- Title: El Salvador commemorates massacre of peasants during Civil War, call for justice
- Date: 12th December 2016
- Summary: REMAINS OF VICTIMS BEING BURIED
- Embargoed: 27th December 2016 21:33
- Keywords: Civil War exhumation victims bodies El Salvador massacre
- Location: EL MOZOTE, EL SALVADOR
- City: EL MOZOTE, EL SALVADOR
- Country: El Salvador
- Reuters ID: LVA0025CKXNB7
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: Residents of a small town in El Salvador held a memorial service over the weekend for loved ones killed 35 years ago in one of the worst atrocities of the country's brutal civil war.
The massacre took place in the northeastern town of El Mozote in 1981 and was allegedly carried out at the hands of an elite army unit resulting in the deaths of between 900 and 1,200 people, mostly women and children.
A memorial now stands in the town near where the victims were killed. A plaque at the memorial reads: "They have not died, they are with us, they are with you and with the whole of humanity."
El Salvador's civil war stretched from 1980 to 1992, taking around 75,000 lives and leaving another 8,000 people missing.
A truth commission created by the United Nations in 1992 published a report that declared the El Mozote massacre the worst war crime perpetrated during the conflict.
El Salvador's government denied for years having carried out the slaughter, but in 2012 the government of then-President Mauricio Funes acknowledged the state's role and apologized to the families of the victims.
According to a report from the truth commission, several senior commanders of the Armed Forces were involved in the operation, including former Defence Minister Jose Guillermo Garcia.
Many of these crimes remained unpunished, after the Salvadoran Congress passed a controversial law in 1993 to give amnesty to those responsible for human rights violations and war crimes.
However, the Supreme Court of Justice declared in July unconstitutional the amnesty law that prevented those responsible for war crimes from being investigated, prosecuted and sent to prison.
A Salvadoran judge reopened investigations in September, so new evidence and testimony from relatives are being sought to present as evidence.
That is why, during the past few weeks, forensics experts have been busy at work exhuming the bodies of victims.
The remains will be analysed with DNA tests, a process which could take months, in order to identify them and return them to their relatives.
It is a painstaking but necessary task, said Silvana Turner, the coordinator of an Argentine forensic group helping in the identification of the bodies and collection of new evidence.
"During this stage, we are currently accompanying the work, monitoring the work that the prosecutor, the institute of legal medicine and the representatives of the victims are doing (to assure it's) in compliance with the decision by the Inter-American Court of Justice. So we are now in what would be the field stage, the archaeological work, the recovery of the remains of the victims and the evidence," Turner said in November.
At the weekend, during another stage of this task, human rights workers handed over the identified remains of loved ones to relatives.
"We had to go and ask international justice systems to help because the justice system here did not work at the time. What they (the government) said was that it never happened, that it was a crossfire, that they were guerrillas, and a bunch of other things. And still today, there are people who don't want us to talk, but we'll always make demands because it is a condemnation in El Salvador today. And I'd say that if it's possible go back to court, then we will, because we need justice to be done, not out of spite, not out of hatred. All I want is for younger generations to not have to suffer what I have," said Dorila Marquez, a human rights promoter and relative of a massacre victim from El Mozote.
During the commemoration of the 35th anniversary of the massacre, the victims' families received in 21 small white coffins the bones that were buried in the cemetery between songs and candles to give them a dignified burial.
"The consolidation of peace is a process and in walking this peaceful path, we must take the time to hear the voices that demand truth, justice and reparations. And the institutions of the state, in addition to listening, has the obligation to give answers, in line with international human rights obligations," said Alberto Brunori, the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights for Central America.
El Salvador maintained a civil war between 1980 and 1992 that confronted the FMLN guerrillas and the Salvadoran Army, financed by the United States, which left 75,000 victims and 8,000 missing.
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