The Future of Salvadoran Justice Depends on El Mozote

So far, four out of ten surviving witnesses to the El Mozote massacre have testified that soldiers, in compliance with the orders of the Armed Forces High Command, executed entire families and slaughtered children under 5 with machetes. They also raped women.

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The result of the criminal proceedings against the Salvadoran Army's leadership in 1981 for the massacre of some 1,000 peasants in El Mozote depends on whether the country is liberated from "fear" and imposes a "value" system of justice on the new generation, said Wilfredo Medrano, lawyer for the victims, in an interview with Acan-Efe.

"What is at stake here is the kind of justice that will be handed down in the country," said Medrano, a member of the human rights organization Tutela Legal María Julia Hernández. “It would be excellent to have judges who are not afraid, because here there are judges who have no morals," he added.

The lawyer, who is part of the lawsuit against the army's high command in 1981 and the Atlacatl Battalion, said that after judging "the grave human rights violations" perpetrated in the civil war (1980-1992), "the country will no longer be the same.”

"In fulfillment of the orders of the high command of the Armed Forces, they executed whole families and they slaughtered children under 5 years with machetes." --Tutela Legal Representative

Proceedings for the El Mozote case began at the end of last March when the military was notified of the accusation. The presentation of testimonies began in June. Medrano says they hope the judge will bring the case to trial before July 2018, when the judges of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court, who overturned the amnesty law in 2016 that allowed the reopening of the El Mozote case, complete their term.

"I would bet it should be tried before this term expires, because this case is following up on the amnesty law decision, and is a guarantee that they could be judged," added the lawyer.

Medrano explained that in the last few weeks, the judge heard four massacre survivors out of the 10 offered to the Second Court of First Instance of San Francisco Gotera, and that these witnesses also testified before the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights in 2012.

"Witnesses, mainly women, have been heard and heard, talking about how soldiers, in compliance with the orders of the high command of the Armed Forces, executed entire families and slaughtered children under 5 with machetes," said the lawyer.

He pointed out that, in his opinion, despite the lack of statements from the other six witnesses, the judge "has proven the existence of the massacre,” the "brutality with which the military troops" carried it out, and the “criminal participation" of military leadership.

"The high command of 1981 did not get their hands dirty [and] it is very difficult to establish material authorship, but it does not mean they can be excluded from responsibility, [because] it was a small group of 40 officers who walked into the area and just gathered them and told them to stop these massacres," he said.

He explained that in addition to murdering people, destroying homes, burning crops, and killing domestic animals, the military raped women.

He added that in one of the pending testimonies, a survivor confirmed the direct participation in the “scorched-earth” operations of Lieutenant Colonel Domingo Monterrosa, assassinated in 1984 by the guerrillas and considered a war hero by sectors of the right.

He pointed out that the Monterrosa, whom the ex-guerrilla government of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) pays tribute to by keeping the brigade he commanded in his name, arrived in the town of Arambala and chose 7 men to be shot, including the witness’s husband.

Medrano lamented how the military’s defense tried to "discredit the witnesses, confuse them and delay the process," which, he considered, "is not responsible."

According to the 1993 Report of the United Nations Truth Commission in El Salvador, between 10 and 13 December 1981, the elite Atlacatl Battalion units "deliberately and systematically" tortured and executed men, women, and children in El Mozote and surrounding villages.

This massacre is one of the largest attacks against civilians perpetrated by a Latin American army, and it has been compared with Nazi crimes and massacres in Vietnam.


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