Armed forces again ordered to explain disappearances of youth

For a second time, the Constitutional Chamber of El Salvador's Supreme Court of Justice has ruled that security forces must deliver up what they know about young men who disappeared at the hands of the military.   The case comes from the Salvadoran town of San Martin, where repressive military tactics were being used to combat gang violence.

The Defense Ministry, the Armed Forces and the Attorney General of the Republic (FGR) must investigate the forced disappearance of two teenage boys according to the ruling last week by the Constitutional Chamber. 

William Ernesto Hernández and Bryan Alexander García, both 17, disappeared on July 30, 2014. According to their relatives, they went out to get a haircut at an establishment near the San Martin market and, at noon, they were intercepted and seized by a military patrol. The capture was witnessed by several market vendors. The soldiers beat the young men and tied their hands with the laces of their shoes. Later, they were put aboard a pick-up truck and taken down to the neighborhood of Santa María. Since that day in 2014, their families have never seen them again, despite searching exhaustively in hospitals and mortuaries and going from police station to police station and military post to military post.  

The Chamber ruled:
It should be emphasized that, despite the fact that the youths were captured by soldiers who regularly patrolled the Nuevo Mercado of San Martín and its surroundings, they were never delivered up to the National Civilian Police, the Attorney General's Office or the judicial authority.  So their detention  has been totally illegal.  At this point it can be considered as a ¨forced disappearance¨ of person, since the last moment during which now disappeared youth were observed, was during the process of capture and arrest to which they were subjected by the soldiers and for which no reason has been given.
The Chamber ordered the armed forces and the FGR to investigate the whereabouts of the young men, find their remains, or at least determine what their fate was.

In January 2017, the Chamber handed down a similar ruling in a case involving soldiers seizing young men in the town of Armenia.  In December, a court ordered a new trial for six soldiers charged with the disappearances in Armenia, overruling a prior dismissal of the charges..

Three weeks ago, in a separate incident, El Salvador's attorney general charged two colonels and a lieutenant with covering up an incident of seizing and torturing youth in the western part of the country.  

These court cases help highlight the existence of gross human rights abuses arising out of the military involvement in policing and combating gang violence.  Tragically, the court cases seem to be having little impact on the actual practices of El Salvador's security forces.