Tutela Legal was organized during 1978 as part of the efforts by the archbishop of San Salvador, Oscar Romero, and his successor, Arturo Rivera y Damas, to create commissions and organizations to defend human rights. Hernandez said that in the late 1970s and 1980s, human rights activists in El Salvador knew they needed to have strong, scientific evidence as the basis to denounce abuses. At the time, gathering this kind of information was particularly dangerous because many people who worked for these groups, reported violations, or tried to take legal action were either threatened, assaulted, or murdered by death squads.
Tutela Legal went to sites of supposed human rights violations and collected evidence as well as relied on testimony from survivors. Hernandez pointed out that since El Salvador was a signatory to the Geneva Conventions (international agreements that outlawed torture and established human rights precedents), Tutela Legal had a framework of standards and law for carrying out its investigations.
Another important innovation described by Hernandez was Tutela Legal's monitoring of El Salvador's main guerilla force, the FMLN. Hernandez said that Romero and Rivera y Damas urged human rights groups to also focus on the guerillas, not just on the army.
WOLA staff worked closely with Tutela in those difficult years, and we have deep respect for the institution and its work. We are surprised by the abrupt decision by the Archdiocese of San Salvador to close the institution; the doors were shut and the staff dismissed without warning on September 30.
Tutela maintained an extensive archive of the testimonies it received and the evidence it gathered about human rights abuses both during and after the civil war. These archives include information critical to both human rights researchers and criminal investigators examining some of the still-unresolved human rights cases of the recent past. WOLA hopes and expects that the Archdiocese will carefully protect these archives and make them available to researchers and investigators, in keeping with the Church's long tradition of defending human rights and human dignity and the proud history of Tutela Legal.In a country where impunity for crimes past and present continues to be an enormous burden on the populace, it is a very sad event to see the silencing of this tireless force for human rights.
Diario CoLatino has posted photos on Facebook of a protest outside the offices of the archdiocese complaining of the closure of Tutela Legal.