Washington, D.C.—On Monday, September 21, a court-ordered inspection of military archives was supposed to take place in El Salvador, as part of ongoing judicial investigations of the 1981 El Mozote massacre, one of the most prominent atrocities of El Salvador’s civil war which saw over a thousand civilians killed by the military. However, the Ministry of Defense blocked a judge and inspectors from entering the armed forces headquarters and searching the archives for evidence related to the El Mozote case, in violation of the court order.
Last Friday, September 18, the Ministry of Defense appealed to the Constitutional Court in an attempt to stop the court-ordered review of the military archives. The night before the inspections, President Nayib Bukele unexpectedly ordered a public health lockdown in the municipality where the judge who had ordered the inspections was based, meaning all movement in the area was prohibited except for activities related to medical emergencies. Had the judge not left earlier in the day, the lockdown would have prevented him from traveling to carry out the inspection.
WOLA President Geoff Thale issued the following quote in response to these developments:
“The Ministry of Defense is not above the rule of law in El Salvador. The Ministry must comply with the court’s decisions related to the ongoing El Mozote case. Friends of El Salvador who support the rule of law and families’ search for justice, including the U.S. government, should urge the Ministry of Defense to immediately comply with the court orders in the El Mozote case. The COVID-19 public health emergency should not be used to justify actions that allow the military to defy the courts.”