Press Release

IACHR Condemns Attack on Pro-Búsqueda and Destruction of Records in El Salvador

November 22, 2013

Washington, D.C.—The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) vehemently condemns the attack on the headquarters of the Asociación Pro-Búsqueda de Niñas y Niños Desaparecidos [Association for the Search for Missing Children] in El Salvador and the destruction of materials, records, and equipment. The IACHR urges the State to investigate the incident and punish the perpetrators and masterminds, as well as to urgently adopt measures so that this type of attack does not happen again. The Commission also urges the State to guarantee the life and integrity of the members of Pro-Búsqueda and to ensure that they can continue to safely perform their work of defending human rights.

According to information the Commission has received, on November 14, 2013, three unidentified, armed individuals broke into the headquarters of Pro-Búsqueda, set fire to human rights records, and destroyed computers. Pro-Búsqueda estimates that 70% of its records were destroyed, including DNA samples that had recently been collected.

Other materials were also stolen, according to the information received. These include computers from the Legal Unit and files on habeas corpus cases that are currently being processed by the Supreme Court of Justice, as well as documents related to Pro-Búsqueda cases that are before the inter-American human rights system. In addition, it was indicated that databases containing private information about relatives of victims of forced disappearance were taken, along with addresses and telephone numbers.

Pro-Búsqueda has been vital to the work of finding children who disappeared during the war in El Salvador. Its investigative efforts over the years have made it possible to collect information and locate dozens of missing children and reunite them with their families, thereby reestablishing the enjoyment of their right to family, to identity, and to personal integrity, among other rights. Both the Inter-American Commission and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights have recognized the importance of their work, as well as the information they have collected.

The work of human rights defenders is essential for the construction of a solid, lasting democratic society, and rights defenders play a leading role in the process of pursuing the full attainment of the rule of law and the strengthening of democracy. Acts of violence and other attacks against human rights defenders not only affect the guarantees of every human being, but undermine the fundamental role that human rights defenders play in society and leave all those for whom they fight defenseless. Moreover, the high levels of impunity for crimes against human rights defenders perpetuate such violence.

Therefore, the Inter-American Commission urges the State to investigate these incidents and punish the culprits. In this regard, the IACHR will be closely following the investigations and any steps the State may take to fulfill its duty of investigating, prosecuting, and punishing those responsible. In addition, the Commission urges the State of El Salvador to immediately and urgently adopt all necessary measures to guarantee the right to life and the physical integrity of all members of Pro-Búsqueda, so as to ensure that they can safely continue to carry out their work of defending human rights and to ensure the integrity of the organization’s records and materials.

In addition, the IACHR notes that is important for the State to respect and guarantee the exercise of the right to access to information, which—as an essential element of the right to freedom of expression—is a human right. Access to information is essential to be able to continue the important work of seeking to establish the truth about what occurred during the armed conflict, as well as to establish the whereabouts of the children who were stolen from their families during that period.

Finally, the Commission recognizes and values the important role that Pro-Búsqueda plays in El Salvador in following through on cases that have been decided by the Inter-American Commission and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. This includes monitoring the judgments handed down by the Inter-American Court in the cases of Gregoria Herminia Contreras et al. (Case 12.517) and Ernestina and Erlinda Serrano Cruz (Case 12.132), and the Commission’s Report on the Merits in Rochac et al. (Case 12.577), which was sent this year to the Inter-American Court.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 90/13