to carry out investigations to punish those responsible for the very serious violations of human rights committed under previous administrations;
d. The Government of El Salvador should carry out its international obligations by replying to requests for information sent to it by the IACHR, since the latter considers that it is not a satisfactory reply to simply deny any accusation that involves the Armed Forces or that questions how it carries out its mission;
e. That the Government should urgently proceed to reform the judiciary, in order to guarantee the punishment of those responsible for human rights violations;
f. Efforts aimed at bringing about an overall political solution to the Salvadoran and regional crisis should be continued. In this context, arrangements should be considered which offer the promise for ending the bloodshed in that country, since military options may indefinitely prolong a situation which gives rise to serious and generalized violations of fundamental rights that have characterized El Salvador’s recent history.