The PDDH on Soto and ULS murders

This is the fourth in a series of posts on Tim's El Salvador Blog regarding the work of Dr. Beatrice Alamanni de Carrillo, the Human Rights Ombudsman (PDDH) in El Salvador.

In the past 7 months, two high profile slayings took place which worry labor and social activists in El Salvador. In November, Salvadoran-born Teamster Gilberto Soto was murdered, and in February, the watchman of the Salvadoran Lutheran University (ULS) was murdered and left hanging in a tree. In each of these cases, the police arrested suspects, proclaimed the incidents to be "common crime" and declared the cases closed. In each of these cases, colleagues and relatives of the victims do not believe the crimes have been solved and fear that political motives are behind the crimes. The office of the PDDH has reviewed the investigations of both cases and issued reports highly critical of the police investigation.

In the Soto case, the PNC declared that the murder had been masterminded by Soto's mother-in-law and carried out by gang members. The report of the PDDH criticized the police handling of the evidence of the crime, however, and criticized the initial refusal of the investigators to provide the PDDH with access to the suspects. More serious was the charge of the PDDH that there was medical evidence to support that allegations of the suspects that they had been tortured and subject to sexual abuse by Elite Organized Crime Unit of the PNC. The report criticized the use of anonymous sources to support the charges, and the failure of authorities to investigate the possibility that there might be a political motivation to the crime in light of Soto's union organizing.

In the ULS watchman case, the PNC arrested suspects in possession of computers and other goods stolen from the ULS, and declared the case closed. The PDDH report was also highly critical of this investigation. The PDDH concluded:
  • It is highly probable that the murder and robbery of the university were intended to create terror in the Lutheran religious and academic communities.

  • The PDDH noted that the Lutheran Church had been characterized since the civil war as an institution which denounced injustice and the violation of human rights. As a result of this activity, it has been a persecuted church.

  • The crimes appear to have been committed by a well-organized criminal group with strong logistical and operational capacity, and the crimes showed evidence of being well-planned and smoothly executed.

  • The initial police investigation was filled with negligence, deficiencies and irregularities.

  • The police need to re-examine their assumption that the motive was "common robbery."
Unfortunately there seems to have been little reaction, reassessment of assumptions, deeper analysis or further investigation by the PNC in response to the PDDH reports. Perhaps the PNC has, in fact, captured the right suspects. But the procedural defects disclosed by the office of the PDDH makes it unlikely that the victims' family, colleagues and the public at large will ever have confidence in the result.