El Salvador to establish a National Commission for the Search of Disappeared Persons during the Armed Conflict

February 6, 2017

In response to a long-standing call from civilian victims, on January 27 President Salvador Sánchez Cerén of El Salvador announced that his government will create a National Commission for the search of disappeared persons during the armed conflict, which took place between 1980 and 1992.  This is an historic decision that brings renewed hope to the families of the 10,000 disappeared that they may finally learn the fate of their loved ones.

The official commitment to create this commission was made public in the context of a visit by a delegation of young Salvadoran-Americans; children of disappeared persons; U.S. Congressman, Democrat James McGovern; and religious, academic, and human rights leaders. The members of the delegation, along with groups of victims of the armed conflict and civil society organizations in El Salvador, presented a technical proposal for the Search Commission to start a participatory dialogue. The visit, which took place between January 26th and 28th, was organized by the Mauricio Aquino Foundation’s (FMA) “Our Parent’s Bones” campaign, in collaboration with the Due Process of Law Foundation (DPLF), the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), the José Simeón Cañas Central American University (UCA), Center for Applied Legal Studies (Fundación de Estudios para la Aplicación del Derecho  - FESPAD), and the Association for the Search of Disappeared Children (Asociación Pro-Búsqueda de Niñas y Niños Desaparecidos).

During their visit, the delegation held a press conference to announce its request for the government to create an independent and autonomous Search Commission via executive order, with the legal authority to receive and request information on the whereabouts of those disappeared, and able to provide comprehensive services to victims and specialized genetic-forensic capabilities.

Prior to the press conference, the delegation held a private meeting with President Sánchez Cerén to present him with their requests, convey the affected families’ sentiments, and hold a round-table discussion hosted by the Ministry of Foreign Relations and attended by high-profile members of the Salvadoran government and civil society members and experts. Many issues were discussed including the judicial, scientific, and political challenges that the installation of a national mechanism will face in the search for persons disappeared almost three decades ago, as well as the lessons learned from comparative experiences in other countries that have also grappled with massive human rights violations.

The delegation met with the Working Committee for Historic Memory (Comisión de Trabajo Pro-Memoria Histórica), a collective of victims groups and human rights organizations, at the Monumento a las Víctimas (a monument located in the Cuscatlán Park commemorating victims of the armed conflict). During the gathering at the memorial, the groups discussed the need to support efforts to create the search commission, while paying homage to the persons disappeared and murdered during the armed conflict.

The visit closed with a forum entitled “Forced Disappearance during the Salvadoran Armed Conflict: Search, Truth, and Reconciliation,” during which the families of victims forcibly disappeared shared their testimonies and listened to encouraging words given by the UCA’s rector, P. Andreu Olivia, Congressman McGovern, former Human Rights Ombudsman, David Morales, and the director of FESPAD, Abraham Ábrego, who explained the attributes he expects the Commission to have. In the following weeks, the organizations that promoted the initiative for the creation of a Commission will continue their dialogue with the government and will define the next steps that must be taken to make the Search Commission a reality.