A judge has reopened the investigation of perhaps the most ghastly and notorious crime of the Cold War, the 1981 massacre of as many as 1,200 Salvadoran villagers in the northeastern town of El Mozote.
A lawyer involved in the case said Saturday that Judge Jorge Alberto Guzman's decision was made possible after a Salvadoran appeals court in July ruled that a long-standing amnesty shield law was unconstitutional.
El Mozote became a synonym for the United States' government's atrocities in a brutal campaign to stave off communism in Latin America and the rest of the developing world. The slaughter was carried out by an elite army unit trained at the U.S. School of the Americas. Most of the victims were women and children, all were civilians.
The decision by to reopen the matter marks the first time such a case has been allowed since the country's amnesty law was declared unconstitutional.
"The reopening of the case is an open door to seek justice that has been denied for so many years to victims of crimes against humanity in El Salvador," lawyer Ovidio Gonzalez told Reuters.
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The reopening of the case follows formal complaints by local human rights groups and victims families seeking justice for those killed in El Mozote.
Those lobbying to reopen the investigation seek a truthful accounting of what happened and the facts surrounding who ordered the massacre, Gonzalez said. They are not seeking punishments such as jail terms, he added, but want those responsible to admit their roles and ask for forgiveness.
Judge Guzman has ordered military records from the time of the massacre to be turned over to investigators, as well as additional records on 14 other ex-army and security officials.
The first public hearing is not expected for several months.
While victims' families pushed for a trial as early as 1990, the case has never been heard locally. In 2010, the human rights commission of the Organization of American States recommended that El Salvador repeal the amnesty law as a means for holding accountable those responsible for the massacre.
El Salvador's civil war stretched from 1980 to 1992, leaving 75,000 dead and another 8,000 people missing.
A truth commission created by the United Nations in 1992 published a report that concluded that the El Mozote massacre was the worst war crime of the country's civil war.
El Salvador's government denied for years having had any role in the killing, but in 2012 the government of then-President Mauricio Funes acknowledged the state's role and apologized to the families of the victims.
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