According to the United Nations-sponsored Truth Commission that examined human rights abuses committed during El Salvador’s 12-year civil war, over 5,000 people were forcibly disappeared during the conflict. Non-governmental organizations cite figures as high as 10,000 forced disappearances—none of which have ever been fully investigated or prosecuted.
Today, decades after the war’s end, thousands of families are still searching for the most basic information about the fate of their lost loved ones. In April 2016, WOLA, together with the Mauricio Aquino Foundation, the Due Process of Law Foundation, and the University of Washington Center for Human Rights, helped coordinate a delegation of Salvadoran and Salvadoran-American family members whose loved ones disappeared during the civil war. The U.S. House of Representatives Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission and Central America Caucus hosted a briefing on Capitol Hill in which the group—including Sara Aguilar, seen in the video below made by the Our Parents Bones campaign—spoke about their efforts to uncover the truth about what happened to their loved ones, and their desire for justice and closure.
The U.S. government has files that might help answer their questions. While many documents, especially State Department documents, were released in the 1990s, others, including military and intelligence records that could contain relevant information, remain classified. In August, 26 Members of Congress led by Representatives Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Norma Torres (D-CA) wrote a letter to President Obama, urging him to declassify U.S. military and intelligence records and reports that have not been previously released related to unresolved cases of disappearances and human rights abuses during El Salvador’s civil war period. Representatives McGovern and Torres also led a group of 21 Members of Congress in a letter calling on Salvadoran President Sánchez Cerén to establish a national commission to investigate and resolve the cases of the disappeared in El Salvador.
The Obama administration has recently committed to declassify files sought in human rights investigations in Argentina, Brazil, and Chile. The administration should do the same for El Salvador, where the U.S. was key in providing military, economic, and intelligence assistance during the civil war. Yet despite the United States’ deep involvement in El Salvador, U.S. agencies have repeatedly refused FOIA requests.
Please join WOLA, Sara, and the Our Parents’ Bones campaign in calling on President Obama to help families heal by ordering declassification of files on wartime human rights violations in El Salvador, including forced disappearance. These family members have a right to know what happened to their loved ones. Take action today to help them achieve truth, closure, and justice.