Will there be accountability for the disappeared?
It's looking like the Inter-American Court of Human Rights is going to issue a first-ever ruling on on the issue of the forced disappearance of children during the civil war in El Salvador. Despite the Salvadoran government's best and costly efforts, it doesn't look good for their side.
Maggi (a.k.a. Margaret) Popkin, now director of the Due Process of Law Foundation in Washington, DC, and who wrote the bible on justice reform in El Salvador, filed an amicus curiae brief before the Court, and has also written a short piece on the case before the court. Here are a few excerpts, but read the whole thing (which is only four pages):
An unprecedented hearing took place in San José, Costa Rica, on September 7 and 8, 2004, as the Inter-American Court of Human Rights heard its first case ever brought against El Salvador. The case involves the disappearance of Ernestina and Erlinda Serrano, who were just seven and three years old when last seen by their family. The two girls were found and taken away by soldiers on June 2, 1982, during a major military operation in the department of Chalatenango, which had forced the civilian population to leave their homes and flee to escape capture or death at the hands of advancing troops. Dozens of children were picked up by soldiers in the course of this same military operation….
Over the past ten years, Salvadoran authorities have shown no willingness to move forward with investigations in the cases of missing children. The legislature has not acted on Pro Busqueda´s proposal to form a national search commission. Although Pro Busqueda´s success in locating other children has shown the likelihood that missing children will be found alive, the Salvadoran government argues that the state has no responsibility in these cases. The government's representative at the Inter-American Court repeated what Salvadoran officials have long proclaimed: the importance of not reopening the wounds of the past. The reality, of course, is that for families of disappeared children, these wounds remain open, as the children's fate remains unknown. A political "reconciliation" between the parties to the conflict cannot be a substitute for the rights of victims and their relatives to truth and justice. Engaging seriously in the effort to find these young people would constitute an affirmative step towards reconciliation and healing the wounds left over from the war. Given the experience of Pro-Busqueda, there is a real likelihood of a happy outcome - finding the young women alive.
Instead the Salvadoran government used its resources to discredit the victims, suggesting that the sisters never existed and that their mother might have had a pecuniary motivation -- and using a combination of intimidation and promises to persuade a distant relative to testify to that effect….
Whatever the Court's decision turns out to be, the Salvadoran government should use this experience as an opportunity for learning, both about the role and functioning of the Inter-American system and about how it might contribute to healing and reconciliation by working with survivors and their representatives to discover the truth by determining the fate and whereabouts of the missing children and acknowledging State responsibility. El Salvador committed substantial financial and human resources to defending itself in this case. In the future, its resources could be far more usefully applied to working in conjunction with groups such as Pro Busqueda, so that the survivors of human rights violations could finally discover the truth, seek justice, and obtain reparations, having their rights recognized and upheld in El Salvador.