University of Minnesota

Report on the Situation of Human Rights in El Salvador, Inter-Am. C.H.R., OEA/Ser.L/V/II.46, Doc. 23 rev. 1 (1978).





American Declaration

Article I

Every human being has the right to

The security of his person.

Article XXV 3:

Every Individual who has been deprived of his liberty has the right to have the legality of his detention ascertained without delay by a court, and the right to be tried without undue delay or, otherwise, to be released. He also has the right to humane treatment during the time he is in custody. [1]/

1. The Commission has received denunciation-alleging violation of the right to the physical, mental and moral integrity of various individuals, including members of the opposition parties, students, and individual organizations. These assaults, according to the allegations, are common in the case of political prisoners and occur on a large scale in rural areas of the country.

A. The Law of El Salvador

2. The Constitution of El Salvador prohibits “Any form of torture” (Article 168). The protection of the right to humane treatment is covered initially under the Criminal Code where personal injury, aggression, rape and dishonest abuses, seizure for erotic-sexual purpose, coercion and threats are specified as offenses (Articles 170-176/192-200).

3. The specific provisions with regard to treatment of individuals detained by authorities or confined in penal institutions are as follows:

“1) The individual responsible or the custody or behavior of any individual detained or sentenced, who commits against that detainee arbitrary acts or submits him to disciplinary punishment not authorized under the respective regulations, shall be punished by one to three years imprisonment, unless the acts in themselves constitute a more serious crime (Criminal Code, Article 222).”

“2) Any harassment or torture of individuals detained by auxiliary agencies during the course of an investigation, shall make the individual who gave the orders and those who carried out those orders answerable to such penalties as are applicable (Code of Criminal Procedures, Article 139).”

“3) Officials and auxiliary personnel shall be answerable for any infraction of the law that they may commit during the course of their functions (Code of Criminal Procedure, Article 144).”

“4) Execution of penalties and security measures shall not involve torture or harassment.”

“Any member of the staff of a prison or center of confinement who orders or allows such abuses shall be subject to the disciplinary measures to be determined, without prejudice to any criminal responsibility he may have incurred (Law of the System of Penal Institutions and Rehabilitation Center, Article 5).”

4. The Lower Court Criminal Judges of each district are responsible for surveillance of penal institutions (Articles 688-689, code of Criminal Procedure). They must visit the penal institution at least three times each year (Article 692, Code of Criminal Procedure) to determine how the prisoners are being treated and to verify that they are not being subjected to illegal deprivation or isolation. They must make sure that no person is being held illegally (Article 691, Code of Criminal procedure), inform the accused of the status of their case, and advise those sentenced with regard to the final ruling and the date on which their sentence will be completed (Article 695, Code of Criminal Procedure). If he finds a sick prisoner, he may order that he be transferred to a state health center or to a private institution (Article 701, Code of Criminal Procedure).

B. Treatment of Detainees

5. Despite the existence of adequate legislation to protect the personal integrity of prisoners, many of the denunciations addressed to the Commission alleged that abuse and torture of detainees are common in El Salvador, especially when political prisoners are involved. In order to give a brief description of the physical and mental torture allegedly used; transcribed below is a study prepared by one claimant on the basis of allegations made by a number of individuals who had been released:

“The methods used by the National Guard to breakdown the prisoners physically and psychologically are as follows:


One of the methods most commonly used, particularly during the initial phase of detention or when a definitive form of conduct to be followed with the detainee has not yet been established, is to keep him lying down on a metal bed shackled by the hands and feet. The prisoner is kept in this position for almost 24 hours a day; generally, the only interruption is for some 3 to 5 minutes during which the captors take their prisoner to the bathroom. The inability to move in that position coupled with the bad diet cause a rapid weight loss. That position, together with the fact that the prisoner is blindfolded, leads to a feeling of impotence, fear and insecurity. On other occasions, when there are many “clients” and not enough beds available, the prisoners are kept lying on the floor, bound together by common chain, to which they are snacked. They are handcuffed as well.

When the prisoners are going to be detained for prolonged periods, they are moved to very small cells that measure 1.5 meters by 1 meter, or 1 square meter, where as general rule the handcuffs and blindfold are removed. Because of the dimensions of the cell and the fact that at times they are used to house a number of prisoners, the prisoners must assume very uncomfortable positions that are injurious to the body. Generally the prisoner has to sleep with his legs drawn up or against the wall.

Generally speaking, in most cases a combination of these methods is used.

