In December 2017, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of El Salvador ordered the Salvadoran Public Prosecutor’s office and Ministry of Defense to carry out a new investigation of the disappearance of the Rivas Clímaco siblings during a 1982 military operation. The ruling cites as evidence a CIA cable regarding the operation published by Unfinished Sentences and the University of Washington Center for Human Rights, which notes that prisoners were taken, and names Sigifredo Ochoa Pérez as commander of the operation. The following is an authorized translation of a report on the ruling published by the Salvadoran newspaper Diario CoLatino.
By Joaquín Salazar
Originally published by Diario CoLatino, January 15, 2018
The roar of helicopters woke the inhabitants of the village of Las Pilitas, at the foot of the Chinchontepec volcano. The sun had yet to rise when Nicolasa Rivas, her husband Alberto Clímaco, and their eight children were forced to flee. It was not the first time they had run for their lives; in the context of the armed conflict, fleeing had become a regular occurrence.
Salvadoran Army troops targeted the residents of the area, accusing them of being subversives and guerrillas.
The inhabitants were surrounded. Some managed to escape, like Nicolasa, who fled with her 1-year-old daughter Doris. She watched as her husband ran in another direction with their other children: 12-year-old Juan Vicente, Juana, 10, Norma, 7, Wilma, 8, and Gladys, 6.
Two days later, Nicolasa and Alberto were reunited in San Vicente, on the coast, but their fate was not a happy one. During the military operation, Alberto was separated from their children. […] Many people were killed during the operation, but Alberto remembers hearing the children crying. However, his son and daughters were never found, neither alive nor dead. They remain missing to this day.
Nicolasa Rivas’s testimony of these events forms part of a December 6, 2017 resolution by the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of El Salvador, admitting a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of the children Norma Rivas and Gladys Suleyma Rivas. The Constitutional Chamber’s ruling recognizes the forced disappearance of the Clímaco Rivas children, José Vicente, Juana Noemí, Wilma, Norma and Gladys in August of 1982, at the hands of the Armed Forces of El Salvador during the military operation “Mario Alberto Azenón Pala”, also known as the “Ring Invasion”.
The Constitutional Chamber’s ruling orders the Salvadoran Ministry of National Defense to carry out a new internal investigation to produce documents related to the operation.
“The habeas corpus in favor of Gladys Suleyma and Norma Clímaco is admitted, having established their forcible disappeared, attributed to the Armed Forces of El Salvador. The Minister of Defense and Chief of the Joint Staff is requested to carry out a new investigation of their archives, by all legal means, in order to produce information regarding the military operation,” the resolution states.
Additionally, the Chamber orders the Public Prosecutor’s office to immediately investigate the forced disappearance of the Rivas Clímaco children, to determine their whereabouts and physical state, and to report on the progress of its investigation.
In its preliminary findings justifying the investigation, the Constitutional Chamber notes that institutions which could be expected to have information about the disappearances, including the Salvadoran Red Cross, the Armed Forces of El Salvador, SOS Children’s Villages, and the Chancellor of the Republic, have no information regarding the Rivas Clímaco children.
Eduardo García, General Coordinator of Asociación Pro-Búsqueda and legal representative of the Clímaco Rivas family, explains that the existence of three of the five disappeared children was previously documented. The writ of habeas corpus issued by the Constitutional Chamber provides documentation of the existence of Norma and Gladys Rivas Clímaco.
“We are aware that the Public Prosecutor’s office is investigating this case because the Inter-American Court of Human Rights had already notified it of the three other minors; the two remaining sisters of the five siblings had to be added as well. What we hope is that the Public Prosecutor will be diligent and timely in its investigation so that the family can find its children,” explains García.
The General Coordinator of Pro-Búsqueda also hopes that the Salvadoran Armed Forces will comply with the court’s resolution, and that this will help to establish the whereabouts of the children, in order to reveal the truth of the acts committed by the military during the 1980s.
Since its formation, Pro-Búsqueda has resolved more than 442 cases of disappeared children, taking cases to court when State institutions have withheld assistance. “A mother or father will never stop searching for their children. The cases which have gone to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights are based on the denial of the right to know the truth and the right to access justice,” adds García.