Human rights advocates are hailing an international court decision ordering the government of El Salvador to fully investigate the cases of hundreds of children who disappeared during the nation’s civil war three decades ago.In the previous LAT piece on the matter, it reports that of the children found, the largest segment were found in El Salvador, the second-largest in the U.S. Stolen children were also found in Italy, Mexico, Germany, Belgium and France. The story also relates some of the difficulties of reunion for these children, now grown:
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights, based in San Jose, Costa Rica, found rights violations in the cases of six youngsters who vanished after being taken away by soldiers in 1981 and 1982.
One of the six children, Gregoria Contreras, 4 years old when she disappeared, was reunited with her family many years later after being tracked down by a Salvadoran group, the Assn. for the Search for Missing Children, also known as Pro-Busqueda. The group’s enduring search for children who went missing during the conflict was chronicled earlier this year by The Times here.
In its ruling, issued to the parties late last week, the court found what it called a “systematic pattern of forced disappearances of children” by army personnel battling leftist rebels. Many of the children, seized during raids, were placed into the lucrative international adoption market and raised abroad. Since 1994, Pro Busqueda has received reports of more than 800 children who vanished during the war. The group has located nearly half of them.“The court recognizes the truth that was for years denied to relatives of the hundreds of [missing] children,” Pro-Busqueda’s director, Ester Alvarenga, said in a statement.
Salvadoran military authorities impeded investigations into the cases for many years. The leftist government of President Mauricio Funes, elected in 2009, has promised to investigate cases, but rights advocates say it has done little because of a lack of funds. Moreover, they say, few cases are likely to be solved unless the military is ordered to open files from the wartime period.
Wartime circumstances make these cases different from many other tales of adoptees reuniting with their biological families.
"You have to not only deal with the fact that you were separated from your family, but how you were separated is often hard to grasp," said Nelson de Witt, who was adopted by a couple in suburban Boston after his mother, a Salvadoran rebel, died in a raid in Honduras in 1982. De Witt, now 30, was located by Pro-Busqueda and a U.S. human rights group in 1997.
Despite a language gap at first, De Witt said he has developed a close long-distance relationship with his family in Central America and is working on a documentary film about them.
Sometimes class and cultural differences between adoptees who grew up in relative comfort abroad and impoverished relatives in El Salvador can be hard to bridge. De Witt said he learned of one adoptee brought up in the United States who was shocked by the tin-shack conditions of her birth relatives.
"She just couldn't relate and never went back," he said.