Through information provided by JUAN JOSE YANES, it is know that the National Police uses a system whereby the prisoners are kept standing in rectangular boxes that are very narrow, which leads to a loss of movement in the bodily fluids of the legs, a loss of consciousness, etc.; the seriousness of its consequences is a direct function of the amount of time the system is applied.”

“2. DIET:

The basic diet is corn tortillas and beans; however, there are variations. Generally, during the first days of confinement the prisoner is denied any food. Later, the diet consists of the notorious ‘yo-yo’, which are two tortillas with beans in the middle, although at times, particularly around mid-day, they tend to add a little rice. This food is served three times a day, although depending upon political conditions and the intensity of work, serving may be reduced to twice a day or even once. Specifically, since the BORGONOVO case food is served only twice a day. The situation is worse for those who will be there for shorter periods of time, in other words, for those who are kept chained to the beds or on the floor. Those whoa are already in cells because they will be staying longer have plates for their own use and therefore can receive a little more food. The latter occasionally receive what the prisoners call “the third word,” which might be some t grams of cheese, or fried tomatoes, or an egg about every three months.

The prisoner is never given fruit, vegetables, milk or meat. It is basically a carbohydrate diet.

The water comes from a tank in the bathroom; this tank is left open, so that there are insects and dirt inside. Those who are shackled to beds generally have water only once a day, while those confined in cells for long periods of time have water twice a day.”


We have already described the dimensions of the cell, a situation made worse by the number of prisoners that occupy them. There are some cells that are completely dark, ventilated only by holes 1 centimeter in diameter in the door.

Other cells have small shutters that measure some 30 x 20 centimeters, and from which prisoners can see the outside world. There is no furniture.

The prisoner has no communication with or information from the outside world, except for the information their jailers sometimes provide them, or information from newly arrived prisoners. Naturally, there are some furtive forms of information, principally old news-papers that are provided by the jailers to be used in the bathroom.”


During five and a half months in the prison, there was only one bath for hygienic reasons, and tow other baths for other reasons; one was in order to make him believe that he was going to be released and another was around the time he was to be released. The prisoners were allowed to clean the cells only once, and they were given water and antiseptic (creosote).

If someone become sick, it is impossible to secure medication. On the few occasions that mediation was made available, there was too little and distribution was left to the discretion of the jailers. The most common illness is diarrhea and the prisoners treat themselves by fasting. Another common problem for the prisoner is the presence of roaches and some body parasites (pediculosis), where again it is impossible to obtain medication.


The most common torture used among the National Guard is electric shocks. Beatings are frequent during interrogations and are done with round or flat wooden clubs. It appears that the “capucha” (hood) is used more among the national Police and other institutions.

6. Staff members of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights that visited El Salvador, with the Special Committee can confirm the existence of the cells described in the study in question. After an initial inspection conducted at the barracks of the National Guard in San Salvador, the Special Committee received information to the effect what there were secret cells on the premises. The cells were said to be extremely narrow and dark and located at the back of the third floor of the building. There was a wooden staircase that went up to them. On Tuesday, January 17, the Staff members Special Committee returned to inspect the building again guided by a layout of the premises. They climbed the staircase in question. They found in the corner one room that matched the description of the interrogation place that they had been given. They noted a table on which there were electrical devices that could have been used to apply electric shocks as had been denounced, and a mirror that appeared to be transparent. In response to their questions they were told that that room was used by the photographer, a statement denied shortly thereafter by the photographer himself, They walked down the hall which, according to the denunciations, was used for prisoners who were bound and blindfolded on bedsprings. They say a number of bedsprings, stacked in a hall and covering a door. At their request the bedsprings were removed and the staff members discovered places whose characteristics matched precisely the description given of the secret cells denounced. One of them, which measured approximately 1 x 1 meter, had a steel door, was completely dark and its walls were covered with roaches. Using a flashlight, the staff members accompanying the Special Committee found the name and initials of some of the individuals that had been held prisoner there, according to the denunciations.

7. When asked about the use of the small rooms on the third floor, the members of the National Guard who escorted the staff members of the Special Committee said that these were used only for drunks until they sobered up and that they were used to guard explosives that had to be kept in darkness.

8. So as to understand better the denunciations generally received on the right to humane treatment, transcribed below are the pertinent parts of some of the communications received as of the date of the Special Committee’s visit to El Salvador. All these denunciations are being processed in accordance with established procedure for individual cases presented to the Commission.

