UN Commission on the Truth for El Salvador, From Madness to Hope: The 12-Year War in El Salvador, Report, 15 March 1993, in UN Secretary General, Letter to the President of the Security Council (S/25500), Annex. (PDF link)
TABLE OF CONTENTS
(e) The Dutch journalists (1982)
(g) San Sebastían (1988)
SUMMARY OF THE CASE
On 22 February 1983, members of the Jaguar Battalion, under the command of Captain Carlos Alfonso Figueroa Morales, participated in an operation in Las Hojas canton, San Antonio del Monte Municipality, Department of Sonsonate. Soldiers arrested 16 peasants, took them to the Cuyuapa river and shot and killed them at point-blank range.
The accused have consistently maintained that this was a clash with terrorists. An investigation by the Ministry of Defence concluded that no members of the armed forces were responsible for the incident.
The judicial proceedings were dismissed by the Supreme Court of Justice under the 1987 Amnesty Act. In 1992, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights accused the Government of El Salvador of failing in its duty to investigate and punish those responsible for violations of the American Convention on Human Rights.
On the basis of various degrees of evidence, the Commission finds the following:
1. Colonel Elmer González Araujo, then Commander of Military Detachment No. 6 at Sonsonate, Major Oscar León Linares and Captain Carlos Alfonso Figueroa Morales (deceased) planned the operation in Las Hojas canton for the purpose of arresting and eliminating alleged subversives.
2. The orders of execution were transmitted to the actual perpetrators by then Second Lieutenants Carlos Sasso Landaverry and Francisco del Cid Díaz.
3. Colonel Gonzáles Araujo, Major León Linares and Captain Carlos Alfonso Figueroa Morales learnt immediately of the massacre, but covered it up.
4. Colonel Napoleón Alvarado, who conducted the Ministry of Defence investigation, also covered up the massacre and obstructed the judicial investigation.
5. The Commission on the Truth recommends that the Government of El Salvador comply fully with the resolution of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in this case.
DESCRIPTION OF THE FACTS 206/
In the early morning of 22 February 1983, Captain Carlos Alfonso Figueroa Morales, commanding the Jaguar Battalion based in Military Detachment No. 6 at Sonsonate, mobilized three units from there belonging to the first company. One unit was under the command of Second
Lieutenant Carlos Sasso Landaverry, one under the command of Second Lieutenant Cadet Francisco del Cid Díaz and the third under the command of Sergeant José Reyes Pérez Ponce. 207/
At about 6 a.m., a unit entered the Las Hojas cooperative of the Asociación Nacional de Indígenas (ANIS). With the help of members of the local civil defence unit, who had scarves tied around their faces to conceal their identities, they arrested seven members of the cooperative. The soldiers had a list of alleged subversives and several members of the civil defence unit pointed out the people whose names were on the list. They were dragged from their houses, beaten and bound, then taken from the cooperative along the road towards the Cuyuapa river.
The members of the cooperative arrested were Gerardo Cruz Sandoval (34 years), 208/ José Guido García (21 years), 209/ Benito Pérez Zetino (35 years), 210/ Pedro Pérez Zetino (24 years), 211/ Marcelino Sánchez Viscarra (80 years), 212/ Juan Bautista Mártir Pérez (75 years) 213/ and Héctor Manuel Márquez (60 years). 214/
Another unit of about 40 soldiers entered the San Antonio farm in Agua Santa canton, near the Las Hojas cooperative, arrested a number of people and took them also towards the Cuyuapa river. 215/ The people arrested there included Antonio Mejía Alvarado, 216/ Romelio Mejía Alvarado, 217/ Lorenzo Mejía Carabante, 218/ Ricardo García Elena (19 years), 219/ Francisco Alemán Mejía (36 years), 220/ Leonardo López Morales (22 years), 221/ Alfredo Ayala 222/ and Martín Mejía Castillo. 223/
When the leader of ANIS, Adrián Esquino, was informed of the arrest of the members of the cooperative, he went immediately, at 7 a.m., to speak to Colonel Elmer González Araujo, 224/ Commander of Military Detachment No. 6 at Sonsonate. Colonel González Araujo told him he knew nothing about the arrest of the members of the ANIS cooperative, but that he knew that a number of subversives with the surname Mejía had been captured.
