Thirty years after one of the worst atrocities of El Salvador’s bloody civil war, survivors and victims’ families are still fighting for justice.
At least 767 people from the village of El Mozote and neighbouring hamlets were massacred by government forces between 11-13 December 1981.
Even by the standards of the Salvadoran civil war, it was a shocking incident. The youngest victim was a three-month-old girl; the oldest a 105-year-old man.
Before being killed, many women and men were tortured, including being subjected to sexual violence. Some of the children were stabbed or clubbed to death.
But so far, no one has been prosecuted. Ovidio Gonzales, lawyer for a human rights organization representing victims’ families and survivors, told Amnesty International this has taken a terrible psychological toll.
“The survivors and relatives still suffer from traumas, they see everything that took place at that time,” he said.
“Many of those who lost their family members bear psychological scars. They don’t have the remains of their relatives to mourn, nor do they know where to find them. Some still feel afraid, they’re afraid that something might happen to them even though the war has already ended.”
In 1993, a UN report identified many of those responsible for the massacre. A week after its release, El Salvador’s General Amnesty Law came into force, shielding the perpetrators and denying justice to victims and their families.
Almost two decades later, that law is still in place, despite public commitments from the government to take steps to repeal it.
At the weekend, for the first time, the Salvadoran Government apologized for the massacre, asking forgiveness for what it described as “the blindness of state violence”.
“It is positive that the Salvadoran authorities have finally recognised the state’s responsibility for this terrible event.” said Guadalupe Marengo, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Americas Programme.
“However, those who survived the slaughter – and the families of victims – have received neither justice nor reparation. Families need to know exactly what happened to their relatives. They need those who perpetrated these horrific crimes to be held to account. And they are entitled to redress for what they themselves have suffered.”
For some, time is now running out. The only two remaining witnesses of the El Mozote massacre died recently. Many victims’ relatives are growing old, and fear they will not learn the truth or see justice done before they die.
Their torment has been described as torture by both the Inter American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the UN Committee Against Torture.
“It is high time that El Salvador followed the example of other countries in the region and repealed its amnesty laws,” said Guadalupe Marengo.
Ovidio Gonzalez says the families are not giving up. Last week, he said, a committee representing the victims of El Mozote went to meet President Funes. “ They told him that they want justice, and that the state must take the action necessary.”
Around 75,000 people died in El Salvador’s civil war, which raged from 1980 to 1992. The population was subjected to widespread human rights abuses, including killings, disappearances and torture.