Strategic Litigation

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Why It Matters

Maria del Rosario Lopez Sanchez, who lost 24 family members in the La Joya massacre / Photo Cristosal

Maria del Rosario Lopez Sanchez, who lost 24 family members in the La Joya massacre / Photo Cristosal

In 2015 and 2016, El Salvador topped the global list of murders per capita, with 109 and 81 intentional homicides for every 100,000 people, respectively. To compound the issue, 19 out of every 20 murders in the Northern Triangle remains unsolved.

This cycle of violence and impunity has deep roots in the history of the region. After El Salvador's 12-year civil war in the 1980s, a blanket amnesty law was passed, which protected perpetrators of war crimes. This law epitomized a pervasive attitude that crimes will not be punished and victims do not matter. In 2016, El Salvador's Supreme Court ruled that the amnesty law was unconstitutional, making it possible to seek justice for decades-old human rights violations. 

Success in strategic, emblematic cases helps restore credibility in the Salvadoran justice system today. It can send a powerful message about truth and justice all over the continent.

What We Do

Repairing the lingering effects of rights violations

Our strategic litigation program uses lawsuits to advance processes of legal, social, or other human rights change that goes beyond the immediate goals of the complainant.

Currently, Cristosal is supporting the prosecution of the 1981 El Mozote massacre, one of the largest unprosecuted war crimes in the world, and the 1982 El Calabozo massacre.

"Settling this historical debt with the victims of the war, we help El Salvador transform structures of oppression and impunity and strengthen access to justice for families affected by violence and human rights violations today," says prosecuting attorney and Cristosal Strategic Litigation Director David Morales. 

Our Impact

Rights-based appeals accepted by El Salvador's Supreme Court, resulting in an unprecedented ruling for a national protection system for victims of displacement

Historic massacre cases being prosecuted in Salvadoran courts (El Mozote and El Calabozo)


El Mozote Trial


In December 1981, the U.S.-trained Alacatl Battalion of the Salvadoran Army systematically killed an estimated 1,000 people in the village of El Mozote. It is regarded as the largest massacre of civilians by government forces in Latin America.

An amnesty law preventing the prosecution of war crimes was passed after the civil war, epitomizing a pervasive attitude that crimes won’t be punished and victims don’t matter. In July 2016, El Salvador's Supreme Court struck down the amnesty law. Now, Cristosal is supporting Tutela Legal in their private prosecution of the case.

The El Mozote case is about more than demanding much-deserved justice for the victims of El Mozote and their families. It is also establishing a precedent in the national legal system, and showing present-day victims of violence that the legal system can and will act for them. Seeking justice for human rights violations sends a message that resounds not only in El Salvador, but across the globe. Through the El Mozote case, Cristosal is emphasizing that human rights violations, against all humans in all places, are unacceptable. Learn more about the El Mozote case here. 

Make a difference today

Without you, our work doesn't happen. Your donations support progress toward peace for one of the most violent regions of the world.