What is the current status of the El Mozote trial?

An update on the El Mozote massacre trial based on an interview with David Morales, the case’s head prosecutor.


There is a cover up by the high command of the Armed Forces of El Salvador and the Ministry of Defense.” - David Morales

More than two years after a judge in San Francisco de Gotera ordered the reopening of the El Mozote case, the trial is currently in its investigative phase. Despite a lack of cooperation from the Armed Forces of El Salvador and Government authorities, there is strong forensic evidence to corroborate the massacre; the remains of around 400 victims have been found, 70% of which are children. In 2018, witnesses were finally able to testify in court, and their accounts of what happened in El Mozote and the surrounding areas in December 1981 confirm the scale of the massacre, the forensic evidence, the involvement of the Atlacatl Battalion, and the content of a speech given by Lt. Col. Domingo Monterrosa in the town where the massacre began. In his speech he declared that he had come to “cleanse the towns in that area.” The prosecutors are focused on individualizing responsibility, to prove that there were clearly delineated Government and military authorities who planned, carried out, and covered up the massacre.

While the plaintiffs do have access to some Government documents that acknowledge the existence of Operación Rescate (the operation that led to the massacre), the scale of the massacre strongly suggests that the military high command was involved, and that there are likely many more documents that reveal who specifically was involved in planning and carrying out the operation. Furthermore, it has been proven in the trial that these types of historically valuable documents, are not usually destroyed or altered. With this in mind, there is a high likelihood that the documents still exist. Nevertheless, in light of the missing documentation, expert witnesses, particularly forensic scientists and military experts, are crucial to establishing the scope of the massacre and the military chain of command that typically is involved in military operations of this size. Last December, two social anthropologists, a military expert, and a documentalist were all sworn in as expert witnesses.

Lastly, the judge presiding over the case has formally declared El Mozote a war crime and a crime against humanity. El Mozote is the first crime against humanity to be tried in the Salvadoran court system. To uphold justice in historic and current cases, it is crucial that El Salvador send a message that such abhorrent actions cannot be carried out with impunity.

This summary is based on an interview by Josseline Rocas with David Morales, Director of Strategic Litigation at Cristosal.

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