In April, the UW Center for Human Rights (UWCHR) joined a delegation of human rights organizations in Washington DC to discuss the fate of El Salvador’s disappeared. In 1993, the UN Truth Commission for El Salvador estimated that some 10,000 Salvadoran civilians were forcibly disappeared during the conflict years, but to this day no meaningful inquiries have been launched to discover their remains or identify those responsible for these crimes. In El Salvador, relatives of the disappeared have been demanding justice for decades. Now, a new organization has been formed in the United States to continue this struggle. The Mauricio Aquino Foundation has launched a campaign called “Our Parents’ Bones,” led by children of the disappeared who now live in the United States.
On April 14, the UWCHR joined the Mauricio Aquino Foundation, the Washington Office on Latin America, and the Due Process of Law Foundation in spearheading a Congressional briefing, hosted by the U.S. House of Representatives Central America Caucus and the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission. At the briefing, three family members of the disappeared shared their personal stories, alongside David Morales, El Salvador’s Human Rights Ombudsman, who argued that the systemic disregard of such cases has hampered El Salvador’s ability to fight contemporary crime today. As part of the U.S. Strategy for Engagement in Central America, the Obama Administration intends a significant investment in rule of law efforts in El Salvador and neighboring countries; yet participants in this briefing insisted that absent indications of political will to tackle the tough cases — from the past and present eras — infusions of economic assistance will have little effect.
In addition to sponsoring the briefing, members of the delegation met with numerous Congressional offices and with key officers at the State Department, and hosted two public presentations with local organizations. In response, Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) announced his intention to circulate a Dear Colleague letter on the topic of El Salvador’s disappeared, asking the Obama administration to initiate a broad declassification of records pertaining to human rights in El Salvador. The UWCHR’s research, and the results of our lawsuit against the CIA, underscore the importance of precisely such a measure to surmount the limitations of the existing FOIA process and provide access to information that can help families — in both El Salvador and the United States — heal the wounds of war.