Later that morning, a group of ANIS members found 16 bodies on the banks of the Cuyuapa river; there were marks that showed that their hands had been tied, their faces were disfigured by bullets and they had all been shot at point-blank range in the forehead or behind the ear.
That same day, 22 February, Roberto Rogelio Magaña, the justice of the peace and experts examined the bodies. Alfredo Ayala’s body still had "... his arms and forearms behind his back with the thumbs tied together with a piece of string ...". 225/ The other victims also showed signs of having had their thumbs tied together and had been riddled with bullets at point-blank range.
The official version
The operation was discussed and decided upon the previous day by Colonel González Araujo, Major Oscar León Linares, the commanding officer of the Battalion, and Captain Figueroa Morales, the Chief of S-2. According to their version, they were informed of the presence of subversives and the purpose of the operation was to search the area.
Later, Captain Figueroa Morales said that during the operation he heard shots coming from up ahead. 226/ When he arrived at the Cuyuapa river, the two Second Lieutenants informed him that there had been a clash with guerrillas. They found a number of bodies there, but none of them were bound. 227/
Although in several depositions soldiers alleged that there had been a clash with guerrillas, none of them admitted to having witnessed such a clash and all of them said that they had only heard it.
After the clash, Captain Figueroa Morales made a report to Colonel González Araujo. 228/ Major León Linares also received reports on arriving at the Detachment at about 8 a.m.
Three investigations followed. President Magaña ordered the newly established governmental Human Rights Commission to investigate the case. Thus, before the case went to the Attorney General’s Office, family members were interviewed and a first account of the incident was drawn up.
The Minister of Defence, General José Guillermo García Merino, entrusted Colonel Napoleón Alvarado with investigating the case. Statements were taken from several witnesses as part of the investigation, but not from the two Second Lieutenants, Cid Díaz and Sasso Landaverry, who were in Morazán. 229/ According to the testimony of Captain Figueroa Morales, it was they who had headed the unit which took part in the alleged clash.
In April 1983, Colonal Alvarado determined that no proof had been found of the guilt of any member of the armed forces and that the deaths had occurred in a clash. He also expressed the view that the investigation by the Human Rights Commission had been biased. He added that the case had been politicized by enemies of the armed forces and that "... the armed forces cannot take any responsibility for what may happen to Mr. Adrián Esquino Lisco, since he ... it would appear, is protecting guerrilla elements within the association he heads". 230/
The judicial investigation followed a different course. In March 1984, on the basis of a recommendation by the Office of the Attorney General, 231/ the preventive detention of seven civil defence members and other members of the military escort was ordered, but the order did not extend to soldiers. 232/ However, in December 1984, the judge of Sonsonate First Criminal Court ordered a stay of proceedings and in July 1985, the criminal court approved the case’s dismissal. It also determined that the law on complicity could not be applied to civil defence members without any proof as to the main perpetrators. It had been established only that the escorts had assisted the army in the arrest. However, the court did not indicate who the immediate perpetrators were. 233/
As to the dismissal of the case against Captain Figueroa Morales and Major Léon Linares, the court affirmed that there was not enough evidence to bring charges against them. 234/
In July 1986, through the intervention of the United States Embassy and with new evidence that soldiers had been involved, criminal proceedings were reopened against a number of defendants, including Colonel González Araujo, Major León Linares and Captain Figueroa Morales. 235/
In March 1987, however, the judge of the Court of First Instance again dismissed the case; 236/ in august, the appeal court revoked his decision and ordered the case brought to trial. 237/
Colonel González Araujo then filed a remedy of habeas corpus with the Supreme Court, when it was not yet certain that the National Assembly would approve the Amnesty Act (27 October 1987). 238/ In July 1988, the Supreme Court held that the Amnesty Act should apply to the Las Hojas case, and dismissed the case against all the defendants. 239/
Resolution of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on the application of the 1987 Amnesty Act in the Las Hojas case
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights received a petition in 1989 240/ denouncing the application of the 1987 Amnesty Act as a violation of the obligation of the Government of El Salvador to investigate and punish the violations of the rights of the Las Hojas victims and to make reparation for the injury caused. 241/ On 24 September 1992, the Commission issued a resolution in which it determined that the amnesty decree adopted after the order to arrest officers of the armed forces had legally foreclosed the possibility of an effective investigation, the prosecution of the culprits and appropriate compensation for the victims. 242/
The Commission stated that the Government of El Salvador had failed in its obligation to guarantee the free and full exercise of human rights and fundamental guarantees for all persons under its jurisdiction. 243/ It further recommended that the Government of El Salvador should: (1) conduct an exhaustive, rapid, complete and impartial investigation of the facts in order to identify all the victims and the culprits and bring the latter to justice; (2) take the necessary steps to prevent the occurrence of similar incidents in future; (3) make reparation for the consequences of the situation and pay fair compensation to the victims’ families. 244/
The Commission gave the Government of El Salvador three months in which to implement its recommendations, i.e., up to 24 December 1992. So far, no action has been taken to comply with the Commission’s recommendations.
