The Serrano Sisters -- an international judgment against El Salvador

This week saw more developments in the struggle for accountability of persons responsible for the worse atrocities of the decade of the Salvadoran war. First, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued its first ever judgment in a case brought against El Salvador. The case involves the disappearance of Ernestina and Erlinda Serrano, who were just seven and three years old when last seen by their family. The two girls were taken away by soldiers on June 2, 1982, during a major military operation in the department of Chalatenango, which had forced the civilian population to flee their homes to escape capture or death at the hands of government troops. Some of the story of the case is available in this article by Margaret Popkin.

The government has fought the Inter-American Court prosecution all the way. It suggested that the girls never existed and that their mother was lying. It denied the jurisdiction of the court. It refused to conduct any investigations into the situations of the Serrano sisters or hundreds of other "disappeared" children.

The court found that the actions of the Salvadoran state violated the human rights of the Serrano family. As set out in El Faro, the IACHR judgment requires the Salvadoran government to compensate the family, to conduct an investigation to determine the persons responsible for the abductions, to set up a national commission to help find disappeared children and to do everything to search for the Serrano sisters, and more.

At this point, it is not clear that the ARENA-led government in El Salvador will respect the judgment of the human rights court whose jurisdiction over the case it has continually rejected.

Last week it was reported that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights plans to re-open the inquiry into the massacre at El Mozote. In a press conference yesterday, president Tony Saca stated that he thought the matter should not be reviewed. "When Salvadorans decided to end the war ... they put a border between a sad past and a promising future," Saca stated. "Reopening cases means returning to the past and could be very dangerous for the country," he said. "Are we going to reopen all of the cases and in some way spoil what we have achieved as a nation? We've moved beyond that stage."

The words of Archbishop Oscar Romero, in the years before the kidnapping of the Serrano sisters, continue to echo:
No, brothers and sisters,
El Salvador need not always live like this.
“I will tear off the veil of shame
that covers it among all peoples.
I will wipe away the tears”
of all those mothers who no longer have tears
for having wept so much
over their children who are not found.
Here too will he take away the sorrow
of all those homes that this Sunday suffer
the mystery of dear ones abducted
or suffer murder
or torture
or torment.
That is not of God.
God’s banquet will come;
wait for the Lord’s hour.
Let us have faith;
all this will pass away
like a national nightmare,
and we shall awake to the Lord’s great feast.
Let us be filled with this hope.
OCTOBER 15, 1978
From The Violence of Love, available for download


Anonymous said…
What about the "so called" communists who kidnapped children and then returned the dismembered bodies after multiple ransoms were paid?

There are a few well known individuals who can't explain the wealth they had after the war ended.

When will people demand that they be held accountable for their actions?