37 years after the killing of Dutch journalists
Thirty seven years ago this month, four Dutch journalists were ambushed by troops of the Salvadoran army and murdered.
In early 1982, El Salvador was a dangerous place for journalists covering the civil war between FMLN guerrillas and the country's armed forces. Despite the danger, four Dutch journalists,Koos Koster, Jan Kuiper, Joop Willemse and Hans ter Laag, ventured out to the department of Chalatenango to get an interview with guerrilla fighters. The Salvadoran army ambushed their group and killed all the journalists.
The ambush was one of the war crimes documented in the 1993 UN Truth Commission Report following the conclusion of El Salvador's civil war:
On the afternoon of 17 March 1982, four Dutch journalists accompanied by five or six members of FMLN, some of them armed, were ambushed by a patrol of the Atonal Battalion of the Salvadorian armed forces while on their way to territory under FMLN control. The incident occurred not far from the San Salvador-Chalatenango road, near the turn off to Santa Rita. The four journalists were killed in the ambush and only one member of FMLN survived. Having analysed the evidence available, the Commission on the Truth has reached the conclusion that the ambush was set up deliberately to surprise and kill the journalists and their escort; that the decision to ambush them was taken by Colonel Mario A. Reyes Mena, Commander of the Fourth Infantry Brigade, with the knowledge of other officers; that no major skirmish preceded or coincided with the shoot-out in which the journalists were killed; and, lastly, that the officer named above and other soldiers concealed the truth and obstructed the judicial investigation....
1. The Commission on the Truth considers that there is full evidence that Dutch journalists Koos Jacobus Andries Koster, Jan Cornelius Kuiper Joop, Hans Lodewijk ter Laag and Johannes Jan Willemsen were killed on 17 March 1982 in an ambush which was planned in advance by the Commander of the Fourth Infantry Brigade, Colonel Mario A. Reyes Mena, with the knowledge of other officers at the El Paraíso barracks, on the basis of intelligence data alerting them to the journalists' presence, and was carried out by a patrol of soldiers from the Atonal BIRI, under the command of Sergeant Mario Canizales Espinoza.
2. These same officers, the sergeant and others subsequently covered up the truth and obstructed the investigations carried out by the judiciary and other competent authorities.The commander in charge of the ambush, Colonel Mario A. Reyes Mena, is currently living in the United States.
Today an event was held in San Salvador in commemoration of the Dutch journalists and to urge that the perpetrators of the killings be brought to justice. The event featured the use of journalism to seek justice for the ambushed journalists with the presentation of a new book titled La Emboscada (The Ambush) written by Colombian journalist Nancy Sáenz and Salvadoran journalist Willian Carballo. The book covers the Dutch journalists' work in El Salvador, the ambush, the search for justice, and the path forward.
The new book will be accompanied by a multi-media website in Dutch, Spanish and English with information about the case. Advocates hope the book and the website will promote interest in the case and keep up pressure on Salvadoran authorities to bring justice for the families of the victims. As soon as a link to that website becomes available, I will publish it on this blog.
The event today featured two panel discussions. The first discussion covered emblematic cases of crimes against humanity in El Salvador and where the search for justice stands today. The second discussion centered on the Dutch journalists and included family members and colleagues of the journalists as well as the authors of the book. You can watch both panels on Facebook: Panel 1, Panel 2.
The elimination of a 1993 amnesty law permitted prosecutors in El Salvador to reopen the case after the advocates for the journalists filed a complaint last year. Attorney Pedro Cruz who represents the victims told the assembled audience that he believes the initial investigation phase should be drawing to a close and now a case against military defendants needs to move to the courtroom.
Many of the speakers at today's event also spoke out against a proposed law of "national reconciliation" proposed in an Ad Hoc Commission of the National Assembly which would re-institute amnesty for war crimes in El Salvador.
The office of El Salvador's Human Rights Advocate, Raquel de Guevara, also announced her office would work to assure the Dutch journalists case is pushed forward.