The Commission finds the following:
1. There is substantial evidence that Colonel Elmer González Araujo, then Commander of Military Detachment No. 6 at Sonsonate, Major Oscar León Linares and Captain Figueroa Morales (deceased) planned the operation in Las Hojas canton for the purpose of arresting and eliminating alleged subversives.
2. There is full evidence that Captain Figueroa Morales, as captain of the Jaguar Battalion, was in command of the operation. Also, that during the operation, 16 peasants were arrested, bound and summarily executed, and that there was no clash with guerrillas.
3. There is substantial evidence that the orders of execution were transmitted to the actual perpetrators by then Second Lieutenants Carlos Sasso Landaverry and Francisco del Cid Díaz.
4. There is substantial evidence that Colonel González Araujo, Major León Linares and Captain Figueroa Morales, learnt immediately of the massacre but covered it up.
5. There is sufficient evidence that Colonel Napoleón Alvarado, who conducted the Ministry of Defence investigation, also covered up the massacre and later obstructed the judicial investigation.
6. The Commission on the Truth recommends that the Government of El Salvador comply fully with the resolution of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in this case.
206/ The Commission on the Truth received complaints on the case and interviewed witnesses, survivors and eyewitnesses, members of the Asociación Nacional de Indígenas (ANIS), members of the armed forces, civil defence members, members of popular organizations, members of the governmental Human Rights Commission and others. The dossier of the criminal proceedings was reviewed. The place of the arrests and the massacre was visited. Reports were also received from diplomatic and news sources, and governmental and non-governmental reports were reviewed. Carlos Sasso Landaverry, who was summonsed, did not appear before the Commission.
207/ Statement by Captain Figueroa Morales, Ministry of Defence investigation. F. 428.
208/ Judicial statement by Florencia Cruz Sánchez, mother of Gerardo Cruz Sandoval, 3 March 1983. F. 28.
209/ Statement by María Isabel Arevalo Moz, companion of José Guido García, 28 February 1983.
210/ Judicial statement by Nicolasa Zetino de Pérez, mother of Pedro Pérez Zetino and Benito Pérez Zetino, 28 February 1983. Ff. 19-20. 211/ Ibid.
212/ Statement by Felipa Bonilla, companion of Marcelino Sánchez Viscarra. Ff. 20-21.
213/ Judicial statement by Francisca Jiménez de Mártir, wife of Juan Bautista Mártir Pérez, 28 February 1983. Ff. 22-23.
214/ Judicial statement by Santos Márquez, wife of Héctor Manuel Márquez. Ff. 21-22.
215/ Judicial statement by eyewitnesses Aminta Ayala de Ayala (f. 16) and Candelario Elena (f. 26). See also statements by Adán Mejía Nataren (f. 15), Hortensia Dubón Ayala (f. 17), Ubaldo Mejía (ff. 18-19), Evangelina Escobar Mejía de Alemán (f. 25) and Rubenia López Morales (f. 27).
216/ Statement by Hortensia Dubón Ayala, companion of Antonio Mejía Alvarado (f. 17).
217/ Judicial statement by Adán Mejía Nataren, father of Lorenzo Mejía Carabante and uncle of Romelio Mejía Alvarado, 26 February 1983. F. 15.
219/ Judicial statement by Candelario Elena, father of Ricardo García Elena, 1 March 1983. F. 26.
