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Celebrating 30 years of Solidarity with the People of El Salvador – 2016 Annual Report

2016 was a dynamic year for Voices. We said goodbye to old friends and opened the door to new ones. We began an extensive education revitalization project in Bajo Lempa, started supporting women’s empowerment in Morazán and even joined in on environmental justice protests in the capital San Salvador.

This year is even more special because we turn 30! Since our inception in the refugee camps until now, we have never deserted our communities and are committed to being a critical source of support for them now, and in the future.

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Read our report to find out what our partners have been up to, the large scales issues they are facing and how Voices has been working hard in collaboration with leaders to find solutions to issues and pathways to accomplishing goals.

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Advocacy

Salvadoran Human Rights Organization, Pro-Busqueda Attacked

At 4:45 am yesterday morning, three unknown assailants raided the offices of Pro-Busqueda, a human rights organization in El Salvador that for more than 19 years has worked to reunite families separated during the country’s 12-year civil war.

The assailants held a driver and night watchman at gunpoint while they destroyed files and computers, doused offices with gasoline, and set them on fire. A statement sent around by Pro-Busqueda yesterday afternoon said that the attackers targeted the offices most vital to their work, destroying archives and files related to cases that they have pending in the judicial system. When the attackers left, the night watchman and driver were able to free themselves and put out the fires with hoses

Ester Alvarenga, a Former Director of Pro-Busqueda and a member of the technical team said that the assailants had done the most damage in the administrative and advocacy departments. She also made it clear that they have all of their information backed up so it was a not a total loss.

Human Rights Ombudsman David Morales, who visited the scene shortly after the attack said it was well planned and was reminiscent of attacks on human rights organizations during the 1980s. He also said there hasn’t been an attack like this on a human rights organizations since the end of the war.

The specific reasons for the attack remains unclear, but it is likely related to cases pending in international and domestic courts related to the forced disappearances of children during the war. This past Monday, the Constitutional Court suspended evidentiary hearings against former members of the armed forces who did not attend their habeas corpus hearing, during which Pro-Busqueda was scheduled to present evidence they have collected against the defendents.

Just last month the Catholic Church closed Tutela Legal, one of the leading human rights organizations in El Salvador. The organization housed an extensive collection of evidence and documents related to human rights abuses committed during the civil war. The closing of Tutela Legal and the attack on Pro-busqueda come as the Constitutional Court considers constitutionality of the Amnesty Law, which has protected war criminals from being prosecuted for atrocities committed during the 1980s.

Tutela Legal and Pro-Busqueda are not the only organizations and people with evidence and records that could be used to prosecute crimes committed during the civil war. The Human Rights Institute at the University of Central America (IDHUCA) and others have been collecting evidence and documents since before the war ended, and could also be a threat to those who risk prosecution.

In March Voices staff had a conversation with Benjamin Cuellar, the director of the IDHUCA, about the Amnesty Law and the lack of transitional justice after the war. Instead of treating the Peace Accords as the beginning of the peace process, the Salvadoran government and many international stakeholders were too quick to declare peace and put the war in the past, ignoring issues of justice. But it is difficult if not impossible to achieve peace until there is also justice.

Uncategorized

Former Salvadoran General Dies

René Emilio Ponce, one of El Salvador’s most notorious generals and the son of Sensuntepeque judge and treasurer José Ponce, died last week in a San Salvadoran hospital of complications following an aortic aneurysm. Ponce is an important figure given his national influence and regional political power in Cabañas. His post-war position was the president of the El Salvador Military Veteran’s Association (ASVEM) further cemented both his power and his less than sterling reputation. According to editors at the Hague Justice Portal, ASVEM’s “main mission is to lobby the Salvadoran government to oppose any efforts to lift the Amnesty Law that currently protects its most influential members.”

Ponce’s military career was marked by alleged cruelty and crimes against humanity. Though he only rose to military prominence during the second half of the civil war, Ponce embraced his post as defense minister and army chief of staff. In 1989, bolstered by his military cohort La Tandona, a group of high-ranking officers all from the same army academy graduating class, Ponce is accused of ordering the killings of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and her daughter. A year after this massacre occurred at the Universidad Centroamericana (UCA), he was promoted to general. In 1992, however, he was forced to step down when the U.N. Truth Commission released a report implicating Ponce in the UCA killings. Due to the Amnesty Law passed in El Salvador the year following, Ponce was never tried or punished for his crimes by a Salvadoran court.

At the time of his death, Ponce was being tried in absentia in a Spanish court brought by the relatives of the murdered priests, accusing him of assassination and crimes against humanity. His death means that these families will never see Ponce brought tried for the crimes of which he is accused, and many human rights activists have expressed regret that he died with total impunity.

Ponce leaves behind a wife and three children.

News Highlights, Politics

Victims of Abuses during Civil War Speak Out at International Tribunal

The International Tribunal for Restorative Justices opened a public forum for people who had suffered human rights abuses during El Salvador’s civil war. The three-day event was hosted at the Central American University as part of its Truth Festival, a week-long program in commemoration of the anniversary of Monseñor Romero’s assassination.

The testimonies heard by the Tribunal were powerful and disturbing. They narrated stories of incredible human suffering -death threats, tortures, disappearances, assassinations, scorched earth campaigns, massacres- all committed directly by or with the complicity of the Salvadoran Armed Forces.

Julio Rivera offered his testimony and told of how on March 11, 1980, at the age of 7, he witnessed the killing of his mother and three remaining siblings, because his mother had advocated for political prisoners. Only days later -in hiding with his father- he witnessed the massacre at the Sumpul River committed by Salvadoran military in collaboration with local paramilitary groups and the Honduran military. Thirteen members of his extended family were killed in the massacre.

There has been very little political will on the part of the Salvadoran government to address these atrocities. For many years, the Salvadoran government flatly denied their existence, or blamed them on the guerillas. In 1993, El Salvador passed an amnesty law, creating a significant barrier to even gathering information on the atrocities committed. Successive presidents, including president-elect Funes, have refused to repeal the amnesty law, saying it would re-open old wounds.

Rivera replies that that wounds have never closed. He declared that the wounds will heal only when the truth has been heard and acknowledged, and there is a true process of justice and reconciliation.