Still no justice in 1981 Salvador massacre

Human rights organizations in El Salvador noted the anniversary of the 1981 massacre at El Mozote, decrying continued impunity after 30 years. Between Dec. 11 and 13 of that year, at least 966 unarmed men, women and children were killed at the village in Morazán department after it was occupied by a special US-trained counter-insurgency unit of the Salvadoran army, the Atlacatl Battalion. Said a statement by the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL): “On the 30th anniversary of the events, the surviving victims continue to assert their rights to truth, justice and reparation. Nonetheless, none of the persons responsible for perpetrating the massacre have been tried for these acts to date.”

CEJIL in cooperation with the legal office of the Salvadoran archbishop has been carrying out an investigation of the massacre since 1993—the same year an amnesty law was passed, barring prosecution of those responsible for atrocities in the 1980-1992 civil war. The Mozote massacre was the war’s worst atrocity. Domingo Monterrosa, the colonel who commanded the Atlacatl Battalion, and apparently directed the massacre on the scene, was killed in a helicopter explosion in 1984. Also killed in the apparent accident was Maj. Armando Azmitia, the Atlacatl Battalion’s chief of operations. Monterrosa, Azmitia and six other army officials—still living, including captains and majors—were named as responsible for the massacre by the UN-backed Truth Commission on the Salvador conflict, which issued its report in 1993.

Monterrosa and Azmitia were both graduates of the US Army’s School of the Americas, and are both named as responsible for other massacres in the early ’80s. Azmitia is said to have overseen massacres at Lake Suchitlán (Cuscatlán department) in 1983, and Los Llanitos (San Salvador department) in 1984. They are both listed as “heroes and martyrs” on the “Military Museum” webpage of the Armed Forces of El Salvador.

The Mozote massacre came to light due to the efforts of the sole survivor, Rufina Amaya, who managed to hide from the Atlacatl troops and escape in the aftermath. UN-overseen exhumations at El Mozote had unearthed 143 skeletons—136 of children—when they were halted by a Salvadoran court order in 1993, citing the amnesty law.

CEJIL, with offices in Washington and Costa Rica, joined with the archbishop’s legal office and three local Salvadoran rights groups to issue a statement demanding justice in the Mozote massacre, decrying the amnesty law as allowing impunity. (La Prensa Grafica, San Salvador, EFE, AFP, TeleSUR, CEJIL, Dec. 9; SHARE El Salvador, Dec. 6; Yes! Weekly, Nov. 23; Historia Pura blog, July 10, 2007; SOA Watch)

A similar amnesty law in Argentina was overturned by that country’s supreme court in 2005.

See our last posts on El Salvador and the struggle in Central America.

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