Press Conference Decries Closure of Tutela Legal and Call to Action
ACTION ALERT: SHARE AND OTHER ORGANIZATIONS WILL CONTINUE TO COLLECT SIGNATURES FOR THE INTERNATIONAL SOLIDARITY PRESS STATEMENT MENTIONED BELOW THROUGH MONDAY AT MIDNIGHT. We will publish the press release in a Salvadoran newspaper. Please contact Bethany Loberg, firstname.lastname@example.org to sign on or send a contribution. We seek signatures from organizations and from religious, academic, and human rights leaders. We will be sending an action alert individuals can participate in on Monday or Tuesday next week.
This morning, representatives of a variety of human rights organizations, members of Christian Base Communities, and victims of human rights abuses held a press conference to denounce the actions of Archbishop Jose Luis Escobar Alas of El Salvador to close Tutela Legal, the Archdiocese’s human rights legal aid office on Monday. This blatant disregard for human rights has divided the Catholic Church and infuriated many groups that continue to fight for justice. The conference took place outside of the Archdiocese´s offices and included the reading of a press statement and a moving letter to the papal nuncio signed by nearly thirty civil society organizations, including CODEFAM, COMADRES, FESPAD, PROBUSQUEDA. CPDH Madeleine Lagadec, the National Health Forum, the San Antonio Abad Christian Base Community, and FUNDAHMER, amongst others. The conference also featured the reading of a press release expressing the solidarity of the international community.
Representatives of Salvadoran human rights organizations expressed their grave concerns regarding the abrupt closure of Tutela Legal. In addition to indignation at the way the employees of Tutela Legal were treated, they worry that this is a measure to ensure impunity for past human rights violations will persist. The press release expressed four explicit demands:
1. Guarantee the integrity and security of all Tutela Legal’s case files of human rights violations, permitting the victims access to their files.
2. Revoke the decision to close Tutela Legal.
3. Declare Tutela Legal’s archive of human rights violations historic and cultural heritage.
4. An invitation to the Archbishop to reflect on his decision to close Tutela Legal and publicly ask pardon for his actions, or otherwise be removed from his office or resign.
The international solidarity press release signed by over 30 organizations, including all the historic U.S.-El Salvador solidarity organizations as well as the Center for Justice and Accountability, School of the Americas Watch, Sojourners Magazine, Friends of Co-Madres, and the National Lawyers Guild Task Force on the Americas, expressed outrage at the closure of Tutela Legal and concern that Tutela Legal’s archives be respected. The statement emphasizes solidarity with the first two key demands of Salvadoran civil society: a guarantee for the security of all of Tutela Legal’s records and access for the victims, and secondly, to reverse the decision to close the legal aid office, to reinstate the staff members fired unjustly, and above all to maintain the same spirit of work instilled by Archbishop Romero and Archbishop Arturo Rivera Damas, and Dr. Maria Julia Hernandez. Full press release in English here: FINAL International Solidarity Tutela Legal ENGLISH-1.
In the spirit of these path-breaking leaders, the press conference continued with powerful songs to commemorate Monsenor Romero, as well as chants that proceeded in call and response, for example, “Long live the Christian Based Communities,” with others responding “Qué vivan!” It was a moving experience, that all participated in. To close, the chanting continued, building momentum and encouraging the Archbishop to fulfill his rightful position on “the side of the poor,” to follow those that paved the way for him.
Tutela Legal played a crucial role historically in documenting and denouncing the monstrous human rights violation committed during the civil war. While the government is no longer systematically violating civilians civil rights, impunity continues to characterize the justice system, and disregard for human rights and extreme violence still plague today´s society. This legal aid and human rights office contains a vast archive that documents evidence of these atrocious crimes. This office continued investigating those in high positions of power to serve justice.
Both Salvadoran president Mauricio Funes and Human Rights Ombudsman David Morales have expressed concern for the integrity of Tutela Legal’s archives, and on Thurday, Morales issued an injunction allowing the Archbishope five days to authorize a special commission of the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office (PDDH) to physically inspect the archives and offered the possibility that the PDDH could serve as custodians of the archives.
The exact explanation of the Archbishop has been ambiguous at best. On Monday the only explanation offered the employees of Tutela Legal was that Tutela’s reason for being no longer exists. However, on Wednesday the Archbishop released a statement that the closure of Tutela Legal was part of an in-depth process of evaluation to better meet the needs of the present moment.
Today the Archbishop defended his decision, stating that the Archdiocese has proof of mismanagement in Tutela Legal’s administrative, accounting, and judicial practices that served personal interests rather than those of the victims. However, the Archdiocese never held any process of dialogue or evaluation with the employees of Tutela Legal, and, as noted in a previous blog, the “procedure” for closing Tutela Legal was sudden and extreme – changing the locks and placing armed guards outside the doors. The timing, abruptness, and changing explanations of these actions appear to point to underlying interests and pressure.
The victims and human rights organizations continue to lift their voices for justice. Let us join them.