One of the atrocities of the Salvadoran civil war was the abduction of children from their families. Most prominent was the case of the Serrano sisters, abducted by government forces during the early years of the civil war. In the aftermath of the civil war, lawyers for the family sued the Salvadoran government for redress, including requiring the government to search for the sisters as well as the hundreds of other missing children. After years of denials and legal wrangling, the government lost and the judgment of the Interamerican Court of Human Rights in March 2005, among many other things, required the Salvadoran government to make an act of public apology in the presence of high officials and members of the Serrano family.
After dragging its feet for more than a year, the Salvadoran government took actions it said complied with the judgment. An account from US-El Salvador Sister Cities, describes what happened:
Salvadoran President Tony Saca sent administration representatives to Chalatenango, as stipulated by the IHRC, to publicly acknowledge responsibility for their disappearance and to publicly ask forgiveness, as demanded by Pro-Búsqueda and backed by the IHRC. However, in Chalatenango on Wednesday the Salvadoran Chancellor Francisco Lainez stopped short of taking responsibility or asking forgiveness, saying "we deeply lament all that occurred during the armed conflict that took hold of our country for more than 12 years...we especially lament what happened in relation with Erlinda and Ernestina Serrano Cruz."
As Lainez avoided adhering to the sentence of the IHRC in his speech, those present at the event, including the entire Serrano family, shouted "ask forgiveness" and "where is the President?" referring to President Saca's notable absence. Afterward, Fernando Serrano, brother of the disappeared, declared: "this is a propaganda event and not as the court mandated. We wanted to hear the State say that Erlinda and Ernestina Serrano have to be found and that they will exhaust all their resources, as they should with all pending cases of disappeared children." As an act of protest and rejection of the Chancellor's words, the Serrano family refused to accept the compensation checks from the Salvador Government, as part of the IHRC sentence.
Rather than address the hundreds of cases of disappeared yet to be resolved, the Chancellor opened his remarks yesterday by applauding the first case resolved by the Inter-Institutional Commission for the Search of Girls and Boys Disappeared during the Armed Conflict in El Salvador, the State truth commission created by mandate of the IHRC. Standing in front of a giant photograph of a reunited father and daughter, who were also present at the event, the Chancellor was publicly challenged by the Attorney General of Human Rights Beatrice de Carrillo to present to the public the section of the IHRC sentence obligating the state to ask forgiveness.
Likewise, the public event was too little too late for the Pro-Búsqueda Association. The case of the Serrano sisters is one of more than 400 cases currently being investigated by Pro-Búsqueda. Since 1994 this organization has resolved 310 cases, 180 of which have ended with reunited family members. According to Zaira Navas, representative of Pro-Búsqueda: "This past 29th of September was the first deadline for the Salvadoran State to complete the first measures of reparation ordered by the Inter-American Human Rights Court, for having been condemned for the violation of the human rights of Ernestina and Erlinda Serrano Cruz, and their family. Sadly, the State has tried to evade its international obligations by partially and inadequately adopting aforementioned measures."
"Operation Cleansing," as it was called, was one of many operations designed to vacate the northern region of Chalatenango of guerillas and civilians. Suyapa Serrano, sister of the disappeared, remembers the day her sisters where taken: "it was very hard. They were asking for food, and we didn't have any to give them."
According to Suyapa, her father went in search of water, and she remained hidden with her sisters and 11-month-old son. When she heard the soldiers approaching, she hid her sisters and then hid herself and her son nearby, for fear that the baby would cry out and give them all away. "I heard when the soldiers said they had found two girls, and they said they were going to take them," remembers Suyapa.