Unfinished Sentences: History, Memory and Justice in El Salvador

  • Memorial Wall, El Salvador - Human Rights, History and Justice
  • El Salvador Wall Art
Today, democratic governance in El Salvador is threatened by crises of crime and violence, driven by the longstanding problems of poverty and social exclusion but rendered a potent threat to governability by the widespread perception that the institutions of justice are inoperable. In a sad commentary on the dividends of purported peace, many Salvadorans report that things are worse today than they were during the 12-year civil war that claimed over 75,000 lives.

Despite the signing of peace accords that called for fundamental social and political reforms, no systematic reform of the justice sector has been undertaken, and those in power continue to enjoy the ability to intercede in justice proceedings in the interests of preserving their impunity. There has been no justice for the victims of crimes against humanity committed in the context of the Salvadoran civil war, nor any extensive investigation to establish truth or accountability in such cases. In this sense, the country’s fragile democracy is built on an untenable silence; until Salvadoran society addresses the systematic violations of human rights that rent asunder the social fabric for so many years, the country’s justice system will remain unable to confront the crimes of the past or present.

Now is a pivotal moment for a concerted push for truth, justice, and reparations in El Salvador, involving strategic coordination between Salvadoran victims’ organizations and international actors. The CHR, in collaboration with the Instituto de Derechos Humanos at the Universidad Centroamericana (IDHUCA), is developing a project to apply important international justice precedents to the Salvadoran context, through the concerted application of national and international pressures for justice and a strengthening of grassroots movements within the country.

During the Salvadoran armed conflict, thousands of children were separated from their families during military invasions or other large-scale operations. Many were eventually given to adoptive families — in El Salvador and internationally — who often had no idea that their birth families had never willingly surrendered the child. Decades later, many survivors are still searching for the children that were taken from them. Since 1994, Asociación Pro-Búsqueda has dedicated itself to the task of helping reunite families separated by the forced disappearance of children.

Research suggests that over 3000 Salvadoran children were adopted into the United States during the war. From El Salvador, however, it’s often hard to locate those former adoptees, who are now young American adults. That’s where the current partnership with the UW Center for Human Rights comes in. In 2015, a team of students will travel to El Salvador to research specific cases and design a communications effort, producing two short videos to be circulated on social media to help Pro-Búsqueda locate missing children. In this way, we hope to help address the wounds of war.

Meet some of the key players and students through this video.

Videos & Articles

Watch Seeking truth, justice and reparations in El Salvador

Watch Unfinished Sentences: Justice

Watch The Yellow Book: a secret document of the Army of El Salvador

Watch Taken by Force, United by Hope

Visit unfinishedsentences.org

We have launched an online platform to inform a broader public about the latest developments in El Salvador and provide tools for action in support of justice. Visit us online at unfinishedsentences.org

Contribute to this project

To give online visit giving.uw.edu/elsalvador.  You can also donate using checks, please make checks payable to “University of Washington Foundation” (with “El Salvador Project” on memo line).

Send donations or inquiries to:
Center for Human Rights
Box 353650
Seattle, Washington 98195
uwchr@uw.edu / 206.685.3435

Thank you for supporting the El Salvador Project. Your donations are tax deductible.

Voices from the Rwanda Tribunal Perspectives on Implementing International Justice

In September of 2008, under the auspices of the Information School at the University of Washington, a team of information scientists, legal experts, and cinematographers set out to record the voices of those who were part of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in Arusha, Tanzania. The Tribunal personnel hold unique insight into the challenges of attempting to achieve justice and reconciliation in response to the horrors of genocide.

The Collection

The Tribunal Voices team conducted 49 video interviews with the judges, prosecutors, defense counsel, interpreters, court administrators, investigators, and many others associated with the ICTR on location in Tanzania and Rwanda. Reflections touch on many issues including transitional justice, violence against women, court administration, and interactions with witnesses.

These 49 interviews are the first step in creating a multi-lifespan digital collection that will be open and accessible to the world. Representative clips are currently available on our website, and all videos will be offered in a variety of formats under a Creative Commons license over the coming months and years, as we acquire the resources to translate, subtitle, and tag them to support access. As the videos become available, we encourage anyone to make the clips their own by appropriating the videos into new works.

Appropriation and Reuse

We envision educators, documentary filmmakers, legal scholars, human rights activists, artists, playwrights, historians and many others using the videos for their own projects and purposes.

Two access and reuse projects with Rwandan organizations have already taken place and are ongoing. In the summer of 2009, members of the Tribunal Voices team traveled to Rwanda to conduct a documentary film workshop for high school students, in collaboration with the youth organization Never Again Rwanda. Selected Tribunal Voices videos were used as the basis for discussion and brainstorming in the film development process.

Tribunal Voices materials were also used by the Congo Initiative for Sustainable Development, the NGO MAODE, and its partner organization in Rwanda, Hope After Rape, during a conference held in Eastern Congo. The conference aimed at raising awareness among victims of sexual violence about subjects relating to human rights and justice after violent conflict. Tribunal Voices video clips on these topics were shared with conference participants to stimulate dialogue.

Get Involved

Human rights educators, law professors, and others… We are interested in supporting the use of the Tribunal Voices materials in all aspects of human rights and law education and training. If you have an idea you’d like to discuss, please contact us at tribunal@uw.edu

Learn More

To read more about the project, watch selected videos, and download clips for your own purposes, please visit www.tribunalvoices.org.

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