Killings of civilians and other rights violations by all sides in El Salvador’s civil war have increased dramatically this year, a New York-based human rights monitoring group reported today. According to a statement from Americas Watch, which maintains an office here, if the pace set so far in 1988 continues, “the toll of death squad killings will more than double this year. Civilian deaths from mines and explosives will nearly double. Killings attributed to government forces (chiefly the army) are up more than 44% from the rate of last year. Guerrilla executions are rising by 74%.”
In 1987, according to statistics compiled by Tutela Legal, the human rights office of the Roman Catholic Church, and other agencies, 156 civilians were killed by government forces, right-wing death squads and the rebel’s umbrella organization, the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front.
Of that total, 96 deaths were attributed to the government and the death squads and the rest largely to the Marxist-led rebels.
The Americas Watch report said that the six-month figures for 1988 indicate that the government and the death squads killed 91 civilians, while the Farabundo Marti Front was responsible for the deaths of 27 noncombatants. Another 40 people reportedly died from land mines and other explosions, most of them planted or set off by the guerrillas.
Although the report extends only to July, statistics from Tutela Legal, the American Embassy here and other sources show that at least six more civilians have died at the hands of the rebels, while government forces are blamed for killing at least 12.
This means, the Americas Watch report said, that “violent abuses by the army, death squads and the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front have intensified so dramatically . . . that many observers, ranging from the Catholic Church to the government’s own human rights commission, see a return to the terror of the early 1980s.”
This was a reference to a time when as many as 600 civilians a month were killed, largely by the military and death squads, which were either tolerated or operated by the government. Although the number of civilian victims has substantially subsided since 1984, the total number of fatalities in the eight-year civil war amounts to at least 65,000, according to human rights groups’ estimates.
Americas Watch, which has been criticized by the U.S. Embassy here as lacking balance, said it is calling “on the (guerrilla front) to end its practice of executing alleged informers or suspected army collaborators. These executions are tantamount to homicide as the (front) has not established an impartial tribunal which meets the standards of due process.”
And while the group said it had noted the reduction of killings, “we have been hesitant to congratulate Salvadoran authorities and paramilitary groups for killing fewer people.
“Instead we have consistently urged that the government make the trend stick by applying the sanctions provided by law to those who violate human rights. That has not happened. To date, no Salvadoran officer, nor any death squad member, has been prosecuted and criminally punished for a human rights violation. . . .”
The U.S. government, which provides nearly $85 million in aid annually to Salvador, was strongly criticized in the report for not using its leverage to force Salvadoran officials to end rights abuses.