The unjust closure of Tutela Legal

(dale clíc aquí para leer en español)

Monday morning, when the employees of Tutela Legal got to work, they found private security officers blocking the entrance to the offices where they have worked for years, maintaining and updating archives of human rights violations since before the war and working for the promotion of human rights here in El Salvador. Tutela Legal is located in the offices of the Archbishop in San Salvador and was abruptly and mysteriously shut down by Archbishop José Luis Escobar Alas, who claimed that the institution – which was born with Monseñor Romero’s support as “Socorro Jurídico,” carried forwad valiantly by María Julia Hernández, and legalized under Monseñor Rivera y Damas in the eighties – “no longer has a reason to exist.” Tutela Legal safeguards close to fifty thousand written, audio, and visual archives of human rights violations in El Salvador, many of which were used by the UN Truth Commission in their assessment of the Salvadoran civil war, including Rufina Amaya’s testimony of the massacre at El Mozote.

In response to the shutdown, both President Mauricio Funes and the UN Ombudsman for Human Rights David Morales have expressed concern over the message that the archbishop is sending as well as the fate of many documents and archives that are housed in the offices. Civil society organizations, communities and individuals, as well as international human rights institutions have also expressed surprise and indignation over the archbishop’s decision, and this morning held a press conference outside of the archdiocesan office, denouncing the shutdown and calling for the reopening of Tutela Legal.

Press conference outside the offices of the Archdiocese on Friday morning.

Press conference outside the offices of the Archdiocese on Friday morning.

During the press conference, representatives of different human rights organizations read an official statement from national human rights organizations and communities (read: Pronunciamiento Pública TL, a letter from civil society to the papal nuncio (read: Carta al Nuncio), and a statement from international solidarity and human rights organizations. Among the many signers of these documents are FUNDAHMER, SICSAL, the Christian Base Communities of El Salvador (CEBES), as well as individual CEBs who were present at the conference (San Antonio Abad, Jardines de Cólon, and the network in La Libertad).

We are looking for more communities, organizations, and entities to sign onto the international letter of solidarity to show our indignation over the closing of Tutela Legal, our concern for the archives in its care, and, most importantly, our solidarity with the victims of past and present human rights violations in El Salvador. You can read the document here (FINAL International Solidarity Tutela Legal ENGLISH), and please email us by Tuesday at the very latest at cebes@fundahmer.org.sv if your community, group, school, or organiztion would like to sign on.

Statements have also been released by SICSAL and by the CEBES, which can be viewed here: SICSAL ANTE CIERRE TUTELA LEGAL and here: Comunicado CEB´s ante Decisión de cierre de Tutela Legal. A letter from a longtime volunteer in El Salvador who worked on recovering data in El Mozote can be read here: Carta Daniel Ferguson.

On the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, it is hard to ignore the inconsistency between, on one hand, Pope Francis’ call for an open, decentralized church that stands concretely with the poor and, on the other, the totalitarian authority exercised by the archbishop in the unjustly managed closure of this institution that for so long has been a space within the Church where the victims of massacres, war crimes, environmental injustices, and violence have found support and solidarity.

For more information on this story in English, please see articles from earlier this week from SHARE El Salvador, CISPES, and the Council for Hemishperic Affairs. On Sunday, there will be a presence at the national cathedral during Mass to express indignation and call for the reopening of Tutela Legal.

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