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The Roman Catholic Church in El Salvador last week closed its human rights and legal aid office without notice, putting thousands of human rights abuse victims at risk of never obtaining justice.
The Tutela Legal office in the capital, San Salvador, holds evidence and archives that are key to victims and organisations fighting human rights abuse cases, including executions and mass murders. Christian Aid partner FESPAD, which is currently working on seven such cases, uses the office as its main investigation resource. They, along with the human rights movement, are outraged by the closure, which was ordered by the Archbishop of San Salvador, José Luis Escobar Alas.
This news comes shortly after the Salvadoran Supreme Court announced they would hear arguments against the Amnesty Law that has been in effect since 1993. The law currently protects government and army officials from prosecution for atrocities that were committed during the civil war (1980-92). The Salvadoran Government want the law to be reconsidered and some are suspicious of the timing of this latest development.
María Silvia Guillén, FESPAD Director, said: 'The closure has come as a huge blow to the human rights movement in El Salvador. The office is vital to our work and without access we are unable to fight for justice for the victims of severe human rights abuses. The Archbishop has said the reason for the closure is that the civil war is long over and the office is no longer needed. The war may be over but the cases have not yet received justice in El Salvador because of the Amnesty Law. It is vital this office is re-opened as soon as possible.
'As a collective of human rights organisations we have held a rally to protest against the closure and are writing to Pope Francisco to ask for the re-opening of the office, and the protection of the archives so we can continue our work. We are also urging the victims to write to the church asking for access to files relating to their cases. The Archbishop has said that the archive is still accessible, but when we tried to access it last Friday we were turned away.'
Guadalupe Cortés, Christian Aid's Programme Officer in El Salvador, added: 'The office holds evidence of cases as important as the murder of Archbishop Oscar Romero in 1980 and the massacres of hundreds of people, including children, at Mozote in 1981 and Sumpul in 1980. We are deeply concerned that our partner's hands will now be tied and that the victims of these crimes, and many others, will be left without justice.'