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El Salvador, the smallest country in Central America, experienced a civil war between 1979-1992. The Farabundo Marti for National Liberation Front (FMLN) led opposition forces in a struggle waged at the political and military arena. Peace Accords signed in 1992 ended the war but an amnesty provision was included that gave immunity to all war criminals without requiring confession or penalties.
Los Desaparecidos are just one segment of the approximately 75,000 deaths during the Salvadoran civil war. Many children lost their parents during the civil war as a result of torture, assassination or combat, and many of these families were able to confirm the death of their relative. What sets the children of the Disappeared apart is that they were never able to find their lost loved ones. Their parents were vanished; they were erased.
El Salvador recently elected the first president who is a former leader of the FMLN. President Salvador Sánchez Cerén pledged in his inaugural speech to resolve the issue of the Disappeared during his administration. During his first month in office, the President gave unprecedented steps including the announcement of the formation of the governmental Council of Directors for the Program on Reparations for Victims of the Armed Conflict. He also appointed the first in history governmental Human Rights Ombudsman.
These recent events in El Salvador signal the opening of new spaces for democratic advancement on controversial topics such as the forced disappearances that took place during the war. Post-war generations have received little to no education about the roots and consequences of the war for Salvadoran society. At the same time, right wing leaders and military officers who led the government military forces during the civil war have jointly launched a propaganda campaign to misinform about their responsibility in war atrocities.
The time to launch the “Our Parents’ Bones” campaign is now. It is time to demand the truth behind the disappearances during the war, deploy resources to find their remains and hold sacred burials for the closure of a long-open wound in the hearts of thousands of Salvadoran families and the country as a whole. The misinformation of those responsible for war crimes to change the narrative of human rights atrocities demands our response. We must contribute to the ongoing work by the human rights community in El Salvador to build a strong historical memory of a war that wreaked havoc upon the rights, hopes, and lives of millions of Salvadorans—because those atrocities should not happen ever again.
Twenty-one years after the end of the war, we, the children of the Disappeared now declare: “The time to find our parents’ remains has come. The time to give our parents sacred burials has come. The time has come for healing of our wounds and bringing closure of this tragic time in the lives of our families.” More than two decades since the conclusion of the Salvadoran war, the children of the Disappeared now affirm: “We have the right to know: where are our parents’ bones?”