Archbishop Announces Tutela Legal Replacement Plan, Government Moves to Protect Archives

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In an apparent effort to quell the sharp public outcry following its September 30 closure of the historic human rights office Tutela Legal, the Archdiocese of San Salvador has convened a commission of high-ranking church officials to open a new office with a seemingly identical mission. Victims and their allies, who until last month had been working with Tutela Legal and its staff for years, have roundly rejected this move, and are seeking state action to protect the office’s archives. “Following a wide consultation, we have created the Special Commission… This commission will promote the creation of the organization that will attend to the defense of the rights of both victims of the armed conflict and current cases of human rights violations,” said Archbishop Escobar Alas on Sunday, October 13. At the same time, the Secretary of Culture of the Presidency issued a resolution on Monday, October 14, to initiate the designation of Tutela Legal’s vast archives as “cultural good,” a legal designation under the Special Law for the Protection of the Cultural Patrimony of El Salvador. Survivors and allied organizations had been calling for this measure as a possible means to ensure the archives’ integrity and safe keeping following Tutela Legal’s shutdown, which many saw as a response to the recent Supreme Court decision to hear a suit challenging the controversial 1993 Amnesty Law that has prevented the prosecution of many notorious human rights cases from the civil war documented by Tutela Legal. Fears for the archives have grown as, despite the Human Rights Ombudsman mandate for the archives’ immediate inspection, the Archbishop has blocked any and all access to the documents since September 30. In a statement published Monday by a coalition of survivors and human rights groups, the survivors expressed their mistrust of the Archbishop’s actions, declaring: “We have worked for years hand in hand with the Tutela Legal personnel…we have built a relationship of trust, we have no complaints with respect to the technical handling of our cases. On the contrary, we can attest to their constant high level of commitment. On the other hand, we have also felt the small interest and little importance that the current archbishop has given this work.” They call upon the archbishop and his commission to turn over the documentation of their cases the rest of the archives to the Human Rights Ombudsman immediately, insisting that “the Archdiocese has no right to appropriate this information or give it to any other organization without our consent.”

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