The Associated Press ran a lengthy story this week about the abduction of children by Salvadoran armed forces during El Salvador's civil war. It's not a new story for readers of this blog, but it brings attention in the US to one of the uglier chapters of El Salvador's civil war. The AP story focused on the case of Gregoria Contreras, a young girld kidnapped by solders in 1982 as part of a counter-insurgency operation.
One of Gregoria Contreras' first childhood memories was the moment she last saw her parents.The Salvadoran army private who kidnapped Contreras raped her, took her into his family with a changed name, and forced her to suffer a life of abuse.
Fighting between government troops and guerrillas had broken out around the 4-year-old girl's family home in the countryside of this Central American country. The soldiers took advantage of the confusion and seized Contreras and her two siblings, who were under the age of 2.
"We all fled the house and suddenly it all ended because they captured us and our parents disappeared," said Contreras, now 35 and living in neighboring Guatemala.
Contreras was just one of hundreds of children who disappeared under a variety of circumstances during El Salvador's brutal, 13-year civil war, which left some 75,000 people dead and thousands more missing. In most cases, the parents have yet to find out what happened to their children, while a few hundred of the missing have been identified after giving investigators DNA samples and other evidence.
An action was brought in the InterAmerican Court for Human Rights (IACHR) in the name of Gregoria Contreras and the names of five other Salvadoran children who had been abducted by the military at the same time. Only the whereabouts of Contreras is known, the other five children have never been located. Contreras' case resulted in a judgment in August 2011 against El Salvador from the IACHR. The case is summarized in English by the InterAmerican Commission of Human Rights here.
This was not the first judgment against El Salvador arising out of the child abductions during the civil war. In the case of the Serrano sisters, the human rights court also condemned the government of El Salvador for constantly dragging its feet in addressing the need for justice in these cases and the need to conduct investigations into the cases of the hundreds of children who are still missing.
One of the major obstacles to further progress on the issue of civil war child abductions is the refusal of the military to answer questions or to open its archives. Despite the judgment of the IACHR requiring that such information be provided, no information has been forthcoming. President Mauricio Funes does not appear to have much interest in forcing the issue:
Three years later, the military hasn't turned over the requested files and the mostly retired officers suspected of adopting stolen children have refused DNA tests.
"Without those files we can't say this or that officer is responsible," said the country's [human rights ombudsman], Oscar Luna.
President Mauricio Funes has tried to made amends for some civil war-era crimes, said Probusqueda director Maria Ester Alvarenga.... "But it's surprising to me that he isn't making the military archives available," Alvarenga said. "I'm frustrated that nothing's been done at these levels."
Military officials refused to talk to the Associated Press about the cases, despite repeated requests for a meeting. Spokeswoman Vilma Quintanilla told the AP, "The request is in the hands of the chiefs, but still I don't have a response."
In both the Serrano sisters case and the Contreras case, the IACHR has made it clear that (a) the lack of investigation to locate information about the missing children including disclosure of the military archives, and (b) the continued impunity for those who authorized and carried out this strategy, constitute ongoing violations of the fundamental human rights of the children and their families. Yet as is true for so many of the human rights violations of the civil war, the government appears willing to apologize, but not do much more for the cause of justice.