New El Mozote Witnesses to Testify Before Judge After Months of Waiting

 
Tutela Legal Team / Cristosal Photo

Tutela Legal Team / Cristosal Photo

 

The thousands of victims tortured and killed between December 11th and 13th, 1981 in the village of El Mozote and surrounding areas have been awaiting justice for more than 30 years. The lawsuit was paused in early June by an appeal from the 11 accused ex-lieutenants’ defense lawyers, but the appeal was eventually rejected. This week, new witnesses, relatives of the victims of the largest massacre recorded during the Salvadoran armed conflict, will testify before the judge.

The public hearings for the El Mozote massacre case will be resumed this Thursday, September 21st. The judicial process that took place in the Second Court of First Instance of San Francisco Gotera in Morazán has been stalled since July 3rd, after the defense filed an appeal.

The appeal was declared inadmissible by the Third Chamber of the East Section on August 24th. The lawyers representing the ex-military officers objected to the process because they did not consider representatives of massacre victims authorized to accuse. However, the chamber verified the names of the relatives and the existence of a blood bond, said Federico Escobar, secretary of the Chamber of Second Instance of the Third Section of Oriente, according to La Prensa Gráfica.

This Thursday and Friday, it is expected that public hearings will begin at 9:00a.m. Four witnesses are to be questioned, according to official sources of the Second Court of First Instance of Gotera. All are relatives of massacre victims, and join the 17 historical witnesses who are already part of the case.

The ex-military officers are accused of murder, rape, aggravated rape, aggravated deprivation of liberty and violation of home, theft, aggravated damage, and acts of terrorism against more than 1,000 victims. All these crimes appear in the Criminal Code of 1973, in force at the time of the crimes.

Lawyers from Tutela Legal, who have represented victims since the case opened in October 1990, held a conference to remind the government, and specifically the Ministry of National Defense, that they are obliged to provide all available information from the military archive on the tactical operations carried out in the area. They also called out the Attorney General's Office for not fulfilling its investigative role.

Attorney General Douglas Meléndez has previously defended the lack of action on the part of the Prosecutor’s Office by maintaining that it is the judge’s responsibility to request prosecution, since in this case the procedural code of 1973 is being applied.

"These processes are directed by the judge, because they are under previous regulation, where the judge is the official party who directs the process, not the public prosecutor; so maybe the prosecution has not been so active in these cases. We will contribute what we have to, "said Meléndez on June 13th after participating in an event organized by the Embassy of the United Kingdom in a hotel in the capital.

The request for information is part of the investigation ordered by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) through a ruling issued in 2012. The re-opening of the case was possible following the 2016 declaration of unconstitutionality of the 1993 Amnesty Law. But access to military documents remains blocked, and such information is necessary to investigate and determine the military chain of command that authorized and executed orders for military operations, private accusers said.

 
David Morales, Cristosal Human Rights Director / Cristosal Photo

David Morales, Cristosal Human Rights Director / Cristosal Photo

 

"Under laws in force at the time, there should be a series of documents that can provide information on the development of the state policy that consisted of systematic massacres of civilians in the early 1980s," said lawyer David Morales. “That obligation existed by law, and it is the obligation of the judicial authorities--both the judge of the case and the Attorney General of the Republic-- to require them.

The private accusers argue that the military information will serve to clarify facts that were denied for years before the case was brought to the judicial system in 1990, and even later, despite the uncovering of hundreds of bones by the Forensic Anthropology Team and verification by the Truth Commission’s report. The information will also define the extent to which the accused ex-military officers were involved in the operation "Rescate" that swept through the hamlets of El Mozote, La Guacamaya, Cerro Pando, Los Toriles, Jocote Amarillo and La Joya canton, in northern Morazán, between December 11th and 13th, 1981.

However, lawyers of Tutela Legal stressed that military authorities of the time cannot claim ignorance due to the high rank they held, including former Defense Minister Jose Guillermo Garcia, former Deputy Minister of Defense Francisco Adolfo Castillo, and former Chief of Staff Rafael Flores Lima.

"These operations were carried out with air force, artillery, two or three units of infantry, regional commanders, the departmental commander, and members of the High Command. This type of operation is not possible without an order from the Minister or Deputy Minister of Defense and in coordination with the General Staff of the Armed Forces, that is determined by law," said Morales.

Given the lack of response from the public institutions involved, prosecutors do not rule out taking other measures to procure the information. Prosecutors consider that it is being hidden, because "it is implausible that there is no record, it is only possible if there has been a criminal cover-up of this crime, and that would mean new crimes that have not been investigated," said private accuser, David Morales, former head of the government Human Rights Office.

In addition, prosecutors ask that the process not be the focus of unnecessary public attention, because witnesses are being re-victimized when questioned, and some are already quite elderly. Nevertheless, they recognize that the complexity of the El Mozote case will surely require extensions to deepen the judicial investigation.

"Unfortunately, many victims are dying without seeing justice for themselves and their families. Delaying the case is a strategy, similar to what happened in our neighboring Guatemala in the case of Rios Montt, with the sole intent of paralyzing the judicial system," said prosecution lawyer Wilfredo Medrano.

 

Translated from Cidón. M. (19 de septiembre de 2017). Nuevos testigos de El Mozote declararán ante el juez tras meses de espera. Revista Factum. Recuperado de: http://revistafactum.com/nuevos-testigos-mozote-declararan-ante-juez-tras-meses-espera/

 

 

 

Hannah Rose Nelson