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Court Acquits Police Officers Accused of Extrajudicial Killings in El Salvador

LADB Article ID: 80436
Category/Department: El Salvador
Date: 2017-10-12
By: Benjamin Witte-Lebhar

Haunted still by decades of inaction on human rights abuses committed during its brutal civil war (1980-1992), El Salvador is also proving itself unable—or unwilling—to tackle new cases of lawlessness by state agents, this time in the context of a government-ordered crackdown on criminal street gangs. Never has that been more apparent than on Sept. 22, when a judge in the city of Santa Tecla acquitted eight members of a special operations police unit—the Grupo de Reacción Policial (GRP)—in connection with the shooting death of a young employee of a coffee-farm. The victim, 20-year-old Dennis Hernández Martínez, was one of eight people killed in a March 2015 raid on a property called San Blas, near San José Villanueva in the department of La Libertad. Six suspected gang members and a teenage girl (the girlfriend of one of the gang members) also died. Police described the events at San Blas as an enfrentamiento, a catch-all term meaning “engagement” or “shootout” that security forces use to describe any kind of violent encounter with gangs, known locally as maras or pandillas. But in an exposé published three months later by the independent, award-winning news site El Faro, journalists Roberto Valencia, Óscar Martínez, and Daniel Valencia Caravantes told a very different story. Using forensics evidence, witness testimony, photos, and other materials, El Faro painted the picture of a commando-style ambush involving summary executions and evidence planting

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