1. Case 2806

Victor Manuel Sánchez Bonilla, laborer and member of the U.D.N. party, was kidnapped together with Alfredo Elías Orellana, a student, on October 12, 1975. The following is Orellana’s account of how they were treated:

“At around 1:00 p.m., they took us in handcuffs to San Salvador in a National Guard Willys jeep, guarded buy four agents. At 4:00 p.m. we arrived at the barracks of the National Guard, where they forced us to remove all our clothing; they covered our heads with burlaps hoods, hit us hard in the stomach and placed us in very narrow individual cells which were too small to do anything but stand. Hours later they took me out and beat me again with their fists and feet, without asking me any question. They took me to an office and began to interrogate me on general matters; they photographed and fingerprinted me and then shut me en the cell where I had to stand. That entire day they gave me neither food nor water.

“Monday, October 13: In the morning they took me out and immediately began to beat me. Again they took me to an office and began another interrogation. Blows accompanied each question and each reply. They took me to the standing cell that afternoon after many hours of interrogation. With the silence that comes with the night, one can hear even small noises. I heard the doors of the small standing cells open; someone was dragged out, and then I heard screams. The voice seemed to be that of Victor Manuel. In the early morning hours, when the noise from the city resumed, they again opened the cells and they let out someone who turned out to be Victor, who told me that they beat him and used electric shock on him. Again that day we went without water or food.

“Tuesday, October 14: They left me in the cell the entire day. They took Victor Manuel from his cell in the morning and I saw him through a hole in the door, as I had managed to remove my hood. They kept him until the afternoon and he told me that they beat him much more and used more electric shocks. We were given nothing to eat or drink that day either.

“Wednesday, October 15: In the morning they came for me and bear me as I left the cell. They took me to an office and repeated Monday’s interrogation, only enlarging upon certain questions. They wanted me to believe that victor Manuel had told then that together we had placed a bomb in the National Guard headquarters in San Miguel; they took off the handcuffs on one hand, gave me something with which to write and dictated names of explosives. As is customary, with each question and each reply they beat me; now they used the electric shocks as well. At around 5:00 p.m. they returned me to my cell. Victor Manuel spoke to me to ask me how I was. We spent one more day without water or food. By this time we had been four days without food.

“Thursday. October 16: In the morning they took Victor out and asked him: What do you do for food? Around an hour later they took me out and the jailer asked: What do you do for food? I answered that I had not eaten. They gave me food and drink, found my clothes and made me dress. We had been nude, handcuffed and hooded since Sunday. They took me to a wider cell and left me inside without handcuffs and without a hood. There I found Victor Manuel, who told me that he was very beaten up, that they had placed the electrodes in his mouth and applied painfully electric shocks.”

2. Case 2807

Enrique Garzona Olivo, was detained by the National Guard on November 2, 1975:

“The physical and moral torture began from the first day: electric shocks over the entire body until he was utterly exhausted, the hood and the beatings. This was the treatment he received every day; after lengthy torture sessions, they took him nude to punishment cells. These were damp cells, with room for only one person; it was impossible to sleep there, either by day or night, because it was so narrow and humid.

Among the tortures they used on him was to make him go without water or food; in the ten days that he was held at the barracks of the National Guard, he was given a couple of tortillas with salt only once. This is the constant threat of death, they say over and over that “as a political enemy of the Government, the best thing for this person is that he die of hunger.

3. Case 2891

The claimant cited a document attributed to Rodolfo Mariano Jiménez:

“1, Rodolfo Mariano Jiménez. Was seized on May 22, 1976, at an Avis Car Rental Agency in San Salvador, be agents of the so-called Special Section in civilian dress and heavily armed with machine guns. There were seven of them and they immediately proceeded to beat me savagely in order to get me into the vehicle. They then drove me to the garage of the general headquarters of the National Police, where they continued to beat me until I lost consciousness; hours later, acting on the authority of an officer of the National Police whose face I could not see because they had me blindfolded and handcuffed, but whose uniform I did see, they took me to the general headquarters of the Custom Police as that is the central headquarters of the Special Section. (Political Police), where they held me sequestered for over two months.

“During that time they kept me shackled hand and foot, immobilized on a bed and blindfolded. On certain days the treatment was harsher; they continued to eat me while I was handcuffed and used electric shocks on various parts of the body, including my head; they pushed back my fingers until they almost broke; some days they left me naked an I was always blindfolded. At other times they submerged my head in toilet-bowls water until I was faint. This occurred at different times in those two months, between May and July. The Chief of the Special Section and Director General of the Customs Police, Lieutenant Juan Baustista Garay, informed me that President Molina was behind my kidnapping and that the high command of the Armed Forces was going to decide what to do with my case, since, according to Lieutenant Garay, the high command approves these procedures.

