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El Salvador NGO Demands Justice for Civilians Massacred

A human rights organization in El Salvador called for “justice and reparations” on Tuesday for the 600 people massacred by the military on the banks of a river 44 years ago while trying to escape the civil war.

On May 14, 1980, more than 600 children, women and elderly people were killed in the community of Las Aradas, on the banks of the Sumpul River, on the border with Honduras, about 100 km north of San Salvador.

An investigation by a Truth Commission created by the UN concluded in 1993 that the military “deliberately killed” these “non-combatant” civilians who were trying to cross the river to take refuge in Honduras.

“44 years of impunity have passed in the Sumpul massacre and there is a lack of will to apply measures of justice and reparation,” said Alejandro Díaz, a lawyer for the NGO Tutela Legal, which defends victims of the civil war (1980-1992).

Tutela Legal, which denounced the massacre before the courts in 1992, accuses members of the Army, the defunct National Guard and the Nationalist Democratic Organization (Orden), a paramilitary group that collaborated with the Armed Forces in the fight against the leftist guerrillas, of these crimes.

The UN report also established that “the massacre was made possible by the cooperation of the Honduran Armed Forces, which prevented the passage of the Salvadoran villagers” to the neighboring country.

It also considered that “there was a cover-up of the facts by the Salvadoran military authorities” and that this massacre constituted “a serious violation” of the norms of international humanitarian law.

Tutela Legal accuses a group of officers led by the then Minister of Defense, General José Guillermo García, 90, who is also under an arrest warrant for the murder of four Dutch journalists in March 1982, of the massacre. To avoid going to prison for the Dutch case, García has been admitted to a private hospital for 21 months.

During García’s tenure, considered the most powerful military man in the Armed Forces at the time, 41 massacres were committed, according to the human rights NGO Cristosal.

Pardon for all

While this NGO seeks justice, the group of retired generals stated in a declaration, on the occasion of the bicentennial of the Salvadoran army, on May 7, “that no soldier should be being judged, criticized or questioned for having fulfilled the mission of defending El Salvador.”

On that same occasion, retired general Humberto Corado, Minister of Defense in 1993-1995, asked for a pardon for all the military. “I ask the political leadership of the country to issue a pardon decree for all the members of the Armed Forces who participated in the conflict and who in one way or another are being prosecuted, that for us will be the best gift in this Bicentennial,” Corado told Channel 21 television.

For his part, the coordinator of the NGO Human Rights Commission, Miguel Montenegro, regretted that on Monday a committee of Congress dominated by the party of President Nayib Bukele shelved a bill to punish those responsible for crimes during the civil war.

“They want to continue protecting the victimizers and not the victims,” Montenegro said. The Salvadoran civil war left more than 75,000 dead, thousands of disappeared and substantial losses to the national economy.

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