Attackers burn files of organization seeking disappeared children

Early Thursday morning, November 14, 2013, three unidentified armed men attacked the office of Pro-Búsqueda, a human rights organization which works to find children disappeared during the armed conflict and reunite them with their families. Office equipment and sensitive files were stolen and destroyed, leaving little doubt that the motive of the attack is to preserve impunity for those responsible for wartime atrocities and to instill fear in the broader human rights community.

This attack comes at a sensitive moment in the struggle against impunity in El Salvador. The Supreme Court is expected to soon issue a ruling that could strike down the 1993 amnesty law which has blocked prosecutions for wartime atrocities, and the Attorney General’s office has opened investigations into several key cases. The attack also follows the recent closure of the prominent human rights organization Tutela Legal and a new criminal complaint filed by a survivor of the 1981 Santa Cruz massacre against sitting legislator Sigifredo Ochoa Pérez.

Pro-Búsqueda has released a statement on the attack, translated below. More information about the attack is available in English via U-T San Diego, US News, and the LA Times. Monserrat Martínez of Pro-Búsqeda was also interviewed about the attack on Democracy Now!

Violent Attack on the Office of Pro-Búsqueda

On November 14, 2013, the office of Asociación Pro-Búsqueda was assaulted in the early hours of the morning. The attackers entered by threatening a member of the staff at gunpoint, taking hostage a security guard and a family member who were on the premises.

In an act of vandalism, the perpetrators systematically destroyed important equipment and files in key offices, specifically the administrative, legal, and public outreach departments. After searching the offices, they doused them with gasoline, set them on fire, and fled. Fire fighters arrived and put out the flames in the burned offices.

Fire damage at the office of Pro-Búsqueda following the Nov. 14 attack
Fire damage at the office of Pro-Búsqueda following the Nov. 14 attack

The National Police responded and cordoned off the area to verify the extent of damages. Human Rights Ombudsman David Morales also arrived and expressed his personal support for the staff of Pro-Búsqueda: “We are with you and with the victims, these acts intended to intimidate those who search for the truth cannot be allowed to continue.”

We ask for your solidarity and understanding, as well as the necessary space in order to develop a coherent position on the results of the continuing investigation. Pro-Búsqueda will continue working to research and provide organizational and psycho-social help to family members in cases of forced disappearance of children during the armed conflict.

Once again, we reiterate our commitment to the victims of forced disappearance and their family members.