“Toward the end of July, I was taken to Section II of the general headquarters of the National Guard, also in San Salvador; Lieutenant Castillo, the chief of that section, told me that I was completely in their hands, that my family could do nothing, as they were never going to bring before the courts for trial and that I was going to die. Little by little, going crazy in the midst of incurable illnesses. They sent me to a small cell, which measured one square meter and was completely dark. I was nude, my feet shackled and my hands were handcuffed behind me so that if they brought me food, I could not eat with my hands. Three weeks later they gave me a dirty pair old pants and took me to a cell that was a little larger, 1.5 meter in length and .70 meters wide; there was some light in this cell; newspapers were spread for a bed and the sanitary conditions were horrific, with roaches and rats. At times they returned me to the small cell, as they were holding too many people. They kept me in this condition until the end of January of 1977.

“Of course I was not the only one being held; while I was there the Special Section had around 8 prisoners. I was unable to see all of them as they had me blindfolded and in shackles and I was unable to move; but I did hear the voices of some and others I managed to see from under the blindfold. There I saw one whom they called Neto, who they said, had been captured in February of 1976. He was there with his wife, both young people around 22 years of age; there was also an other young man around 19 years old whom they called Toño; apparently they took three others who had been seized in Apopa and who were from Cantón El Rodeo. They kept us all shackled hand and foot, blindfolded and on the floor or on bedsprings.”

Rodolfo Mariano Jiménez was released on January 28, 1977 as part of an exchange made by the E.R.P.

4. Case 2892

The claimant cites statements made by Ana Guadalupe Martínez:

“I, Ana Guadalupe Martínez, was kidnapped on July 5, 1976, in the city on San Miguel, 150 kilometers form the capital, by agents dressed in civilian clothing, from Section II of the National Guard. From the beginning I was subjected to innumerable forms of harassment, physical and psychological torture, including electric shock, applied selectively on the principal nerve networks. The shock treatment began with electrodes on both sides of the hips, then a third on the left hand, a fourth on the vulva and the fifth electrode on the lumber region of the spinal column; during all his I was shackled hand and foot, blindfolded and on the floor. There were pauses between the shocks to question me; they said to me: “Here we have made men talk, not to speak of women”. I was brutally raped by Sergeant Mario Rosales who served in that section His superiors knew of this. The entire time I was held I was isolated in small cell that was 2 meters long and 1.8 meter wide. It was dark and the only ventilation was thorough a small hole 5 centimeters in diameter. The entire first month I was blindfolded, with shackles on my feet and hands; at times I was completely nude. For certain periods they gave no food, and when my physical condition was very poor, they paid some attention to me in order not to let me die and then continued interrogating me.

“The entire time I was held I was not allowed to see my family; I was not placed before a judge to have charges brought against me and there was not even the remotest possibility of a trial or defense attorney, in violation of the most basic standards of human rights. Approximately three weeks after my capture, Lieutenant Castillo, Chief of Section II of the National Guard, came to my cell and told me that the President was going to see me but he would not do so directly but rather through a double face mirror that was in on e of the interrogation rooms. Likewise, 15 days after my kidnapping, Colonel Zaldaña came and told me that he was from the staff of the Armed Forces, that he had come to question me as to my condition. These events demonstrate that the entire Government cabal of the country is aware of the existence of political prisoners.

