IACHR Files Application Before Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Case Concerning Forced Disappearance in El Salvador

May 27, 2022

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Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) filed on May 14, 2022, an application before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in the case of Patricia Emilie Cuéllar Sandoval, Mauricio Cuéllar Cuéllar, and Julia Orbelina Pérez, with regard to El Salvador. The case concerns the forced disappearance of the three victims and the failure to conduct a prompt, serious, and impartial investigation.

Patricia Emilie Cuéllar cooperated with Christian movements and worked for the Christian Legal Aid Office (Oficina del Socorro Jurídico Cristiano) in 1979 and 1980. After having denounced acts of harassment and persecution against her, she was violently removed from her home and disappeared, along with her father, Mauricio Cuéllar, and with Julia Orbelina Pérez, a domestic worker for the family.

The IACHR considered that these events amount to forced disappearances, given State involvement in the victims' detentions, the context of forced disappearances during El Salvador's armed conflict, and the persecution suffered by individuals linked to Christian Legal Aid, as well as the State's lack of response and failure to investigate these events.

The IACHR found that only minimal efforts had been made to immediately search for the victims. At the end of the armed conflict, the State also failed to conduct an investigation to establish what happened and determine State participation. This caused suffering and anxiety to victims' relatives and particularly affected the children of the two female victims.

The IACHR further stressed that the State had a duty to conduct a swift, serious, and impartial investigation, with a gender perspective, given the differentiated impact, the vulnerability, and the risks faced by women in armed conflicts.

Based on these considerations, the IACHR concluded that the State of El Salvador was responsible for violations of the rights to juridical personality, life, humane treatment, personal liberty, a fair trial, and judicial protection held in Articles 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, and 25 of the American Convention on Human Rights, in keeping with the obligations held in Article 1.1 of the Convention, to the detriment of Patricia Emilie Cuéllar Sandoval, Mauricio Cuéllar Cuéllar, and Julia Orbelina Pérez.

In its Merits Report, the Commission recommended that the State take the following action:

  1. Measures to provide material and immaterial reparations for the victims' families
  2. Launching a search for the victims, in agreement with their families, and activating the search mechanisms operated by the National Commission to Search for Adults Who Disappeared in the Context of Armed Conflict in El Salvador.
  3. Providing physical and mental healthcare for the victims' families, in agreement with the beneficiaries, considering the differentiated impact that these disappearances had on the victims' children.
  4. Investigating instances of forced disappearance diligently, effectively, and in a timely manner, applying a gender perspective, and considering the State's persecution of the organization Christian Legal Aid during the armed conflict, with a view to identifying its masterminds and perpetrators and delivering the relevant punishment.
  5. Taking non-recurrence measures, including legislation, to (i) develop a comprehensive reparation policy for victims of armed conflict, (ii) regulate the search for victims of forced disappearance, and (iii) become a party to the Inter-American Convention on Forced Disappearance of Persons.

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 and to defend 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. 118/22

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