Saturday, March 28, 2015

US still only place Salvadoran war crimes have been adjudicated

Stanford Professor Terry Karl has an essay titled El Salvador: Changing the U.S. Legal System but Can It Change Its Own? in the new online periodical Factum, founded by Salvadoran journalists Héctor Silva Ávalos and Orus Villacorta.  Professor Karl has long studied El Salvador's civil war and human rights issues and has testified as an expert in several trials of these issues in US courts.

Prof. Karl highlights the recent decision of the Board of Immigration Appeals ruling that former Salvadoran Defense Minister Vides Casanova could be deported from the US for his responsibility for human rights abuses during the civil war:

The Vides ruling is especially significant because it connects the legal doctrine of command responsibility, developed in the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials after World War II, to the ability to remove human rights abusers from the U.S. Command responsibility is demonstrated legally when three elements are present: 1) forces subordinate to a commander commit abuses; 2) the commander knew or should have known about these violations; and 3) the commander failed to take the necessary measures to prevent these crimes or investigate and punish the abusers. By ruling that General Vides’ government troops committed widespread atrocities, was repeatedly informed about these violations, and failed to punish anyone under his command, he met these three requirements. In making its ruling, the BIA discussed specific cases involving the torture of Salvadorans and the murders of Americans in the so-called “churchwomen” and Sheraton cases. 
From a historical perspective, the Vides ruling marks a momentous shift. Where the U.S. once clandestinely offered safe haven (not to mention social security payments) to former Nazis and other war criminals, it will now be easier to deport foreigners who were once top commanders, based on human rights violations committed by the soldiers who served under them.
Prof. Karl points to changes in US policy towards human rights abusers found in the US -- where the country once allowed such abusers to stay in the country, the US now may actively seek to deport them.  The action against Vides Casanova is being brought by the Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) as part of a policy to not allow the US to be a safe haven for human rights violators.

On March 25, the New York Times reported that Vides Casanova has now been detained by immigration authorities in Florida pending his deportation from the US.  He has little risk of being prosecuted in his own country for activities during the civil war so long as the 1993 amnesty law remains in effect.   As Prof. Karl notes, while the cases of human rights abuses in El Salvador have produced changes in US law, impunity continues to reign in El Salvador.  

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