Several people were in the same situation, having been seized by oppressive corps of the country. As of the time I left, these included the following: Dr. Carlos Madriz Martínez, seized, July 13 1976, a fact until now denied by the Government of El Salvador; Juan José Yañez, 38 years of age, seized in June of 1976; Sergio Vladimir Arriaza Chavarría, captured in September of 1976; he was seized by agents dressed in civilian clothing, posing as Migration Officials; Luis Bonilla, seized in December of 1976; Lil Milagro Ramírez Huezo, seized in November of 1976, together with Professor Mario Rivera, a member of the Executive Council of ANDES (Association of Educators of El Salvador) and Ana Gilma Urquilla. In January of 1977, they put the two women in the same cell together with me. Lil Milagro Ramírez had been sequestered for some time at the barracks of the Customs Police; there she had seen 11 political prisoners accused of belonging to the clandestine group known as Fuerzas Populares de Liberación (FPL ‘ Popular Liberation Forces). They had the prisoners crowded into one small cell, with room for only one bed. The kept them shackled to that bed by the feet and hands, some on top of the bed other below the bed, unable to move except when they were removed with regard to one companion whose name Felix and whose surname seems to have been Guevara, seized in February of 1976, was that he was in the basement of the central barracks of the National Police and that he was in very serious physical condition and without food. Throughout my stay at the central barracks of the national Guard, they brought in groups of people whom they kept shackled by the feet and hands to steel beds without mattresses and blindfolded; after three weeks or one month they took them away I never heard whether they took them to other cells or if they were brought before a judge for formulation of charges. There were about a 150 people captured and they dept them in the manner described above in the hallway of the third floor of Section II of the National Guard. I also wish to report that two members of the Political Police (Special service) of Guatemala came to see me in the company of Major Godínez of the Treasury Police. This demonstrates their close collaboration and the use of the same methods by the oppressive forces of both countries.”

5. Case 2813

“After having left the hospital, where he had been sick with appendicitis, Ricardo Antonio Martínez Flores, of San Salvador, was seized on March 8, 1977, by agents of the national Police in civilian dress. For seven days, he was kept in the dark basement of a building belonging to the National Police, where he was physically and psychologically tortured, left naked and without food and water. They then took him to the Customs Police where he was kept for two days in a small room that measured approximately 2 square meters, shackled hand and foot, without food and without water. He was not allowed to take care of his biological needs. He was released on April 16, 1977.”

6. Case 2527

“Reina Orellana is a Campesina, age 18, from Canton Conacaste; she was apprehended in Aguilares in Mayo of 1977, along with her son, Carlos Ricardo, 1 ½ month old. She was taken because she had been the companion of Máximo Guardado, a member of a revolutionary organization and who was murdered in that same area around that time. Orellana and her son were taken to the National Guard, where they remained for 2 ½ months, in other words, until August 7, 1977. By that time, her child Carlos Ricardo was four months old. They were in a cell that measured approximately 3 x 2 meters; there was a small window approximately 47 centimeters wide near the door of the cell, through which they were provided food. Throughout their two-month stay in the jail, the infant was fed only his mother’s milk, a situation that had become quite difficult some two weeks before their release, because the rate at which the mother produced mild had slowed down. Her diet during that period was tortillas, beans and rice. On very few occasions, they gave her powdered milk to feed the child, which she preferred to take herself.

“There was another prisoner in the same cell. Together, the two women took care of the child’s hygiene, washed his clothes, and so on, which they did in the cell by obtaining water from the toilet tank. While in the jail, the infant became ill with a cold and diarrhea; medical attention was impossible to obtain and all that the mother received for the child were occasional medications, at the discretion of the jailers.”

7. Case 2854

“Alfredo Acosta Días, a member of the Directing Council of the UPN Party, was seized on May 11, 1977, at 6:30 in the morning; he was still in bed. Also taken were the son of his wife, seventeen years old, and a guest in the house. The three were taken away in chains.

“The abductors immediately took them to a National Police station some 500 meters from where they had been captured. There they were questioned individually; there was no violence. They remained there until eleven in the morning; Mr. Acosta was taken away in chains. He was put into a car, which drove off in the direction of San Salvador. At twelve o’clock they entered through the east gate of the central barracks of the National Police.

“When he got out of the vehicle, he was blindfolded; in addition to the manacles, his thumbs were tied with a cord, and he was kept standing until three in the afternoon, at which point they took him to a place where they took his picture, fingerprints and general background information. He was then taken to a storage room. He remained blindfolded and handcuffed until nine o’clock at night, when they came for him and took him to a room where, blindfolded and in chains, he was interrogated for the first time until three in the morning. He was not beaten; they merely threatened to kill if he did not cooperate and they placed a pistol in his mouth.

On Friday, may 13, at four in the afternoon, he was taken to the place where they had written up his record; there they blindfolded him, put him in shackles and tied his thumbs together. He was taken to a room, which turned out to be the same room to which he was taken on the eleventh. Although he could not see, he realized where he was because of certain objects that seemed familiar to him when he touched them. In this place he was beaten in various parts of the body with an object that appeared to be a yataghan; of course, no marks were left on his body. The cruelest torture was the electric shocks to the head, with wires attached to his ears; at the same time, with his bare feet in a pool of water, they tortured his feet with an electric rod; they did the same to his stomach. After one half-hour of interrogation, they made him drink a good amount of liquor. The torture lasted until around 8:30 p.m. The worse side effect of the torture was the bite marks on his tongue; when they became inflamed, he was unable to chew, so that he spent a number of days without eating the famous “yo-yo”, the only food that they give to prisoners, which is two small tortillas with mashed beans in the middle. Without knowing how he acquired it, he had a wound on the right ankle. He never received medical attention. He was not tortured again.

