Posts Tagged ‘Truth’

Murder of Dutch IKON journalists in 1982 in El Salvador revisited

September 25, 2018

In the Dutch media a lot of attention is being paid at the moment to the 35-year old story of the IKON journalists who were killed in El Salvador in 1982. Some years ago I started to write up ‘human rights stories’ that I had been closely involved in, with the idea that some day they would be of interest. This seems a good moment to ‘publish’ for the first time the chapter on my involvment with the case of the IKON journalists:

1982 IKON journalists killing and El Salvador

…On 17 March 1982, three months before I took up my post as thea first director of the new Netherlands Institute for Human Rights (SIM), the world – and especially the Netherlands – were shocked by the kiliing of a team of television journalists of the TV channel IKON in El Salvador. The very uncivil conflict there had already costs thousands of people their lives including the internationally known cases of the 4 American nuns and the progressive bishop Oscar Romero 1980. The USA under Reagan had clearly changed course and was openly supporting the Duarte regime against the left-wing rebels. The Dutch government – especially its ‘atlanticist’ Minister of Foreign Affairs Hans van de Broek[1]– was caught between its desire to appease the US government and to respond to the public outcry back home. The compromise reached was that the Dutch Ambassador from a neighbouring country (Jan Willem Bertens) was exceptionally allowed to undertake an investigation on Salvadoran territory, but – if no evidence of government involvement was found – that would be the end of the affair. The fact-finding mission by the Dutch Ambassador did not find any strong evidence; the report was left with the Salvador government and submitted to the Dutch parliament.

One of the first visitors to SIM was Yata Matsuzaki who was the partner of one of the journalists killed and on behalf of the families – who were not convinced by the inconclusive Bertens report. She asked me to take on the case and see whatever else could to done to keep the matter alive. There was even some money set aside for this by the families which was very useful as later – when the Dutch Minister Van der Stoel queried whether this kind of activity (i.e. second-guessing him) was within SIM’s mandate – I was able to refer to the fact that SIM was supposed to find externally funded projects and this had been one of them.

In fact, I had to scratch the bottom of the barrel to find ways to keep the case alive but fortunately the UN had just establish a “Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions”and I submitted the case there. With the help of the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights in NY I also tried to obtain copies of relevant telexes from the US State Department but most was blacked out.

This involvement with El Salvador led SIM to start a project on how to count human rights violations in general (with initial focus on Central America) and we tried to solve difficult issues such as killings by non-state actors and defining indirect victims. One of the persons helping in El Salvador was Marianella Garcia Villas who had come to SIM in early 1983. I offered to help her with obtaining political asylum in the Netherlands, but she insisted on going back as she was most needed there.  I felt not just sad and shocked but also ‘guilty’ when soon after her return she was murdered.

Then in May 1984 three Dutch parliamentarians (one from each main party) accepted to go on a mission to Central America (and the USA see picture) and I was asked to join as an independent ‘expert’. It became a memorable trip, including a shooting incident on the road in Nicaragua, but what crowned it was that in El Salvador I got a chance to meet with the Prosecutor’s office that was in charge of the IKON investigation. They kindly showed me the file and I was shocked to see that it contained almost nothing and especially that the report by the Dutch Ambassador – 2 years later! – had not been translated into Spanish.

Upon arrival in Schiphol airport, there was a well-attended press conference and when there were questions about the IKON investigation the parliamentarians agreed that I should answer as an independent expert. The journalists had clearly not forgotten their colleagues and fielded many questions. When asked what the Dutch government should do now, I replied that it is was time to re-open the investigation and that my colleagues on the mission representing a majority in parliament were well placed to formally ask for it, which they promptly said they would. When soon afterwards a majorly in parliament adopted a motion requesting this, the Minister of Foreign Affairs was not pleased and initially refused to carry out the motion. However, as this was not worth a government crisis the Prime Minster Lubbers engineered a compromise under which the Dutch government would follow up and at least translate the text.

In 1993 a Report of the Truth Commission of the United Nations on El Salvador concluded that the journalists had been killed in a planned ambush, that Reyes Mena was responsible and that El Salvador so far had failed to do research in order to sentence and punish those responsible. That same year an amnesty law was passed in El Salvador,…

and now (September 2018) I can add a final chapter:

A team of the Dutch television programme Zembla has traced the former colonel of the Salvadoran army, Mario Reyes Mena, who ordered the killings. The now 79-year-old Reyes Mena has been living in the United States for four years. Zembla found him through his three adult children, who are active on social media.

When confronted he claimed that the amnesty pronounced by the government of El Salvador covers his actions. However this amnesty law was cancelled in 2016. In August 2017, the investigation into the murders was already reopened administratively. Two Salvadoran human rights organizations, ‘Fundación Comunicándonos’ and ‘Associacíon de Derechos Humanos’, urged the Salvadoran judiciary to carry out the investigation and the ensuing prosecution.Gert Kuiper, de brother of one of the killed journalists has also started a procedure against the colonel and the Dutch Ambassador in El Salvador supports the move.

It is not known where we stand with this investigation but interesting is to note that in November 2017 another former Salvadoran army colonel, Inocente [SIC] Orlando Montano, was extradited from the USA to Spain to face charges relating to the 1989 killings of the 6 Jesuits priests.

Killings cannot have happy endings but justice is the next best thing.

[1]He succeeded in May 1982 the socialist Van der Stoel whose initial reaction to the killing had been more forceful.

