Saturday, January 07, 2006

Salvadoran generals verdict reinstated

One of the most watched cases seeking to have Salvadoran military leaders held accountable for torture and human rights abuses during the civil war has been Arce v. Garcia, often known simply as the case of the Salvadoran generals. In 2002 a jury awarded $54.6 million in damages to three victims of torture during the civil war in El Salvador. The federal jury in Miami found that Gens. Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova and Jose Guillermo Garcia ignored massacres and other acts of brutality against civilians during the war. The two now live in the United States.

In February of 2005, a US Court of Appeals in Atlanta, Georgia set aside that verdict, finding that the plaintiffs sued too late and their claim was prohibited by a 10 year statute of limitations. This week, in a very rare move, that same appellate court reversed itself and reinstated the verdict, as reported in the Miami Herald.

In its new decision, the Court of Appeals found that it would have been impossible to bring a claim and have justice done before the conclusion of the civil war in 1992:

Until the end of civil war in 1992, the military would have used its significant power to thwart any efforts to redress the human rights violations that it perpetrated. Evidence of those violations would have been suppressed. Potential witnesses would have been intimidated and perhaps tortured if they came forward. The plaintiffs legitimately feared that their family members and friends remaining in El Salvador would be subject to harsh reprisals and the same brutalities that the plaintiffs suffered.

The district court's findings of fact are not clearly erroneous; indeed, they are heavily supported by the record. The record swells with evidence regarding the brutality and oppression that the Salvadoran military visited upon the people of El Salvador. The evidence includes reports on abductions, torture, and murder by the military. The evidence reveals a judiciary too meek to stand against the regime.

Because of these conditions in El Salvador, the Court ruled that it was not equitable to start the 10 year time period for bringing a lawsuit until the conclusion of the civil war.

The lawyer for the generals has indicated that the generals will seek to get this new decision reversed.

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