“He had to sign a release form which said that he had been taken to investigate his political activities, that all his personal belongings were returned to him and that he had not been mistreated in any way.

“What political activities did they have to investigate and why did they have to keep him incarcerated for 52 days? His political activities are a matter of public record: in 1972 he was elected deputy by the Department of Santa Ana; in 1974 he was again elected alternate deputy. On the date of his capture, he was Secretary General of the Partido Union Democrática Nacionalista (UND ‘ Nationalist Democratic Union Party). He had appeared on television a number of times. He made his political position known in the public square, in the Legislative Assembly, and in any other place, but always in the open. His political activities have been and are public so that the reason given by the National police that he had been taken ‘in order to investigate his political activities,’ cannot be accepted.”

8. Case 2901

“On Thursday, July 14, 1977, at 3:00 p.m., Rodolfo Antonio Barrera Villalta was taken on a public street, together with Alcides Acevedo Valladares, by three agents of the National Guard. From the time of their capture, the agents assaulted them with their fists; after having beaten them. They asked for their personal documents, even though they had them tied by the thumbs. The bonds left them with a scar and injured the thumb of Dr. Barrera.

“They were taken to the local barracks of the National Guard where the beatings continued until they bled from the mouth and the nose; this time they were beaten with rifle butt and with fists and kicks; their personal effects were taken from them, in other words, they were unabashedly robbed. From there they were thrown face down onto the floor of the bathroom where people urinate. While on the floor, their captors continued to beat them, they stepped on their fingers, which were tied. This way very painful and made them bleed. They were heavily guarded by six agents.

“When her husband was taken, Mrs. Barrera went to the headquarters to ask about her husband’s capture, but the agents denied that her husband was being held by that corps. She went to the National Police; they too denied that he was being held there. She then returned to the barracks of the National Guard at 8:00 p.m., and they again denied that her husband was being held. The two individuals in question were still at that command post.

“That night, they were taken to San Salvador, to the general headquarters of the National Guard; they arrived at around 10:00 p.m. They were left on the floor; when they were taken from the San Vicente headquarters, they were placed in double shackles and were blindfolded.

“At the general barracks of the National Guard, their feet were placed in shackles and they were handcuffed behind their back. For the first four hours they were given neither food nor water. They were beaten frequently by fist, foot, rifle butt and blunt objects. Their lives were continually threatened. On Sunday afternoon, Mr. Barrera came down with a fever, and lost all notion of time. He had problems with his lips due to a lack of water. Another day passed; by this time he did not know what day it was….

“That morning they were taken out to be interrogated. There the beatings continued with fists and feet. The authorities tried to force them to admit to their accusations; when the desired answers were not received, they were beaten harder on those parts of the body already injured which caused great pain. Added to this was the fact that they had not yet had anything to eat or drink, and they remained blindfolded. After the interrogation, they were given electric shocks. Mr. Barrera was then asked what day it was; he replied that he did not know because he had had a fever the day before and that he already spent a number of days without food or water, and that he had been beaten continuously for a number of days and had his eyes blindfolded day and night. That very afternoon they gave them two tortillas with some beans and a few swallows of water.

From that day forth, they were given a ration of two tortillas and few beans, but there were days when they were given food twice each day or one each day, and a little water from bottles. There were times when they were not taken to the bathroom. At those time they urinated in their pants. When they were taken to the bathroom they were handcuffed and blindfolded. They were given on minute to take car of their biological needs and they had to clean themselves with their hands in manacles.

