El Salvador to investigate military leaders over civil war massacre

March 31, 2017

March, 20 2017 (Reuters)

A court in El Salvador notified seven former high-level military leaders on Wednesday they are being investigated for their alleged roles in the 1981 massacre of 1,000 peasants, considered the worst atrocity in the nation’s bloody civil war.

The case, reopened in October, is the first since a July decision by the Supreme Court declaring unconstitutional a 1993 amnesty law that banned investigating, prosecuting, or jailing people for war crimes or human rights violations.

The 1980-1992 civil war, which pitted the leftist guerilla Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) against the U.S.-backed Salvadoran army, killed 75,000 and left 8,000 people missing.

The 1981 massacre took place in the northeastern town of El Mozote, allegedly at the hands of an elite army unit, and resulted in the deaths of mostly women and children.

The Salvadoran Army’s elite Atlacatl Battalion occupied the northeastern El Mozote region and surrounding areas in a bid to exterminate civilians who were allegedly collaborating with the FMLN, now the ruling party.

Former Defense Minister Jose Guillermo Garcia, ex-chief-of-staff Rafael Flores, and five other colonels were notified by the court on Wednesday, in addition to two others who did not appear.

On Thursday, the court will notify nine other retired military officials who were members of the battalion.

While victims’ families pushed for a trial as early as 1990, the case has never been heard domestically.

A truth commission created by the United Nations in 1992 published a report that declared the El Mozote massacre the worst war crime perpetrated during the conflict.

El Salvador’s government denied for years having perpetrated the slaughter, but in 2012 the government of then-President Mauricio Funes acknowledged the state’s role and apologized to the families of the victims.