SAN SALVADOR – The procedures used in the court case involving the 1981 El Mozote in El Salvador are key elements in judging the sexual violence perpetrated by the country’s army during the 1980-1992 civil war as a war crime or crime against humanity, expert Susana SaCouto told EFE in an interview.
The director of the War Crimes Research Office at Washington’s American University asked the judge in the case against 18 former soldiers to assess international rulings on sexual violence in conflicts with an eye toward evaluating the human rights violations suffered by the El Mozote victims.
“This case is an historic opportunity to establish the context for what happened in El Salvador and later this El Mozote (case) can be used in other cases,” since the “great majority of the victims were raped and murdered,” SaCouto said.
She added that “it’s very important that this case find that sexual violation exists (here) and that it is characterized as a crime against humanity or a war crime” as an “historic measure of truth for the victims” and a means to ensure “non-repetition” of such acts.
She said that the judge must evaluate if the evidence presented to date is enough to establish that the crimes were “a generalized and systematic practice against the civilian population.”
Characterizing acts as crimes against humanity or war crimes has specific judicial requirements, but SaCouto said that “with the existing information, I don’t think there should be any difficulty in doing that” in this case.
She said that despite the fact that El Salvador had not signed the Rome Statute defining and sanctioning crimes against humanity and domestic law did not recognize such crimes, these violations “were prohibited under international law” when the massacre was reported in 1981.
Designating the El Mozote crimes as war crimes is important in that it “has important legal consequences” in terms of eliminating “the problem of lack of legality” since no domestic legislation existed at the time, SaCouto said.
She said that “there are many cases in Argentina, where sexual violations occurred during arbitrary deprivation of freedom, in clandestine detention centers with women who were later disappeared or released.”
SaCouto also said that “systematic” sexual crimes also occurred in Peru and in Guatemala and, in the latter case, sentences of between 120 and 240 years behind bars for crimes against humanity, domestic and sexual slavery were meted out to two ex-soldiers in 2016.
Since June 2017, at least 39 witnesses have provided testimony in the trial against Salvadoran army leaders who commanded local troops for a good part of the civil war and that testimony has been verified by field inspections.
A government census in late 2017 found that the army executed 986 people at El Mozote, of whom 552 were children.
According to a 1993 United Nations report on the matter, on Dec. 10-13, 1981, Atlacatl Battalion units “deliberately and systematically” tortured and executed men, women and children in the canton of El Mozote and nearby communities.