Sources:

https://nltimes.nl/2018/09/25/investigation-ongoing-dutch-journalists-murders-el-salvador-1982

https://nos.nl/artikel/2251835-brein-achter-moord-op-ikon-journalisten-opgespoord.html

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/nov/29/former-el-salvador-colonel-extradited-to-spain-over-1989-of-jesuits

In praise of whistleblowers as human rights defenders

March 17, 2018

Are whistleblowers “Traitors or Defenders of Human Rights“? I have asked myself this question many times also in this blog [see e.g. https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/09/29/edward-snowden-can-still-not-collect-his-awards/. On 16 writes for the Good Men Project a convincing  piece that they are:

We all know, or are becoming aware, that the ‘global war on terror’ is being pushed by the Western Hemisphere. (Case in point Daniel Ellsberg}…In today’s post modern world, we have Edward Snowden who exposed cover ups of war crimes, controversial mass surveillance, and bulk data collection programs as legal and effective; all while having violated warrant procedures/court orders, due diligence, privacy laws, human rights, liberties, and the Constitution, which is the supreme law of the land. Every government and former government member has taken an oath to serve and protect the Constitution, and the laws that are supposed to defend and help every single one of us. Unfortunately, rogue policies and states have gotten away, and continued to operate without any accountability, oversight, or responsibility. Torture under the euphemism of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques was exposed by the former CIA case officer turned whistleblower, John KariakouThomas Drake, former Senior CIA and NSA analyst, blew the whistle on the cover ups of 9/11, fraud, waste, and abuse that went all the way up to the highest levels. Bill Binney, former NSA mathematician and cryptanalyst blew the whistle too on 9/11 and mass surveillance programs that are unconstitutional. Documentaries on Netflix such as Silenced, A Good American, and CitizenFour reveal what happened to whistleblowers when tyrannical governments label them as ‘traitors’ and want them to be existent.

….

Lessons can be learned from whistleblowers:

StrengthThe courage to speak the truth against lies and crimes against humanity, against the corrupt, greedy, poisoned hearts of men.

GritDetermination through educational and awareness events, peaceful protests, doing interviews, community engagement and media involvement shows perseverance of standing up for one’s beliefs of speaking the truth. Having support systems helps continue one’s sparked resolve to shed light on the dark. There’s no I in Team.

Honesty is best policyCandor delivered right through honesty is the best approach to demonstrating what one wants or needs to say. Honesty is about dignity of self and respect of others to speak the truth.

Human rights are of moral and ethical issue not merely illegal v. legal. Human rights are part of the law. Legal decisions and conclusions aren’t equivalent to morality and ethics. Crimes against humanity were once legal. Policies aren’t the same as having a conscience and exercising moral fiber.

United we rise, divided we fall. Note: Not to say breaking oaths to keep legitimate secrets are to be violated. Leaks can do severe damage to government projects, and the lives of those who work the operations to make a difference. To serve and project justice is serious business. Being a leaker and a whistleblower are two different things. Advocating and exercising truth, morality, ethics are the important take away from this story. Our humanity through liberty makes us, human.

Remember, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” -Edmund Burke

see also https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/05/27/5-june-stockholm-breakfast-seminar-on-the-importance-of-whistleblowers/

https://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/traitors-or-defenders-of-human-rights-wcz/

Bishop Oscar Romero from El Salvador: now a saintly human right defender

May 23, 2015

Whether one believes in sainthood or not, it is not difficult to rejoice with Pax Christi International about the 23 May beatification of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero who became known for his persistent search for truth, justice and reconciliation in the late seventies in conflict-torn El Salvador. He was shot dead while celebrating mass on 24 March 1980. The assassin has never been identified, but it is widely believed that the assassins were members of a death squad led by former Major Roberto D’Aubuisson.  Read the rest of this entry »

Mexican Rocío Mesino, an emblematic human rights defender, murdered like so many others

October 26, 2013

logo completo

On Saturday, the 19th of  October  2013 , around 1:00 pm, Rocío Mesino Mesino, leader of the Peasant Organization of the Southern Sierra (OCSS ), was killed in the town of Mexcaltepec, municipality of Atoyac de Alvarez, in the state of Guerrero, Mexcio. Read the rest of this entry »

New UN rapporteur for truth, justice and reparation important for HRDs

April 6, 2012

The Mail & Guardian Online carried an interesting piece that may have gone unnoticed. It is about the appointment of the first ever Rapporteur ‘on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence’. On March 23, the United Nations Human Rights Council appointed Pablo de Greiff, a Colombian national, who is currently the New York-based director of research at the International Centre for Transitional Justice. His tenure as special rapporteur begins on May 1.

The article refers to a recent meeting entitled “African Perspectives on the Appointment and Mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion of Truth, Justice, Reparation and Guarantees of Non-Recurrence”, of which a comprehensive report is forthcoming.

The article also gives a useful background to the what “Special procedures” are and underlines rightly that civil society (i.e. HRDs) should play a vital role in relation to the special rapporteur. Feeding the special rapporteur with succinct, reliable and accurate information on urgent matters relating to the mandate is one important function civil society can take on. Raising awareness about the special rapporteur and the relevant mandate as well as how it translates into reality is equally important in order to ensure increased participation in the broader process.

UN appoints rapporteur for justice – Opinion – Mail & Guardian Online.