Military found guilty of "disappearing" Salvadoran youth in 2014

There was progress against impunity in El Salvador this week as a court handed down sentences against soldiers involved in "disappearing" three youth in the town of Armenia, El Salvador.

The events in the case took place in February 2014 and arose from the military's role in patrolling El Salvador in support of the police in battling the country's gangs.  A group of youth were talking in front of their houses in the municipality of Armenia. Six or seven soldiers on patrol approached the group and at gunpoint forced five of the boys to accompany the soldiers.  They were taken from a zone controlled by the Barrio 18 gang to a zone controlled by MS-13.   Two of the youth were released, and they went off to wait for their three remaining friends.  Their friends never appeared, and to this date have never been seen again.

Parents of the youth, including one father who was a member of the police, immediately began questioning the military, petitioning the police, prosecutors and the PDDH, asking what had happened to the boys.    All their inquiries were met with a stone wall.

It took a trip to the country's highest court to move the case forward.   In January 2017, on the 25th anniversary of the 1992 Peace Accords, the Constitutional Chamber ruled that the role of the military in the disappearance of the three youth had been established and that the army must respond with information it possessed concerning the forced disappearances.

Subsequently, prosecutors put the soldiers in the military patrol on trial for their actions where they have now been found guilty.  The sentencing of six soldiers for the crime by a judge in Sonsonate is one of the rare times that the military or security forces have been held accountable for disappearances or extra-judicial killings.  This event could not have been possible without the courage of the family members and their lawyers at the Salvadoran Association for Human Rights (ASDEHU) who pushed the government, often despite receiving death threats, to account for the disappearance of the three youth.

Tragically, there are many similar cases which will never be prosecuted.