Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) National Secretary and International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) President Paddy Crumlin has highlighted the inaction of the government of El Salvador on the tenth anniversary of the assassination of Gilberto Soto, a representative of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
Soto was killed in November 2004 while visiting El Salvador to establish fraternal relations with transport workers there and throughout Central America.
The Teamsters have taken out a full-page advertisement in today’s edition of El Salvador’s largest daily newspaper, denouncing the government for its lack of action.
The advertisement, published in La Prensa Grafica, poses the question “Justice or Impunity?” and is written as an open letter criticising the high-level cover-up of Soto’s assassination.
It calls upon El Salvador’s current Attorney-General, Luis Martinez, to reopen investigations into this and other emblematic human rights cases.
Mr Crumlin said El Salvador’s recent history has been marred by instances of murder, torture and other human rights abuses and atrocities.
“The MUA, ITF and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) have expressed concerns over a number of years that Mr Soto's death was linked to his trade union activities and it is yet to be properly investigated,” Mr Crumlin said.
“More than 20 years after the signing of the Chapultepec Peace Accords, people around the globe are watching to see if El Salvador is prepared to protect the rights of its citizens to participate in union activities and other forms of engagement in civil society without risking their lives.
“We call on Attorney-General Luis Martinez to appoint an official who is willing and able to effectively investigate the murder of Mr Soto, as well as other killings by death squads.”
Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa, who joined 14 other human rights advocates in placing the advertisement said: “It’s time for justice for Gilberto Soto’s family and all who cherish human rights.”
Lance Compa, a professor of international labor and human rights law at Cornell University said: “Under human rights law there is no statute of limitations on justice for victims such as Gilberto Soto.”
Professor Compa has conducted studies for Human Rights Watch, the International Labor Rights Forum and other human rights groups, as well as for the United Nations’ International Labour Organization.
“Resolving yesterday’s injustice is essential for confronting and solving today’s human rights challenges. This is why re-opening the Gilberto Soto case will be so important for the international human rights community and for the Salvadoran people,” Mr Compa said.
Noting that in the past, El Salvador’s office of the attorney general was itself involved in a cover-up of the Soto case, the signers urge Attorney General Martinez to work with the PDDH, the country’s human rights office, and independent human rights organizations to identify those who committed the emblematic crimes, and those who covered them up.
Geoff Thale, program director of the Washington Office on Latin America, said he signed the open letter because “The unresolved human rights crimes of the past – the Jesuit case, massacres like El Mozote, like that of Gilberto Soto—involve deep emotional wounds for the families and relatives of those who died. These cases serve as a test for the criminal justice system, especially for the Attorney General’s office, as to whether it can investigate effectively and without political interference.”
“We want to know—will El Salvador reject the cover-up of politically motivated crimes and end the culture of impunity?” said Ron Carver, an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C.