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Handa Center brings El Salvadoran human rights lawyer to campus

Mar 6 2019

Posted In:

Events, Rule of Law and Accountability

by Isabel Vasquez, Handa Center student assistant

David Morales, director of Strategic Litigation for Cristosal, a NGO working to advance human rights in Central America, spoke to a Stanford audience about his work on the El Mozote case in El Salvador. El Mozote was the site of the largest massacre of civilians during the country’s civil war, where almost a thousand people, the majority of which were children, were murdered in 1981 by military forces.

Considering the case “very emblematic” of the state of justice in El Salvador, Morales described the impediments which have stalled progress since the case originally opened in 1991. Principal among these impediments was an amnesty law put in place following the civil war. Though the law was eventually struck down as unconstitutional in 2016, Morales spoke of remaining obstacles to the case’s progress.

In spite of mentioning the strong forensic evidence and witness testimony supporting the case, Morales spoke of the difficulties in establishing clear proof of guilt of those in the military high command. Rather than focusing on the soldiers who physically carried out the crime, the defendants are seeking to bring to justice the “intellectual authors” responsible for planning and coordinating the massacre. However, many “patrons of impunity” still hold power within El Salvador and are refusing to collaborate with the trial. They continue to deny the existence of potentially incriminating military documents.

Speaking of the implications of establishing the responsibility of the high command, Morales explained that El Mozote was “not an isolated case,” but rather the product of a policy of massive killings of civilians. Progress in this case could therefore be a critical development in breaking through the “judicial inertia” that has hampered the pursuit of justice for other civil war crimes.

Looking forward, Morales spoke of the need to sensitize people to the issue, emphasizing the impact of “solidarity” from groups within the United States.


This event was co-sponsored by Stanford’s Center for Latin American Studies.