Towards a National Search Mechanism for Disappeared Persons in El Salvador

June 29, 2017

Last January, in response to longstanding demands of the victims, the President of El Salvador announced the creation of a National Search Commission for Disappeared Persons during the armed conflict between 1980 and 1992. In the following months, a dialogue started between civil society and the government representatives to review a legal proposal and to prepare the framework for the eventual work of the Commission. This phase ended successfully with a presidential decree of consent, and the government is expected to approve it shortly.

This act would add El Salvador to the list of countries creating national institutions to address the phenomenon of disappearances during periods of political violence. Such is the case of Peru, with the approval of Law 30470 for the Search for Disappeared People Between 1980 to 2000, and Colombia, where the Peace Accords between the Government and FARC created the Search Unit for Presumed Disappeared People During the Armed Conflict (UBDP). Along with other examples, these two models – even with their strengths and weaknesses – provide solutions and light the path to the next steps for El Salvador.

In 1993, the El Salvador Truth Commission registered five thousand cases of enforced disappearances, even though human rights organizations and victims documented at least ten thousand cases. In 2007, during their visit to El Salvador, the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances recommended the creation of an effective mechanism with real participation from civil society in order to search for disappeared persons.

In 2010, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights requested the creation of the Commission for the Search of Disappeared Children During the Armed Conflict. This Commission has solved nearly 300 cases, but despite its success, a similar mechanism was not created to search for adults that disappeared more than three decades ago. Now, with the support of civil society and the international community, we trust that the government will fulfill its duties by creating this new Commission.

The official commitment to create a National Commission for the Search of Disappeared Persons was made public during the visit of a delegation of young Salvadoran-Americans, sons and daughters of disappeared persons, Democratic Congressman Jim McGovern, and religious and academic leaders from the United States. The members of the delegation, along with victims of the armed conflict and civil society organizations including DPLF, presented a technically-focused proposal for the creation of the Commission as a starting point for dialogue.

This Commission is expected to be composed of three independent Commissioners. It will have the legal power to receive and demand information of the whereabouts of disappeared people, provide comprehensive attention to the victims, and have specialized genetic and forensic capacities.

The decree to create the Commission will not instantly solve all the political and technical obstacles that the search for the disappeared entails, but if it works with commitment, respect for the families, and a scientific approach, it will be an unprecedented opportunity to give much-needed answers to the families.

After the approval of the decree, an installation phase will follow in which the Commissioners will be selected and the appropriate resources will be allocated. Thereafter, the search strategies will be designed and planned. The Commission will also have to take advantage of similar international experiences for the search of disappeared persons.

Due to its international law and comparative experience, DPLF has been accompanying this process, promoting informed dialogue, and providing technical assistance. 


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