Salvador's Grievous Loss Truth Commission Finds Violations of Human Rights in El Salvador, with an Overwhelming Number of Instances Linked to the Military

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A SPANISH Jesuit once remarked, "It is harder to tell the truth than to hide it." An important component of the United Nations-sponsored peace agreement for El Salvador was fulfilled March 15 when the three-member Commission on the Truth issued its report on what it called "some of the worst and most widespread violations of human rights in El Salvador." To nobody's surprise, the UN Commission found that the overwhelming majority of the cases studied, involving some 18,000 victims, were linked to the Sal vadoran military.

In the wake of the Commission's report, those who tried for more than 10 years to hide the truth about the record of the Salvadoran military now want to bury it by granting amnesty to the accused. By ignoring the crying need for justice in the human rights abuse cases investigated by the Truth Commission, El Salvador's political leadership may cause permanent damage to the reconciliation effort.

It is time to stop rewarding the brutal and the corrupt. Twelve years and $6 billion in United States aid later, it is time to learn and understand the truth. Those who spread tyranny and death throughout El Salvador for 10 years should not be protected under the umbrella of peace. The Salvadoran National Assembly seeks to do this with its passage of legislation providing general amnesty for those who are named by the Commission on the Truth. Ruben Zamora, the vice president of the Assembly, walked out o n the vote, proclaiming that "justice must come before forgiving and forgetting."

The stakes are high for US foreign policy. The members of the Truth Commission, Belisario Betancur, former Colombian president; Reinaldo Figueredo Planchart, former foreign minister of Venezuela; and Thomas Buergenthal, professor of law at George Washington University, have boldly and bravely identified by name the military leadership responsible for atrocities such as the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero, the killing of four American churchwomen, and the murder of six Jesuits, their cook , and her daughter. The Truth Commission has confirmed what many of us have believed for a long time: The US was bankrolling the Salvador military at a time when it was killing with impunity.

Those who continue to justify the role of the US in the Salvadoran civil war take several lines of defense. Many involved in Latin American policy through the 1980s claim ignorance of what was happening around them. Others skip over the bloody history, preferring to argue that the cost of not being involved would have been greater. We cannot accept either excuse in light of the truth. For a decade the US was willing to allow its policy to be shaped by the dictum that the "ends justify the means." This mi sguided policy must be abandoned.

The civil war in El Salvador brought no gains or freedom to the Salvadoran people. …