Washington, DC: Alexis Stoumbelis, (978) 394-0425, Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador San Salvador: Glenda Anderson, (503) 7335-9652
Armed gunmen raid Salvadoran human rights organization Pro-Búsqueda just months after abrupt closure of Archdiocese’ human rights office, Tutela Legal
Human rights defenders see actions as effort to destroy war crimes documentation in light of Supreme Court challenge to Amnesty Law
San Salvador – At 4:30 AM on the morning of November 14th, three armed men broke into the office of Pro-Búsqueda, a non-governmental organization founded in 1994 dedicated to searching for children missing during the nation’s 12-year civil war (1980-1992). The gunmen attacked a security guard, stealing his weapon, and proceeded to set fire to the office’s archives of legal documents, destroying records of current and previous cases as well as personal information of families working with the organization. “They threw us on the floor, bound us with cables and beat us. They asked us for keys, but I don’t know what they were talking about. We just heard noise and began to feel the smoke,” said a Pro-Búsqueda employee who was in the office at the time. The attackers then fled the scene with several computers. “We’re dealing, evidently, with a planned attack, executed by people who had a clearly defined purpose; they sought the perfect moment of particular vulnerability, and destroyed key areas of the organization,” said David Morales, El Salvador’s Human Rights Ombudsman. The vast majority of Pro-Búsqueda’s cases deal with the children of refugees or victims of state repression during the civil war; most were abducted by state security forces and adopted by the soldiers themselves or given up to foreigners for adoption. “This is a clear sabotage of our work,” said Pro-Búsqueda Director Ester Alvarenga. The attack on Pro-Búsqueda comes on the heels of the abrupt closure of the San Salvador Archdiocese’s historic human rights office, Tutela Legal, on September 30. Tutela Legal’s archives house over 50,000 files of human rights violations committed during the war and some current cases as well, including 80% of the cases documented by the 1993 United Nations Truth Commission, which attributed at least 85% of the 75,000 documented civilian deaths to the government and its paramilitary appendages. Since the closure, ordered without warning by Archbishop José Luis Escobar Alas, victims and their lawyers have been denied access to their files, raising deep concerns about the integrity of the archives and the security of the information they store. These actions against major human rights organizations come in the wake of the Supreme Court’s September decision to accept a case challenging the constitutionality of the 1993 Amnesty Law, which has protected top former government and military officials from prosecution for war crimes and grave human rights violations. “I hadn’t wanted to link [the case of Tutela legal to] this discussion about the constitutionality of the Amnesty Law, but in the face of an attack that has the characteristics of a political attack as a result of the human rights work that Pro-Búsqueda does, I can’t but note that there is an intention of instilling fear in those fighting impunity,” said Morales, noting that the attack bears all the marks of similar attacks carried out by government forces and paramilitary groups against human rights groups during the civil war.