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
(a) Ventura and Mejía (1980)
(c) Chan Chan and Massi (1989)
SUMMARY OF THE CASE
Miguel Angel Rivas Hernández, aged 17, disappeared on Saturday, 29 November 1986, near the Ilopango air force base in San Salvador. Witnesses attributed his arrest to members of the air force, to whom his family went to demand his return; at the base however, they were told that he was not being detained. Despite this official denial, the family received confirmation that the young man was at the base. Accordingly, they reported his disappearance to human rights organizations.
In January 1987 the young man was allegedly transferred to the National Guard central barracks in San Salvador. In March 1988, the victim’s father maintains that he saw him from a distance at the National Guard barracks.
The Commission finds that:
1. Miguel Angel Rivas Hernández was arrested on 29 November 1986 by members of the Salvadorian air force.
2. He was transferred from the air force base to the National Guard central barracks, where he disappeared, there being no evidence that he is still alive.
3. The Salvadorian air force and the National Guard covered up his arrest and detention.
4. The Commission for the Investigation of Criminal Acts (CIHD) did not cooperate properly with the Commission. It transmitted incomplete information concerning its investigation of the case.
Miguel Angel Rivas Hernández was arrested by members of the air force and subsequently transferred to the National Guard central barracks; not only did he disappear while in the custody of the National Guard, but there is no evidence that he is still alive. Air force and National Guard personnel covered up his detention. The State cannot evade its duty to investigate the case thoroughly.
DESCRIPTION OF THE FACTS
Miguel Angel Rivas Hernández, son of Guillermo Rivas Compas, a bus driver, and Rosa Elba Rivas, a housewife, lived in the Ilopango district adjacent to the Salvadorian air force base in San Salvador. He was not known in the community to be involved in political activities.
When he was 17, Miguel Angel got a job as attendant at the Texaco service station located on the Pan American Highway, just beyond the limits of air force base property. He walked to and from work every day.
It was common to see motorized patrols circulating at various times, as well as members of the Salvadorian air force on foot. Residents of the area usually knew airmen who worked at the base.
Arrest and disappearance
On Saturday, 29 November 1986, Miguel Angel’s boss at the Texaco service station gave him permission to leave at approximately 7.30 p.m. As usual, he headed straight for home.
Miguel Angel’s parents were expecting him at around 8 p.m. The young man did not arrive home. Worried, they inquired at the filling station, where they were assured that he had left shortly before 7.30 p.m.
His mother managed to find out that individuals in civilian clothing, driving a red pick-up truck with no doors on the cab, had detained a boy wearing white trousers and a black shirt. The description fitted Miguel Angel. His captors, from the description given, appeared to be members of the "7.30 p.m. air force patrol".
Very early the next day, Miguel Angel’s parents went to the air force base to inquire about him, but were told that he was not being detained. They then went to various police and military departments, but these also denied that they were holding him.
A neighbour told Miguel Angel’s mother that a young man had witnessed the arrest and had recognized an airman from the base as one of the captors. The airman was nicknamed "El Mango".
An air force member, nicknamed "El Chino", also confirmed to a friend of Miguel Angel that he was being held at the Ilopango air force base. This friend told Miguel Angel’s mother. At the base, however, they still officially denied his detention.
Complaints and searches
In view of these continuing denials, the family decided, in December 1986, to report Miguel Angel’s disappearance to several human rights bodies: the Human Rights Commission of El Salvador (governmental), the Archdiocesan Legal Protection Office, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Amnesty International and Americas Watch. Americas Watch brought the case to the attention of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). 329/
In January 1987, the family was informed of Miguel Angel’s transfer to the National Guard barracks in San Salvador. 330/ However, when they went there, his detention was again denied.
The transfer of Miguel Angel Rivas Hernández from the air force to the National Guard was apparently recorded in the Guard’s books in January 1987. 331/
In February 1987, the case was presented to the United States Embassy in El Salvador. Some members of the United States Congress wrote letters to their own Embassy in El Salvador 332/ and to the then President of El Salvador, José Napoleón Duarte, 333/ expressing concern at Miguel Angel’s disappearance. In March, an Amnesty International mission visited the National Guard barracks, but did not find the young man there.
CIHD took charge of the investigation of the case in April 1987. 334/ Detective Sergeant Roberto Palacios Iraheta was assigned to the investigation. 335/
Sergeant Palacios found out from an informant that a National Guard lieutenant had called a meeting of five Guard members and had ordered them to hide the books containing the records of the interrogations to which Rivas Hernández 336/ had been subjected and the place where he was being held: National Guard cell (bartolina) No. 4, S-II.
