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Wed Jun 7, 2017, 11:18 AM

Thirty-six years later, the trial of the El Mozote massacres could change El Salvador's history


The reopening of El Mozote case brings a historic opportunity for truth and justice; the State and the public prosecution must rise to the challenge. Español

Memorial of massacre site at El Mozote, Morazan, El Salvador. Public Domain.

In September 2016, after 35 years of relentless struggle, human rights defenders in El Salvador seized a new hope for truth and justice with the reopening of the El Mozote case by the Second Court of San Francisco de Gotera. The judicial investigation had been closed in 1993, shortly after the General Amnesty Law was approved by the national parliament. It was not until last year, in July 2016, that the Constitutional Court in El Salvador declared the General Amnesty Law unconstitutional, opening the door for pursuing justice for war crimes committed in the country. El Mozote is the first case to be reopened involving crimes against humanity committed during the Salvadoran civil war (1979 - 1992).

The civil war in El Salvador pitted the military government against a leftist insurgency for more than 12 years, and resulted in an estimated 75,000 dead and 8,000 disappeared. The brutal massacre in El Mozote is widely considered the worst atrocity committed during the war. On 10, 11 and 12 December 1981, the Salvadorian Army attacked a number of villages in the northeast of the country. Soldiers detained all the inhabitants, tortured and raped hundreds, and murdered between 900 and 1,200 civilians, mostly women and children. The case is emblematic of the brutal attacks the civilian population faced at the hands of the military during the war.

Shorty after the General Amnesty Law was declared unconstitutional in July 2016, human rights defenders, survivors and victims' family members filed a request to reopen the case. Eighteen high-ranking military officials (three of them deceased) were charged, including former minister of defense, General Jose Guillermo Garcia, former joint Chief of Staff of the armed forces, Rafael Flores Lima, and former commander of the 3rd infantry brigade, Colonel Jaime Flores Grijalva. They are accused of crimes ranging from murder, aggravated rape, forced disappearances, acts of terrorism, robbery and aggravated damage under the 1973 Criminal Code, which was in force at the time.

“We have the strong advantage that, over the past 36 years, human rights defenders and organisations have undertaken arduous work to gather scientific evidence and document what happened over those three days.” said Alejandro Lening Díaz Gómez, member of human rights organisation Tutela Legal “Dra. María Julia Hernández”, complainant at the trial. The investigations and perseverance of victims and organisations such as Tutela Legal del Arzobispado and Tutela Legal “Dra. María Julia Hernández” resulted in national and international organisations like the Truth Commission in El Salvador, the international experts at the Argentine Forensics Team (EAAF) and the InterAmerican Commission and Court of Human Rights issuing reports and rulings on the evidence of the responsibility of the State in this and other indiscriminate attacks against civilians. “It has been demonstrated that the military carried out a planned, massive, systematic operation. The scale of the offensive was such that it wouldn't have been possible without the involvement of the different army corps. That is why the highest ranking officials are accused of these crimes against humanity”, explains Díaz Gómez.


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