Archbishop Closes Historic Human Rights Office
Yesterday Salvadoran Archbishop José Luis Escobar Alas ordered the closure of Tutela Legal, the Archdiocese´s human rights legal aid office, started originally by Monseñor Romero. The members of Tutela Legal have fought tirelessly for human rights in El Salvador, and Tutela has been a SHARE partner since the early eighties. STAY TUNED FOR ACTION ALERTS!!!
During Monseñor Romero´s time as Archbishop, he maintained the doors to the Archdiocese open to everyone at all times, especially the poor and defenders of human rights. In contrast, today, when representatives of a variety of human rights organizations and Christian Base Communities arrived at the offices of the Archdiocese to inquire about the closure of Tutela Legal, the security guard threatened to shoot the seven that entered, and slammed the gate shut in the face of the group gathered outside.
Yesterday afternoon civil society responded with shock and indignation to the news that Archbishop José Luis Escobar Alas ordered the closure of Tutela Legal, the Archdiocese´s human rights legal aid office. Tutela Legal has represented many important cases of human rights violations during the civil war at the national and international level, including the El Mozote Massacre, Monseñor Romero´s assassination, and the Sumpul massacre. Tutela Legal also coordinated community organizing work, human rights trainings for churches, and represented current cases of human rights violations, like the Record Car Battery Factory Case.
Yesterday morning, the staff of Tutela Legal arrived at work to find that all the locks had been changed and security guards placed outside. The Archbishop´s advisors called them into private meetings one by one, informing them that they had been fired. After the third employee emerged from their meeting, the others refused to enter, calling for an opportunity for dialogue and an explanation as to why the offices had been closed. The only response they received was that Tutela Legal´s purpose no longer existed. The members of Tutela Legal were permitted into their offices only with the accompaniment of security guards to retrieve a few personal possessions.
These tumultuous events come just two weeks after the Salvadoran Supreme Court admitted a lawsuit contesting the constitutionality of the 1993 Amnesty Law which offered pardon for all crimes committed during the civil war, including grave human rights violations, such as hundreds of massacres, thousands of forced disappearances and extra-judicial assassinations. If the Supreme Court declares the Amnesty Law unconstitutional, these cases of human rights violations could be re-opened in El Salvador. The archives in Tutela Legal include documentation of more than 50,000 cases of human rights violations during the war, including 80% of the cases that the the U.N. Truth Commission used to create its 1993 report, From Madness to Hope.
This morning, the ex-staff of Tutela Legal participated in a press-conference at FESPAD, declaring their dismissal as “Machiavellian, illegal, arbitrary, and an indignation for the members of Tutela Legal and the victims Tutela has accompanied for years and who have trusted in their work.” They call on the public and on the Universal Church to ask the Catholic Hierarchy for an explanation, to demonstrate that Tutela Legal no longer serves the purpose for which it was created as the representatives of the Archbishop claim. They also call on the Salvadoran government´s Secretariat of Culture to declare the archives of Tutela Legal Cultural Heritage and save the information in the nation´s archives or in the Human Rights Ombudsman´s Office.
Members of human rights organizations and Christian Base Communities held a small protest outside the Archdiocese´s offices today, and tomorrow the ex-members of Tutela Legal will present official correspondence to the Legislative Assembly. Stay tuned for solidarity actions to come!!!