SAN SALVADOR – The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has ruled against the government of El Salvador for the death of more than 1,000 Salvadorans – including 450 children – at the hands of soldiers in 1981, in the worst massacre committed during that country’s civil war from 1980-1992.
On Monday, the day before the massacre’s 31st anniversary, the court, based in San José, Costa Rica, announced its ruling in the El Mozote massacre case, unanimously ruling that El Salvador is “responsible for the violation of the right to life and the right to personal integrity and private property.”
During the bloody Salvadoran civil war, troops from the disbanded Atlacatl battalion attacked villagers from Dec. 11-13, 1981, killing civilians in seven communities in El Mozote, some 200 kilometers northeast of San Salvador, including women, children and the elderly.
The court said the state committed human rights violations, including cold-blooded executions and sexual violence including rape.
In 1993, after the war ended, a truth commission established by the United Nations blamed members of the military for the massacre, including some who died during the armed conflict.
However, the massacre, which sparked outrage among the international community, was never prosecuted because of a 1993 Amnesty Law. Victims’ families then brought the case before the international human rights court.
“The obligation to investigate belongs to the state [of El Salvador], which should hand down an adequate judgment … and sanction everyone responsible for the violations,” the court ruling said.
The court also condemned the Salvadoran government for violating the right to private property, because “during the military operation the victims were robbed of their belongings, their homes and crops were burned and their livestock was killed,” the court said.
As reparation, the court ordered a comprehensive investigation to be conducted that includes a census of the victims (the exact number of victims is unknown), a guarantee that the Amnesty Law is not an obstacle for the investigation, that necessary exhumations be conducted and remains identified and turned over to victims’ family members.
The court ordered compensation to victims and their families, ranging from $10,000-$35,000 to each family and surviving victim, as well as the “implementation of a permanent and obligatory program on human rights directed at the Salvadoran armed forces.”
In a symbolic act in January, Mauricio Funes, the first leftist president in El Salvador’s history, apologized to victims’ families for the “abhorrent” violations of human rights committed by government-backed troops.
“This is the ruling we’ve been waiting for, because not only does it put an end to 31 years of impunity, but also it reaffirms the memory of the victims of the worst massacre committed by the military against innocent civilians,” said Wilfredo Medrano, legal director of San Salvador’s archbishopric, which supported the victims and their families.
Miguel Montenegro, director of the nongovernmental Human Rights Commission, told AFP he hopes the government of El Salvador “assumes responsibility” for implementing the sentence handed down by the court.
“This sentence reaffirms the hope for justice that victims’ families have been demanding, and that we defend human rights. We will remain vigilant to ensure [the court’s ruling] is implemented, and if those responsible [for the massacre] are identified, they should ask forgiveness and face the justice system,” he said.
With cultural and religious ceremonies, hundreds of Salvadorans in El Mozote on Saturday began a four-day commemoration ceremony to mark the anniversary of the massacre.
The Salvadoran civil war pitted the extreme-right government and its military forces against leftist guerrillas in the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front, which now governs the country. Some 75,000 were killed during the conflict, which ended with the signing of peace accords in January 1992.