Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Impunity violates human rights says Inter-American Court

The government of El Salvador has not fared well when its actions have been challenged in front of the human rights tribunals of the Organization of American States. This was brought home once again in last month's decision by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in the Garcia-Prieto case.

An article by Raul Guttierez of IPS provides the background of the case:

On Jun. 10, 1994, García Prieto, his wife and their five-month-old son were intercepted by two masked men, one of whom shouted "We’ve come to kill you, son-of-a-bitch!" before hitting the businessman and shooting him at point-blank range, according to witness testimony.

Human rights organisations and the García Prieto family say the murder was linked to several killings carried out by death squads during that period against former commanders of the leftist Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), which had recently become a legal political party....

The plaintiffs in the case say the investigation into García Prieto’s murder was marred by irregularities, and served as a cover-up for those who ordered the killing.

Gloria de García Prieto has repeatedly claimed that the murder was the result of an inconclusive business deal, but that those who planned the killing took advantage of the prevailing atmosphere of instability to make it look like a political crime.

After the murder, the wealthy García Prieto family was in constant contact with police chiefs and prosecutors, but never got a satisfactory answer about the progress of the investigation.

Months later, they began to receive threatening telephone calls, and noticed they were being followed. Although two people are in prison for carrying out the murder, those who planned and ordered the killing have never been identified.

De García Prieto alleged some time ago that a former army general is one of those who ordered his son killed, but so far he has not been able to come up with any proof.

David Morales, who was working in the Human Rights Ombudsperson’s Office (PDDH) at the time of the murder, said the Inter-American Court ruling is "positive and very important" in the fight for justice.

Morales, a lawyer who led the investigation of the case, told IPS that the PDDH had concluded that García Prieto may have been killed by a death squad made up of members of the old "security forces" purposely embedded in the National Civil Police (PNC) when it was created in 1993. "Several police chiefs tried to hinder the investigation," said Morales.

In the decision of the court released last month, the IACHR found that the government of El Salvador had violated the human rights of the Garcia-Prieto family in its failure to adequately investigate the crime, and its failure to respond to the threats and harassment the family faced as they tried to get justice. As a consequence, El Salvador has been ordered to pay reparations to the family, to provide counselling, to publish the judgment of the court, and to finally conduct a true investigation of the case.

Despite the judgment of the IACHR, there is little reason to believe much will change while there is an ARENA government. There is a long history of the Salvadoran government's foot-dragging in this case, the case of the Serrano sisters, the case of Oscar Romero, and others where the finger of blame may point to important figures.

You may want to read my earlier post on the Garcia-Prieto case here. For a detailed exploration of the problems of impunity and death squads during the mid-1990s when the Garcia-Prieto murder took place, see Larry Ladutke's excellent book, Freedom of Expression in El Salvador.

4 comments:

Larry said...

Thanks for the plug!

El-Visitador said...

"There is a long history of the Salvadoran government's foot-dragging in this case, the case of the Serrano sisters, the case of Oscar Romero, and others where the finger of blame may point to important figures"

For this statement to be true, the government would have to solve most crimes, while leaving unsolved only those "pointing to important figures"

In point of fact, the government solves a minuscule portion of the 10 murders per day in El Salvador. 1% of all murders are solved and criminals punished, perhaps.

Therefore, it is delusional to think that there is some big bad conspiracy to not address crimes such as that of Prieto. Sorry to have to be this blunt.

Crime forensics, prosecution, and punishment of criminals in El Salvador is simply beyond the rather primitive abilities of the Salvadorean government.



(And yet silly people keep asking the government to take more and more responsibilities, that is, to become even more unfocused, when the State can´t even maintain basic law and order)

Larry said...

El-visitador's comments would make sense, except:

1) It has been proven in a court of law that PNC/former PN agents were the material authors behind this case. "Zaldana" took part in this murder AND the death squad assassination of FMLN leader Francisco Velis.

2) During the several years that it took to bring this case to the courts, the Salvadoran government kept insisting and insisting that it was common crime and the police had nothing to do with it.

3) During the same time, the family suffered frequent threats and attacks. Nonetheless, the government insisted that they were just making it up. In fact, government officials referred to them (along with other victims' families, such as the Vilanovas) as "subversives" and "Communists" out to destroy the new police force and the nation itself.

4. It has been reported in Salvadoran papers that the family has testified in court that they believe General Mauricio Vargas--the man in charge of the implementation of the peace accords for the government--ordered their son's death in a dispute that arose from him growing marijuana on their property. Vargas has also been accused of corruption, narcotrafficking, and murder in the Lorena Saravia case.

5. See the character assassination piece that El Diario de Hoy did against its own heroic investigative journalist, Violeta Rivera (the reporter who broke the Vilanova case). The article does not even try to hide the fact that it is designed to discredit Rivera's accusations against Vargas.

6. Yes, most crimes do end in impunity in El Salvador. There are very few people--ANYWHERE, not just in El Salvador--that would have continued pressing for justice in the face of the threats faced by the Garcia Prietos. Most Salvadorans give up. Furthermore, the Garcia Prietos do not argue that there son is somehow special--they have argued that justice needs to be done in this case precisely because there needs to be a precedent for all of the other crimes in El Salvador.

7. El-visitador points to the inadequacy of the PNC and the judicial system. This is true, but the question is WHY is it so bad? Government failure to fully implement to the peace accords led to a corrupt, innefficient police force that focuses on using brute force to achieve "results" instead of investigating to identify the guildy party. Now, why did the government--including Vargas--do that?

Larry

El-Visitador said...

Larry, thanks for your insightful comments.

I concede you obviously know more about this case than I do, so I've just ordered your book.

Still, one should use Hanlon's razor when analyzing this situation: Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.

The larger point stands: because the government is so unfocused on the Justice system, mafiosi capos such as Vargas act with impunity and the government is unable to deal with them, other than, occasionally, by brute force or intimidation.