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IDHUCA report: ONUSAL is leaving - how are we doing?

Proceso, No.647, 1 February 1995

In less than three months, the U.N. Observer Mission in El Salvador (ONUSAL) will be leaving. For better or for worse-depending on your point of view- the last members of an unprecedented international operation are leaving on April 30. With the original goal of promoting respect and guarantees for human rights, but definitely in order to verify compliance with the political agreements forged between the two formerly warring sides, this novel and numerous contingent will leave after exactly three and one-half years of work. By now, after so many elegies about the success of the Salvadoran postwar experiment, it is worth asking whether or not ONUSAL met the goals for which it was created. A review of the principal incidents which occurred during late January can shed some light on an answer.

Early in the morning of Tuesday, January 24, the "mobilization of the demobilized" began, to demand benefits -whether or not they were originally promised- to alleviate their poor standard of living. The protest marches by ADEFAES, along with the violent incidents, produced tension throughout the nation. The toll of dead and injured, along with hostages and takeovers of public buildings, clearly revealed the inadequacies and potential of two national institutions in charge of overseeing respect for our fundamental rights and freedoms. Many have deposited their hopes to transcend the former situation of conflict in these two institutions: the Human Rights Ombudsman's Office (PDH) and the National Civilian Police (PNC).

Except for the publicity garnered by delivering food to the deputies held hostage in the legislature (an operation headed up by a middle-level bureaucrat) and the safe evacuation of children from the Supreme Court day-care center (an ADEFAES initiative), the absence of the Human Rights Ombudsman (Carlos Molina Fonseca) in the conflict and its resolution was noticeable. He did not become involved until January 27, and since he will be leaving office in a few days, he told the press that his office will become more involved in conflict resolution from now on.

That same Friday, instead of performing the leading role which is part of its mandate, the PDH published a communique congratulating those who managed to negotiate a solution to the standoff, and condemning the ADEFAES protest actions. The PDH also took advantage of the soapbox to congratulate itself indirectly, by thanking its "specialized personnel" for the supposed progress made in the solution. It also said it had helped to "bring the two sides closer to a solution." The communique also admitted "clear deficiencies and inadequacies among the processes and institutions set up under the peace accords... It will be necessary to correct them and assign responsibility for the events which produced deaths and injuries."

In its own words, the PDH has fulfilled "its constitutional and institutional obligation." However, judgments about how well it has fulfilled its mandate are the job of civil society, not the very same PDH, especially since it has demonstrated absolutely no capacity for self-criticism during its almost three years of existence. What we all need in El Salvador is a strong institution, which is clear about its goals and its mandate to meet them; for the sake of human rights, the nation needs a PDH with a strong material and moral presence, which congratulates other institutions for what they do to help the PDH carry out its mandate, but only after having performed a vanguard role in mediating and resolving conflicts which harm society. El Salvador also needs a strong voice which condemns violence but not without pointing out its root causes, especially when one of the principal causes is the failure to fulfill the promises made under the peace accords.

Keeping in mind the great potential behind the PDH's legal mandate (so far underutilized), and the challenges it must face from now on, we hope that the person who heads up that office during the next three years does not just limit him or herself to "bringing closer" those who are directly involved in resolving conflicts, but rather acts firmly to prevent conflicts from erupting or, if they do, plays a key role in their resolution. Finally, in one more display of inability to acknowledge its own shortcomings, the PDH communique does not mention by name the institutions created by the peace accords whose "deficiencies and inadequacies" were revealed once again during the latest series of events. Naming them was very important, especially if we are talking about "correcting [the problems] and assign[ing] responsibility for the events which produced deaths and injuries." If the PDH had been objective, its own name would have been first on the list.

With regard to the unfortunate and bloody incidents which took place during the recent protests, it is still necessary to clarify the concrete set of circumstances which led to them, as well as any responsibility on the part of PNC agents. This is extremely necessary, especially because the judge in charge of investigating the incidents has regretted the lack of cooperation on the part of top police authorities. The inspector general of the PNC, in charge of overseeing and controlling the human rights performance of its members, has also failed to produce information which might lead to the clarification of the incidents and punishment for those responsible. Clarification is also necessary because the overall conduct of the PNC during the entire protest period (regardless of its involvement in the injuries and deaths) was consistent with its mandate; this requires us all to acknowledge and outline the problems which actually occurred, and identify their causes. And one of the causes consists of the obstacles the PNC faces in its training and deployment, the development of its infrastructure and other technical resources, due especially to government neglect.

With regard to the "mobilization of the demobilized," there are some who believe that shadowy interests were behind it. It would be healthy for all of us to find out the identities of those who conspire against the fragile gains of the current peace process. However, this must not distract us from a fundamental goal: no "hidden hand" would have been capable of manipulating these people so thoroughly if the government had been on the right track as far as the peace accords are concerned. During that same period, the government also reaped what it sowed when it transferred -without heeding any protests or conducting an evaluation- the entire Anti-Drug Unit and the Commission to Investigate Criminal Acts from the defunct National Police to the PNC. When an attempt was made to purge bad apples from the "new" unit (now known as the DAN), its members went out on strike fully armed. Since they always enjoyed immense power, as a result of the arrogance with which they behaved as well as their ample resources and support, these police generated another dangerous crisis.

In effect, after taking over the DAN headquarters for several days, the strikers marched to the Presidential Palace on January 27 to present their demands. They required, among other things, severance pay for the over 60 members of the Division who were discharged; the amount they were demanding was far higher than that received by any other group of former policemen. If the discharge of the officers was part of the peace accords, as the president maintained, it is also worth knowing that the peace accords were violated by the wholesale incorporation of the two former PN units into the PNC.

What else happened last week? Besides the horrible execution of an entire family (including two girls four and seven years of age) in a San Miguel village, the press reported several criminal operations undertaken in the city of San Miguel by a "death squad" calling itself the "Black Shadow," devoted to executing common criminals; there was also news about a new group, the "Guerrilla Unity," which vows to continue the armed revolutionary struggle. The president of the Supreme Court denied rumors about his imminent resignation, and said that not only are judges corrupt but also many lawyers and judicial employees; he warned that it will take a long time to clean out corruption and incompetence from the judicial branch. Meanwhile, the president of the legislature and her party requested Armed Forces intervention to perform security functions inside the legislative building, another attempt to trample the Constitution.

So, three months before ONUSAL leaves us, we certainly cannot state categorically that it has fulfilled its mandate adequately, because the national institutions in charge of guaranteeing respect for our fundamental rights and freedoms are still not working properly. This is even more serious given that, if the government actually implements its promised economic measures, the standard of living of the majority of Salvadorans will decline even further. We must speed up implementation of the peace accords and prepare ourselves seriously to take on our new responsibilities, because the economic and social outlook does not indicate a diminution of social protest.

Proceso is published weekly in Spanish by the Center for Information, Documentation and Research Support (CIDAI) of the Central American University (UCA) of El Salvador. Portions are sent in English to the *reg.elsalvador* conference of PeaceNet in the USA and may be forwarded or copied to other networks and electronic mailing lists. Please make sure to mention Proceso when quoting from this publication.

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