220/ Judicial statement by Evangelina Escobar Mejía de Alemán, wife of Francisco Alemán Mejía, 1 March 1983. F. 25.
221/ Judicial statement by Rebenia López Morales, sister of Leonardo López Morales, 2 March 1983. F. 27.
e222/ Judicial statement by Aminta Ayala de Ayala, wife of Alfredo Ayala, 26 February 1983. F. 16.
223/ Statement by Ubaldo Mejía, father of Martín Mejía Castillio. Ff. 18-19.
224/ Colonel Elmer González Araujo is also referred to indiscriminately as Colonel Aráujo throughout the case.
225/ Inspection of the body of Alfredo Ayala, ff. 4-5.
226/ Statement by Captain Figueroa Morales, f. 428.
227/ According to all the soldiers who made depositions, they did not take anyone living in Las Hojas canton from their homes at any time, and they were not aware that any of their colleagues or superiors had done so. Ff. 424, 426, 432, 433 and 434. See also: statements by Rufino Raymundo Ruíz, José Reyes Pérez Ponce, José Sermeño, René Arevalo Moz, Teodoro Rodríguez Pérez and the Ministry of Defence investigation.
228/ Statement by Captain Figueroa Morales, f. 429.
229/ Letter from Infantry Colonel Napoleón Alvarado to the Minister of Defence, 20 April 1983, f. 411.
230/ Ibid., f. 442. This report was not submitted to the court until 15 December 1986, more than three years later, under the instructions of the Vice-Minister for Defence. F. 443.
231/ On 16 February 1984, the Attorney General gave his opinion on the merits of the evidence, and took the view that the corpus delicti had been established by the inspection and identification of the bodies and that the criminal responsibility of the defendants had been established with the testimony of the witnesses. See: f. 317.
The defendants included Vicente Sermeño, Salvador Sermeño, Juan Aquilino Sermeño, Mario Pérez, René Arevalo Moz, Santiago Sermeño, Marcial Cáceres, Ileandro Pérez, Pedro Pérez, Vicente Sermeño, Alonso Inocente Cáceres and José Domingo Cáceres.
232/ The accused were Marcial Cáceres Rosa, René Arevalo Moz, Mario Arias Pérez, Pedro Pérez González, Leandro Pérez González, Salvador José Sermeño and Vicente Sermeño. At that time, there were no eyewitnesses to the participation of identified members of the armed forces. F. 318.
233/ F. 381.
234/ F. 382.
235/ F. 397.
236/ He said, "... since all the proceedings requested by the Office have been carried out ... without bringing about any change in the situation of the dismissed defendants in the case ... the case is dismissed in favour of the defendants ...". F. 471.
237/ F. 486.
238/ Article 1 of the Amnesty Act provided: "Art. 1. - Absolute and full amnesty shall be granted to all persons, whether nationals or aliens, who participated as direct or indirect perpetrators or as accomplices in committing political crimes, related common crimes or common crimes carried out by at least 20 persons ...". The Act contained a provision on pending cases. Article 4 (3) provided that "In the case of accused persons whose cases are pending, the competent judge shall of his own motion decree a general dismissal of proceedings in favour of the defendants without abatement of the action at law and shall order their immediate release." Article 4 (4) states: "In the situations regulated in paragraph 3, a judge or court that is for any reason hearing trials or proceedings brought for crimes indicated in this Act must refer them back within a period not exceeding 72 hours to the competent judge of first instance who was originally hearing those trials." Decree No. 805, vol. No. 297, Official Gazette No. 199, 28 October 1987.
239/ Ff. 546 et seq. The Court determined, on the basis of the testimony of the injured parties and of Figueroa Morales, that more than 20 people had participated in the operation carried out on 22 February 1983 in Las Hojas canton, although only 14 of them had been identified. The Court also noted that the Legislative Assembly had considered the possibility of making an exception for the Las Hojas case, so that the accused would not benefit from the special amnesty, but that in the end the Legislative Assembly had tacitly included it in the amnesty by not treating it as an exception. Ff. 551-52.
240/ El Salvador, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, 24 September 1992. Report No. 26/92, case No. 10,278, para. 1.
241/ Report No. 26/92, para. 1.
242/ Ibid., para. 11.
243/ Ibid., para. 4.
244/ Ibid., para. 5.