Salvador 'human rights congress' finds mixed rights record this year
Most of the Salvadoreans who attended a congress on human rights here did not leave the Alameda hotel, the conference site. Many shared rooms ''for protection'' with North Americans attending the congress.
Such actions reveal the concern that even discussing human rights can raise. Nonetheless, several human-rights organizations say that the recent meeting on human rights in El Salvador is a watershed for this country.
The ''first human rights congress,'' which was held over the past several days, ''could not have taken place any other time in the last five years,'' says a member of the Commission for Human Rights, a private group.
''We are taking advantage of the talk about democracy since the elections here,'' says commission member Secun- dino Ramirez, who has returned after six years as a refugee abroad.
The data emerging from the meetings indicates that some rights progress has occurred this year since the Salvadorean government held elections in March and inaugurated a civilian president. But the group emphasized that in its view there has not been as much progress as the Salvadorean and United States governments claim.
The congress, attended by some 500 Salvadoreans and US citizens active in church and human-rights work, concluded there are fewer death-squad attacks in the capital, San Salvador. But it said Salvadorean military bombings over civilian areas in northern provinces, which have increased this year, constitute a newer form of rights violations here.
Congress members strongly criticized the bombing and drew particular attention to attacks near the Guazapa Volcano in Cuscatlan Province. The sound of 500-pound bombs occasionally can be heard from here in the capital. Conference members also pointed to bomb attacks in Chal- atenango, Morazan, and Usulutan provinces. These areas are considered to be under the Salvadorean rebel control, but congress members charge the bombs are being dropped indiscriminately, forcing civilians to flee their towns and farms.
Some conference members allege civilians are being terrorized in an effort to ''clean out'' guerrilla zones. The Roman Catholic Church's human-rights office, Tutela Legal, says it has documented cases in which peasants fleeing these areas have been killed by Army infantry.
The group finds a ''new form'' of rights violations in two alleged incidents - one in August, another in early October - in which the military carried civilians away at gunpoint from their towns by helicopter. Up to 120 persons have been ferried out of guerrilla-held zones in this way, the group said.
Death-squad killings have dropped in San Salvador but such murders and harassment continue in other parts of the country, Tutula Legal's director, Maria Julia Hernandez, told the conference members. Intense fear of death squads continues, she says. She noted that ''not a single legal judgment'' has been rendered on such cases, although she says thousands of such murders have been documented.
The congress also expressed concern about the 500,000-odd persons displaced by the war. Most of these people live in urban slums, but many live in badly overcrowded camps and depend almost completely on international and government organizations for food, clothing, and shelter. The number of such camps is rising, conference members said.