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News > El Salvador

El Salvador is Responsible for Patricia Cuellar's Disappearance

  • Salvadoran human rights defender Patricia Cuellar (L).

    Salvadoran human rights defender Patricia Cuellar (L). | Photo: X/ @elsalvadorcom

Published 16 May 2024

The human rights defender disappeared when she went to drop off her children at a nursery.

On Thursday, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) condemned El Salvador for the forced disappearance of Patricia Cuellar, Mauricio Cuellar, and Julia Perez, which occurred in 1982 in a context of state persecution against groups considered subversive.


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"The Court considers that the State is responsible for the abduction and subsequent forced disappearance of Patricia Cuellar, Mauricio Cuellar, and Julia Perez, without any news of their whereabouts to this date," the IACHR ruling indicates.

On July 28, 1982, Patricia Cuellar, an active collaborator of Christian movements, disappeared when she went to drop off her children at a nursery. On the same day, her father Mauricio and her domestic employee, Julia, were violently taken from their home.

"One day before her disappearance, Mrs. Cuellar went to the Office of Legal Aid to report persecution by security forces dressed in civilian clothes while she was driving her vehicle through the streets of San Salvador," the IACHR text states.

"The threats she had previously received caused Mrs. Cuellar to resign from her position at the Christian Legal Aid Office two years before her disappearance," it added.

The IACHR established that Cuellar was a victim of "threats and harassment that culminated in her disappearance, without the State fulfilling its obligation to create the necessary conditions for the effective enjoyment of rights."

The Salvadoran state violated Cuellar's right to freedom of expression and association by hindering her work of promotion, defense, and denunciation in the field of human rights.

The judges also determined that the State violated its obligation to conduct a serious, coordinated, and systematic search for the victims with due diligence. It also violated the right to know the truth, the right to personal integrity, and the right to family protection.

Previously, the Salvadoran state partially acknowledged its responsibility and ordered some reparations. Nevertheless, the IACHR ordered authorities to continue investigations to detect and punish all authors. They must also search for the remains of the missing persons.

The Salvadoran state must hold a public act acknowledging its responsibility, pay compensation to the victims' families, and adopt measures to ensure the permanence of commissions for searching missing persons.

The IACHR also ordered the Salvadoran state to incorporate into the curriculum of secondary and higher education institutions a permanent education program on serious human rights violations, war crimes, and crimes against humanity committed during the civil war.

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