The following document was given to me in San Salvador, in the dusty yard behind the offices of the Archdiocese. There are a few shade trees in the yard, a couple of wooden benches, and a green corrugated tin shack, the headquarters of the Commission of Human Rights of El Salvador. The shack is filled with shelves of box files, odd-lot tables for desks, chairs, an old typewriter, an old mimeograph machine and people. Wherever power resides in San Salvador, it is protected by armed guards, high walls and steel doors. This place is open; nobody is afraid to talk; the air is different. In that diseased city, the yard and the shack are beautiful.

The Commission of Human Rights is a company of volunteers determined to record for the world, if the world will listen, ceaseless violations of human rights by Salvadoran Security Forces. The volunteers are young, probably not long ago students at the university which is now closed, looted and occupied by soldiers. They are a band of heroes, nothing less, and their life expectancy is uncertain. Human rights in El Salvador are reduced to one: the right to live. Two people, who originally set up the commission, are dead in their thirties: a woman lawyer, assassinated, which means her body was found; a gifted doctor, universally loved, disappeared, which means his body will never be found. Everyone working for the commission is marked. The witnesses themselves are in danger; it is ‘subversive’ to testify to the crimes of the state. The Security Forces can do what they like to anyone they choose: none of them has ever been punished for kidnapping, torture and murder. They are invulnerable against the defenceless.

In 1982, the Human Rights Commission recorded the fate of 6,952 Salvadorans, men, women, boys, girls, who were seized (capturados), disappeared or assassinated. Torture is not recorded as a separate violation of human rights because it is automatic. The Security Forces and the Death Squads, their unofficial colleagues, do not even kill cleanly with a bullet as proved by the mutilated bodies found at random anywhere in El Salvador. Of 6,952 human beings, only 325 survived to be sent, after torture, to the political prisons.


Outside the Whale
Mystery without End