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House Passes McGovern Amendment To Push For Justice in El Mozote Massacre

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Washington, July 29, 2020 | comments
WASHINGTON – The House of Representatives has passed, as part of the FY2021 National Defense Authorization Act, an amendment which requires the release of Department of Defense documents related to the 1981 El Mozote massacre to judicial authorities in El Salvador. The amendment was introduced by Jim McGovern (D-MA), who serves as Chairman of the House Rules Committee and Co-Chairman of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, as well as Eliot Engel, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

McGovern has been a longtime advocate for human rights in El Salvador, visiting the country several times with human rights organization and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi last year in an effort to encourage peace after years of disastrous U.S. military intervention helped to fuel the flames of a brutal civil war that left thousands of Salvadorans dead.

“Holding accountable those who ordered, commanded and carried out this massacre would be a powerful act in breaking the dominant culture of impunity in El Salvador that protects from any consequence, judicial or otherwise, those who perpetrate violent human rights crimes against Salvadoran civilians,” McGovern said in remarks submitted into the Congressional Record.

Last year, Congress charged the State Department with coordinating a government-wide search among all Federal agencies to identify and release to Salvadoran judicial authorities, including the presiding judge in the El Mozote trial, any and all documents and materials relevant to the period surrounding the time of the massacre. McGovern’s amendment requires the United States Department of Defense to do its part and provide these documents to Salvadoran judicial authorities, including the presiding judge in the El Mozote trial.

Full Text of Amendment Here (PDF)

McGovern’s full remarks in support of the amendment are below:

M. Speaker, I rise in strong support of Amendment # 376 offered by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (NY) and myself.  I want to thank Armed Services Chairman Adam Smith (WA) and Ranking Member Mac Thornberry (TX) for including this amendment in En Bloc Amendment #2. 

M. Speaker, 39 years ago, in December 1981, the worst massacre in modern Latin American history took place in a remote village in El Salvador and surrounding communities.

Known as the El Mozote massacre, it’s estimated that between 800-to-1200 men, women and children were killed by units of the Salvadoran military.

I’m sorry to say that some of the units participating in the massacre, in particular the Atlacatl Battalion, were created, trained and equipped by the United States. 

I’ve had the privilege to visit the community of El Mozote.  I’ve talked to survivors of the massacre and to relatives whose family members were victims of the massacre. I’ve seen the names of those killed on the memorial walls of the church and community square.

A garden is planted to remember the over 140 children who were murdered.  The average age is six. But many were so young that their age is noted as “zero” because they were only infants. It is so very difficult, M. Speaker, for any of us to contemplate any soldier being ordered to murder infants and then being forced to carry out that order.

Over the past two years, a trial has been underway in El Salvador to investigate the El Mozote massacre and hold accountable those responsible.  The presiding judge has asked the United States for any and all relevant documents we might have in various agency files. 

M. Speaker, this is a very important trial. It is among a handful of cases deemed by the Salvadoran Attorney General’s Office as cases of historical significance.  Holding accountable those who ordered, commanded and carried out this massacre would be a powerful act in breaking the dominant culture of impunity in El Salvador that protects from any consequence, judicial or otherwise, those who perpetrate violent human rights crimes against Salvadoran civilians.

Last year, Congress charged the State Department with coordinating a government-wide search among all Federal agencies to identify and release to Salvadoran judicial authorities, including the presiding judge in the El Mozote trial, any and all documents and materials relevant to the period surrounding the time of the massacre.

The McGovern-Engel amendment offered today simply requires the Defense Department to do its part and provide these documents to the Salvadoran judicial authorities.

I hope we can count on everyone’s support for this amendment.  I urge my colleagues to vote for this amendment and for En Bloc #2 in which it is included.
 
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