“They were interrogated again… This time their captors were more aggressive; they were beaten over their entire body, especially the lower parts. They were also knocked in the stomach. The captors raised a pistol to Mr. Barrera and told him that they were going to kill him and put his body in a burlap sack and throw it into the Lempa River. They then told him that they were going to take him out of the country. They then beat him again, and in his bare feet and half naked the repeatedly used electric shock on him. The detainees continued to be held captive at the general barracks of the National Guard, under the same conditions: With their eyes blindfolded, shackles on their feet and hands, barefooted, and shirtless. At night they were not allowed to sleep; they suffered from cold, hunger and thirst. They were beaten sporadically and were not allowed to talk. At times Mr. Barrera took the risk of spying in order to learn where hey were being held; this he discovered that they were in a cell clock; that there were other political prisoners there with their eyes blindfolded who had been imprisoned for a longer period of time, given the length of their beards. The voice of a young woman, also blindfolded, was heard. His spying cost him a number of kicks in the stomach that caused him great pain. They hurt him and one agent told him that it was useless to spy because he was not going to get out of there alive.

“On the morning of Monday, July 25, he was separated from the rest. Mr. Barrera was ordered to get up and they again handcuffed his hands behind his back. He was told that a decision had been made to send him to the general headquarters of the National Police. When he stepped out of the cellblock onto the ground, they took off his blindfold. This was very painful to his eyes. The light from the sun caused his eyes to burn; in other words, having spent ten days with his eyes blindfolded, they already had been damaged, and this could leave him blind.

“The cells are small, with a damp floor, so that in order to sleep, sheets of newspapers are put on the floor. To cover oneself from the cold, the prisoners cover themselves with pieces of cardboard. There is no ventilation or a single ray of sun. The cells are never fumigated and they are infested with insects of every kind, dangerous to humans. They were given coffee twice, but it was coffee in name only, as it was merely water that was the color of coffee.

“They were kept incommunicado; friends, companions, members of the family could not visit them, because inquiries were answered by claiming that the individual was not being held in the general headquarters of the National Police. A criminal, thief or a common delinquent has more guaranties here; the authorities themselves will say the same thing, because they say that a political prisoner is their worse enemy. Being a prisoner where he was forced to undergo 30 days of punishment for an offense that he never committed. 12 days more with the National Guard for a total of 42 day in prison.”

9. Case 2839

“On October 19, 1977, María Imelda Rivera, 22 years old, and Lidia Rivera, 10 years old, from the canton Los Naranjos, appeared at the office of the Mayor of las Vueltas to request their birth certificates. There they were detained by agents of the National Guard in Las Vueltas, who after handcuffing them took them to the general headquarters of the National Guard in Las Vueltas, where they were stripped and raped savagely. The chief and tow other guards raped María Imelda Rivera and tow guards raped the 10 year old girl. After committing this crime, they threatened to cut off the girls’ breast with a knife.

“Both are sisters of Antonio Rivera Orellana, who was captured by the National Guard two days earlier.

C. The situation in prisons

The last part of paragraph three of Article XXV of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man stipulates that every individual “has the right to humane treatment…”

For its part, paragraph three of Article 168 of the Constitution of El Salvador reads as follows:

“The State shall organize the penitentiaries with the aim of reforming offenders, educating them, and teaching them industrious habits, looking toward their rehabilitation and the prevention of crime.”

Supplementary laws have organized the prison system in El Salvador in accordance with the constitutional precepts cited above.

During its on-site observation in El Salvador, the Special Committee had an opportunity to visit the following centers of detention:

1. Santa Ana Western Penitentiary

2. San Vicente Easter Penitentiary

3. The Good Shepherd Women’s Rehabilitation Center in San Salvador

4. National Guard, San Salvador

5. National Police, San Salvador

6. Treasury Police, San Salvador

In order to appreciate the conditions in these prisons and centers of detention, a distinction should be made between hose used to house political prisoners, including that accused of having committed acts of terrorism, and places used to confine common criminals.

The cells—called “bartolinas” in El Salvador—that the Special Committee observed at the Treasury Police, and especially at the National Guard—used at times for short periods of confinement and at other times for indefinite periods of confinement for political prisoners-- [2]/ are approximately one square meter in size and therefore do not allow an adult to lie down without bending the legs; the walls are totally covered with roaches. The cells do not have even the minimum in light and ventilation. These slave prisons, because of their size, absence of light and ventilation, and absence of even the most minimum hygienic condition and isolation constitute what is en fact inhumane treatment and are incompatible with the American Declaration.

On the other hand, while the centers of confinement and detention what the Special Committee visited at the Santa Ana and San Vicente penitentiaries and at the National Police headquarters are seriously deficient in some ways, their deficiencies cannot be attributed to cruel treatment on the part of Salvadorian authorities, but rather to El Salvador’s economic limitations. In effect, the Special Committee did not receive major complaints from the prisoners and detainees and witnessed willingness on the part of the authorities to help the prisoners with their problems and difficulties.