On receiving this information, Lieutenant Colonel Nelson Iván López y López, Chief of the CIHD Executive Unit, decided to intervene directly in the case and went to the National Guard barracks, but did not find the young man. 337/
In a report dated 26 May, Lieutenant Colonel López noted that "... the investigations concerning Mr. Rivas Hernández are running into complications which require decisions at another level and which will shortly be reported ... (to the Head of CIHD)". 338/
On 2 June 1987, in another report, Lieutenant Colonel López "... described, in general terms, the difficulties encountered in the case of the disappearance of Mr. Rivas Hernández". 339/
Meanwhile, the family received regular information from its own source concerning Miguel Angel’s state of health and place of detention. (The family’s source was the same as that of CIHD.)
The family also transmitted regularly to this source various sums of money, which were carefully recorded by the victim’s mother, during the period from June 1987 to February 1989. The informant reported seeing the detained youth in person and also gave an account of various transfers, both to official National Guard locations and to private houses; on several occasions, ICRC visited the official locations, without finding the young man.
On 23 March 1988, IACHR adopted resolution No. 21/88 in which it assumed that the facts of the complaint on the disappearance were true, advised the Government of El Salvador that the case involved extremely grave violations of human rights and recommended that it investigate and punish those responsible.
A few days later, nearly 16 months after the disappearance, the young man’s father, Guillermo Rivas Campos, claims he caught sight of Miguel Angel for a few moments at the National Guard Command in San Pablo Tacachico.
The United States Embassy, through one of its officials, constantly supported the family in the search for the young man. Colonel Rivas Rivas of CIHD interviewed a colonel and a lieutenant of the National Guard, without success.
Following the FMLN offensive in 1989, the father of Miguel Angel Rivas Hernández was detained on charges of being linked to the guerrilla movement. His release was obtained with the help of the United States Embassy.
The Commission finds the following:
1. There is substantial evidence that Miguel Angel Rivas Hernández was arrested by members of the Salvadorian air force.
2. There is substantial evidence that he was transferred to the National Guard.
3. There is substantial evidence that, while in the custody of the National Guard, the young man disappeared; there is no evidence that he is still alive.
4. There is substantial evidence that the air force subsequently covered up his arrest and detention and that the National Guard covered up his detention.
5. The State failed in its responsibility under international human rights law to investigate the case and to bring to trial and punish those responsible.
329/ Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Case No. 9844, El Salvador.
330/ Ibid., Letter from Jemera Rone (Americas Watch) to the Commission on the Truth, dated 26 August 1992.
331/ Statement made by Cruz Antonio López Hernández to the Human Rights Commission of El Salvador (governmental) on 1 April 1987.
332/ Letter dated 23 February 1987 to Edwin Corr, United States Ambassador to El Salvador, from Congressman James L. Obestar et al.
333/ Letter dated 26 February 1987 to José Napoleon Duarte, President of El Salvador, from Congressman James L. Obestar et al.
334/ Regular meeting of CIHD, 1987, record No. 12, p. 22. According to the summary, the investigation was made "at the request of the Human Rights Commission (governmental)"; however, the Head of CIHD at the time, Mr. Julio Alfredo Samayoa, says that it was made at the request of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
335/ CIHD has informed us that he submitted his resignation approximately six months ago and has probably left the country.
336/ "Summary of the investigations conducted during the period from 15 May 1987 to 30 May 1987". CIHD, 30 May 1987, pp. 2-3.
337/ Ibid., p. 3.
338/ Regular meeting of CIHD, 1987, record No. 16, p. 26. That same day, CIHD administered a lie detector test to its source. The result was favourable. "Summary of the investigations conducted during the period from 15 May 1987 to 30 May 1987", CIHD, 30 May 1987, pp. 3-4. CIHD then planned to summons and take statements from the members of the air force and the National Guard implicated in the arrest and transfer and referred to in the reports identifying Rivas Hernández. "Work plan", CIHD, 30 May 1987, pp. 1-2.
339/ Regular meeting of CIHD, 1987, record No. 17, p. 27. There is no new report on the case until 11 August 1987. Ibid., 1987, record No. 27, p. 40. Thereafter, there are no further reports in 1987. The records of CIHD meetings for 1988 were not transmitted to the Commission on the Truth.