El Salvador Urged to Respond to El Calabozo Massacre Survivors’ Demands

El Salvador must finally deliver justice for a brutal massacre that took place three decades ago, Amnesty International urged today in an open letter to President Mauricio Funes, as families across the country are set to mark the annual Day of the Dead religious festival.

More than 200 men, women and children were killed by an elite army unit at the El Calabozo massacre in the northern San Vicente region on 22 August, 1982. Three decades later, the Salvadoran authorities have yet to acknowledge the horrific murders or bring to justice those responsible.

In the open letter, Amnesty International urges the President to publicly recognize state responsibility for the massacre, bring those responsible to justice, and ensure the survivors and families receive reparation. The letter echoes the demands of survivors and the Salvadoran NGO Centro para la Promoción de los Derechos Humanos “Madeleine Lagadec” who work alongside them.

“This week as people across El Salvador visit the tombs of deceased relatives to pay their respects, there are scores of families of those murdered in cold blood at El Calabozo who will mourn the merciless killing of their loved ones, from babies who had not yet even taken their first steps, to elderly grandparents. The vast majority do not have a grave to visit – just a memorial constructed to mark the place this massacre occurred,” said Esther Major, Central America Researcher at Amnesty International.

“Three decades is far too long to wait – it’s high time the Salvadoran authorities step up and recognize state responsibility for the massacre.”

The precise number of people killed at El Calabozo is difficult to confirm. After killing scores of people – and raping many women and girls beforehand – the soldiers from the US-trained Atlacatl Battallion reportedly threw acid on some of the bodies, and the river swept many of the dead away. Relatives and survivors have compiled a list of more than 200 missing people.

Day of the Dead

On 1 November, NGOs in El Salvador typically commemorate the disappeared, whose fate and final resting place remain unknown. A day later, people across the country mark the Day of the Dead (El Día de los Fieles Difuntos), when they honour deceased loved ones.

Following this year’s event, on 5 November members of Centro para la Promoción de los Derechos Humanos “Madeleine Lagadec” will personally deliver a petition to President Funes which has been signed by more than 5,000 Amnesty International activists from all over the world. 

The activists call on the Salvadoran authorities to publicly recognize state responsibility for the El Calabozo massacre – including the legacy of suffering for the survivors and families of the victims.

They also urge President Funes to take the immediate steps necessary for a thorough investigation that will reveal the truth about what happened, ensure that all those responsible for the massacre are brought to justice, and provide reparations to survivors and relatives.

“We are not asking for special treatment in this case. El Salvador has international obligations to ensure accountability for events like the El Calabozo massacre,” said Major.

“President Funes has already taken the positive step of recognizing the state role in a separate massacre at El Mozote – nothing prevents him from doing the same for the survivors and victims’ relatives of El Calabozo. Indeed, under international law he is required to ensure truth, justice and reparation for all victims.”

In January 2012, President Funes formally acknowledged Salvadoran state responsibility for another civil war-era massacre at El Mozote – where soldiers killed more than 750 people – and started a programme of reparations to that community.