As for the Women’s Rehabilitation Center, the Special Committee was favorably impressed by the material and spiritual conditions that those confined therein enjoyed.

Finally, it should be pointed out that the Minister of Justice informed the Special Committee that within a short period of time, a modern prison would be established near the Capital, with better conditions for the prisoners.

D. Denunciation of Abuses and Atrocities in Rural Areas

A large percentage of the denunciations of violations of the right to humane treatment refer to excesses and atrocities committed by members of the National Guard and the Treasury Police in the rural sectors of El Salvador. Some claimants alleged that these actions are part of a plan to intimidate the rural inhabitants and interfere in the organization of labor movements in rural sectors of El Salvador.

As will be seen in Chapter V, many of the denunciations that refer to arbitrary arrests and absence of due process of law claimed political and labor motives related to the rural economic life. Correspondingly other chapters mention serious acts of violence committed against rural inhabitants and abuses of entire communities. Presented below are certain individual cases alleged to have occurred in the rural sectors.

1. Case 2844

“On September 25, 1977, the Treasury Police savagely tortured to death the agronomist Francisco Leiva, on the banks of the Chacalguaca River, in the Upatoro Canton of the Municipality of Chalatenango. They took him by surprise as he was on his way to lunch with his wife. His cadaver showed signs of torture and even castration.”

2. Case 2628

“On September 28, 1977, at 6:00 a.m., members of the National Guard came to the house of Justa Calderón, a widow. They raped her daughter Blanca Rivera. A chief ordered that she be put in handcuffs, dragged her form her home to the mountain where they took advantage of her.”

3. Case 2842

“ On October 17, 1977, in the Los Naranjos canton, members of the National Guard looted the humble store of Lidia Delgado, a very poor women whose business barely earned her enough for their family to survive. After sacking her store, the chief raped her while his accomplices and servants stood guard so that no one should come in.”

4. Case 2848

“On October 27-, 1977, four members of the National Guard in Las Vueltas, under the command of Héctor Lorenzana Olmos, came to the home of farmer Teófilo Calderón and proceeded to chop up his furnishings. They smashed the bed and hammock. They then raped Lucia Calderón and looted a number of homes.”

5. Case 2831

“On November 3, 1977, a group of army cadets from Ocicala came to inspect that sector. When they began to inspect passengers on a bus, one individual shot at the sergeant. The sergeant shot back and killed the man. The National Guard stated that the deceased had been a guerrilla. Even though he had never been seen in the town, as a result of this incident they army occupied the won with heavily armed troops, early that night. A house-to-house search was conducted, looking for arms, Bibles and subversive propaganda. They first occupied the Church, and interrupted a religious service. The parish priest Father Miguel Ventura and two catechists, Raymundo and Porfirio Argueta, and the sacristan, Augusto Lobos, were arrested.

“They tied Father Ventura’s hands to his shoulders and hung him by his shoulders. In that position, they beat him on the face and stomach as they interrogated him. They tried to make him confess that he was with the guerrillas. During the interrogation, members of the Guard accused the Archbishop of San Salvador, Monsignor Romero, and the Jesuits of being Communists, of being in league with the guerrillas, and of having brought Marxism to El Salvador. They said repeatedly that they w4ere going to kill Father Rutilio Sánchez, the parish priest of San Martin (a town 20 kilometer from San Salvador). They hit the sacristan and the catechists and they burned their feet during the interrogation.”

6. Case 2834

“On November 9, 1977, four Treasury Policemen arrested Justo Mejía. They immediately began to beat him and placed him in a truck belonging to Enrique Cargoza, a Government collaborator and resident of Ocotal canton. They took Justo Mejía in the direction of San Fernando. Halfway there, they took him from the truck and began to beat him savagely. His body was found in a ravine, with the arms and legs broken, the eyes out and the head separated from the body. This incident took place in the Department of Chalatenango.”




[1] American Convention on Human Rights

Article 5. The Right to Humane Treatment

1. Every person has the right to have his physical, mental, and moral integrity respected.

2. No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment or treatment. All persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person.

3. Punishment shall not be extended to any person other than the criminal.

1. Punishment consisting of deprivation of liberty shall have as an essential aims the reform and social readaptation of the prisoners.

[2] The expression “political prisoners” is used in this report to refer to individuals deprived of freedom under an accusation of having violated the internal laws on state security and other similar precepts. These individuals generally are detained without any written order issued by a competent authority and are denied due process of law.


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