On February 12 Dr Ralph Sprenkels (History of International Relations) was officially sworn in as an expert witness in El Salvador. After El Salvador’s amnesty law was abolished in 2016, many eyes have been on the progress of the trial on El Salvador’s worst war crime: the El Mozote massacre.
In December of 1981, a US-trained elite battalion of the Salvadoran army occupied the villages of El Mozote proceeded to systematically exterminated all inhabitants, including hundreds of children. With over one thousand victims, the El Mozote massacre was not only the worst war crime that occurred in the context of El Salvador’s civil war, but also the largest single-event atrocity against civilians to occur in the Western hemisphere in the 20th century.
El Mozote trial
For many years, the amnesty law installed during El Salvador’s peace process made it impossible to bring the perpetrators to justice. When El Salvador’s Supreme Court annulled the amnesty law, survivors from El Mozote mobilized to reactivate the court case. Many deem this case crucial to end impunity for El Salvador’s war criminals and boost the credibility of the justice system in the country. Given the scope and notoriety of the case, the El Mozote trial and its outcomes is likely to help set standards and expectations for other human rights trials in El Salvador and across Latin America.
As part of the proceedings judge Guzmán Urquilla has requested expert testimony on the context in which the massacre occurred, examining the causes, strategies, and impacts of the widespread political violence that unfolded in El Salvador during the 1980s. Dr. Sprenkels was appointed for this task on account of his extensive track record in research on El Salvador’s armed conflict. He has been granted until the beginning of May 2019 to present his expert report, the first of its kind in El Salvador. The report will not only provide a contribution to the judicial interpretation of the El Mozote case in its historical context; it will also be of relevance to the interpretation of many other war crimes that occurred in similar contexts.
Ralph Sprenkels is a historian, and also connected to Institutions for Open Societies - an interdisciplinary research area of Utrecht University focused on the development and expansion of healthy open societies everywhere.