San Salvador & Washington, D.C., June 9, 2017
The Due Process of Law Foundation (DPLF), the University of Washington Center for Human Rights (UWCHR), Fundación Cristosal, the Human Rights Institute of the “José Simeon Cañas” Central American University (Instituto de Derechos Humanos de la Universidad Centroamericana José Simeón Cañas, IDHUCA), the Association for the Search for Disappeared Children Pro-Búsqueda (la Asociación Pro Búsqueda de Niñas y Niños Desaparecidos, Pro-Búsqueda), the “Madeleine Lagadec” Center for Human Rights (el Centro para la Promoción de los Derechos Humanos “Madeleine Lagadec”, CPDH), and the Foundation for the Study of the Application of Law (la Fundación de Estudios para la Aplicación del Derecho, FESPAD); pledge our support for the surviving victims and family members of the massacre of El Mozote and other surrounding communities, and express our expectation of a fair and swift criminal trial, with respect for the human rights of the victims.
Starting today, Friday June 9, by order of the Second Court of the First Instance of San Francisco Gotera, Morazán, 11 survivors of the El Mozote massacre will give testimony. The massacre was carried out during the 10th through 14th of December, 1981, by members of the “Atlacatl” Immediate Reaction Infantry Battalion and other units of the Armed Forces of El Salvador acting in a joint operation.
The survivors are testifying in criminal proceedings which were reopened following a 2016 decision of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of El Salvador, which declared the 1993 Amnesty Law to be unconstitutional; and following a 2012 sentence of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which found the Salvadoran state internationally responsible for perpetrating the massacre.
The statements of these survivors before a court are an unprecedented opportunity to uphold the truth in El Salvador, which has covered up this massacre for decades. Many politicians and allies of military sectors continue to deny the existence of the massacre, and attempt to argue that what happened in the town of El Mozote was a firefight between members of the former Salvadoran guerrilla forces and the army; a story which is not credible in light of the journalistic, forensic, and ballistic evidence collected at the site, which has identified solely civilian remains, with an estimate of more than 500 people murdered, the vast majority skeletons of women and children under 12 years old.
A military operation like that carried out in the village of El Mozote and neighboring communities could not have been executed without the knowledge and consent of the highest military structures at the time, including the Chiefs of the Joint Staff, and the Minister and Vice-Minister of Defense, due to the logistical complexities of the mobilization of the Atlacatl Battalion and other military units.
Massacres of the civilian population were a strategy employed extensively by the Armed Forces during the early years of the armed conflict in El Salvador (1980-1984), with the goal of diminishing and discouraging the social support which many communities gave to the guerrilla forces; this strategy was minimized as a result of important international pressure applied to the civilian and military authorities of the country.
The corresponding authorities of the Salvadoran state are obligated to investigate the massacre of El Mozote and surrounding communities, due to its status as a crime against humanity.