On April 13, 2000, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (the"IACHR") issued its findings in an action brought against the government of El Salvador for human rights violations. The government was accused for its failure to bring to justice those who orchestrated the execution of archbishop Oscar Romero in March 1980. The lengthy decision is a damning look at a government which had no intention of prosecuting anyone, and concludes:
In adopting the General Amnesty Law, the State has violated Article 2 of the American Convention. In addition, by applying it to [the Romero] case, the State has violated the right to justice and its duty to investigate, try, and make reparations, established in Articles 1(1), 8(1), and 25 of the American Convention, to the detriment of Monsignor Romero's next-of-kin, the members of the religious community to which he belonged and Salvadoran society as a whole.For the next seven years following this ruling, the government of El Salvador did nothing to comply with the recommendations of the commission. Tutela Legal, the Human Rights Office of the archdiocese of San Salvador, then petitioned the IACHR to condemn the Salvadoran government for its utter failure to comply with the prior ruling. The hearing on that petition took place on October 10, 2007.
Based on the analysis and conclusions of this report, the IACHR recommends to the Salvadoran State that it:1. Undertake expeditiously a complete, impartial, and effective judicial investigation to identify, try and punish all the direct perpetrators and planners of the violations established in this report, notwithstanding the amnesty that has been decreed.
2. Make reparations for all the consequences of the violations set forth, including the payment of just compensation.
3. Adapt its internal legislation to the American Convention with a view to nullifying the General Amnesty Law.
David Morales, a lawyer from Tutela Legal, took the lead in presenting the case before the IACHR. In impassioned rhetoric he recounted the role of Oscar Romero, his assassination, the links of the assassins to Roberto D'Aubuisson, the founder of ARENA, and the lack of any true judicial process before or after the 2000 IACHR ruling.
When it was the government's turn to speak, there was a surprise. In the weeks before the hearing, the government made a confidential approach to the office of the current archbishop of San Salvador, Fernando Sáenz Lacalle, to discuss resolution of the case. These discussions were not disclosed to the Salvadoran public until the October 10 hearing, when El Salvador's ambassador to the Organization of American States declared that the fact that such discussions were occurring was ample evidence of the government's good faith in responding to the prior ruling in 2000. (The rest of the government's presentation relied on arguments the IACHR had already rejected in 2000).
Disclosure of the discussions brought howls of protest from human rights and civil society groups in El Salvador. On October 12, civil society organizations sent an open letter to the archbishop, urging him not to negotiate with the Salvadoran government over compliance with the recommendations of the IACHR. In his subsequent weekly press conferences, Sáenz Lacalle tried to defuse the situation stating that the church was not negotiating over allowing the Salvadoran government to avoid its obligations under the 2000 IACHR ruling, that there had been no intention to hide the fact of the discussions from the public, and that repeal of the 1993 Amnesty Law should be considered.
David Morales, however, was fired from Tutela Legal by the office of the archbishop. The church asserts that Morales was fired for disloyalty and it is an internal matter which they will not discuss with the press. Morales did not keep silent. He called a press conference after his firing to declare that he was fired for not keeping quiet about the failures of the Salvadoran government in the Romero case in the October 10 hearing before the IACHR. From the statement he released on October 24:
Ahora entiendo que la "lealtad" esperada por el Señor Arzobispo de San Salvador, significaba mi silencio ante la Comisión respecto del desacato del Estado. Pero tal silencio se hubiese convertido automáticamente en mi más grande acto de deslealtad a la verdad, a los principios del derecho internacional de los derechos humanos y al legado humanista de Monseñor Arturo Rivera Damas y María Julia Hernández, expresado y simbolizado en los resultados del proceso internacional que la CIDH sigue en el caso de Monseñor Romero, como en muchas otras obras insignes que ambos construyeron.For complete coverage in English and Spanish of these issues, there is no better source than the San Romero group mailing list whose archives can be read here.
Mi despido arbitrario constituye una represalia contra Tutela Legal del Arzobispado, cuya posición institucional histórica sostuve en la audiencia de Washington. He sido leal y fiel a las personas y a la causa respecto de las cuales debía serlo.
Now I understand that the "loyalty" expected by the Archbishop of San Salvador meant my silence before the Commission with regards to the contempt [of the IACHR ruling] by the State. But such silence would have been automatically converted into my largest act of disloyalty to the truth, to the principals of the international law of human rights, and to the humanitarian legacy of Monseñor Arturo Rivera Damas and María Julia Hernández, and to the many other distinguished works that they both constructed.
My arbitrary firing constitutes a reprisal against Tutal Legal of the archdiocese, whose historical, institutional position I sustained in the hearing in Washington. I have been loyal and faithful as I ought as to the persons and as to to the cause.
There is also a story surrounding the other lead lawyer at the IACHR hearing. In a very interesting post, lawyer-blogger Ixquic points out that the lawyer for the government of El Salvador at the October 10 IACHR hearing, Carlos Méndez Flores, has an apparent connection to Romero's killers. Ixquic shows that the business card of Méndez Flores was found in the daily calendar of Alvaro Saravia, the one person found liable in a US court for participating in Romero's murder. An interesting question is why a mid-level officer in the Salvadoran armed forces would have the card of a well-connected lawyer in his date book. Méndez Flores went on to defend the armed forces members accused of killing the 6 Jesuits in 1989. And in 2007 he is now found arguing to an international human rights tribunal that the government of El Salvador has done justice in its handling of the Romero case.