Right-wing death squads have abducted, tortured and executed hundreds of Salvadorans in the last 18 months in an escalation of their clandestine activity, Amnesty International said Tuesday.
In a report, the London-based human rights organization said the killings were carried out by plainclothes gunmen and by uniformed police and military units with the apparent acquiescence of the state.
“The failure of the Salvadoran authorities to bring a single high-ranking official to justice for crimes committed in the name of the death squads is probably the most compelling evidence of official responsibility for these actions,” it said.
However, the government says the killings are done by independent extremist groups that it is unable to control.
The Amnesty International report was based on testimony from families of victims, witnesses, former death squad members and a few survivors left for dead by their would-be executors.
“Killings by these squads are now the most alarming aspect of the human rights situation in the country. . . . Victims are customarily found mutilated, decapitated, dismembered, strangled or showing marks of torture or rape,” it said.
The actions are allegedly designed to intimidate those suspected of sympathy with left-wing, anti-government guerrillas. Victims include trade unionists, human rights workers, judges and jurors working on human rights abuse cases, teachers and students, Amnesty International said.
Church and human rights groups in El Salvador estimate that about a dozen bodies bearing the marks of death-squad torture and execution were turning up every month on roadsides and in dumps during 1987. In the first three months of 1988, there were roughly as many murders and “disappearances” reported as in all of 1987, according to the report.
The report said the resurgence of the death squads could be partly traced to an amnesty granted in 1987 under a Central American peace accord, which freed 400 political prisoners but also appeared to have shielded human rights violators from prosecution.
The report also cited the growing opposition by the military high command to the policies of President Jose Napoleon Duarte, particularly his recent talks with civilians representing leftist guerrillas.