The El Mozote Massacres
El Salvador

In the early morning of December 10, 1981, the Salvadoran military bombarded El Mozote, a small town in the Morozán department of El Salvador. Days before the events took place, radio transmissions and voicemails had been sent to the residents of El Mozote announcing that all in the area would be killed. The only way they could escape death, according to the messages, was if they were to lock themselves up in their homes. This way, the military assured the localization and accessibility of the population of El Mozote.

Carried out by the Immediate Response Infantry Battalion of Atlacatl, also known as the “BIRI Atlacatl,” along with forces of the Third Infantry Brigade of San Miguel, the Command Center of San Francisco Gotera and the help of air forces, the operation was called “Operation Rescue” or “Anvil and Hammer.” Between one thousand and two thousand troops were deployed in search of an alleged training camp belonging to the counter-insurgency.

The operation was extended throughout varying localities of northeastern El Salvador between December 10th and 13th. The soldiers began the operation in the small villages of El Mozote. They burned houses and animals, separated the women and children from the men and executed them. About one thousand people were massacred, with almost half of the victims being minors. To this day, the El Mozote Massacres mark the largest massacre to occur in Latin America. After the massacre, the troops returned to their headquarters to inform their superiors of the operation’s “success,” which had been headed by Col. Domingo Monterrosa, Commander in Chief of the Atlacatl Battalion at the time. Meanwhile, the survivors of the massacre fled toward the hills and later returned to bury their loved ones. Many of those survivors migrated either within the country to different regions or to Honduras in order to escape any possible future attacks.

In 1993, El Salvador passed a Law of General Amnesty for the Consolidation of Peace, in a such a way that, to this day, none of the facts that have been presented from the El Mozote massacre have been investigated, and furthermore, not one person has been tried for the grave crimes committed. The case entered the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on March 8, 2011, after the Inter-American Commission (IACHR) accredited the responsibility of the attacks to the State of El Salvador for numerous human rights violations.

Case Impacts

  • El Mozote was the largest mass-murder case presented at the Inter-American Court. Its investigation required ardent work and collaboration between national organizations to gather historical records, forensic evidence and nformation to document the case.
  • The Massacre (and the massacres that happened in the outskirts of the town), constitute an emblematic case exemplifying the atrocious attacks that the civilian population faced at the hands of the military.
  • The sentence made by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights rejected El Salvador’s Amnesty Law, and it signaled that this law could not be an obstacle to the investigation of the events of the case or to the sanctions against those responsible for them.
  • -Due to the magnitude of these events and the difficulties in identifying all of the victims, the Court ordered the creation of a Registry of Victims so that others who had been victims of these events could eventually accredit their status as victims and benefit from the dictated reparations.
  • The dictated reparations include measures to improve the condition of life of those from the affected communities, among these conditions, to improve lines of communication, guarantee access to electricity and water, the establishment of a health center, the construction of a school and the construction of a senior center.