(Washington, DC) - El Salvador's attorney general should conduct a prompt, thorough, and impartial investigation of the murder of the community leader and environmental advocate Gustavo Marcelo Rivera Moreno, as well as subsequent threats against journalists and human rights defenders, Human Rights Watch said today.
According to news reports, Rivera, director of the Association of Friends of San Isidro Cabañas (Asociación Amigos de San Isidro Cabañas, ASIC), disappeared in Ilobasco, Cabañas on June 18, 2009, and his corpse was found in a nearby well weeks later with signs of torture. The authorities have arrested four alleged gang members in the killing and attributed it to common crime, news reports said.
"This is a very suspicious killing that cries out for an exhaustive investigation," said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. "To dismiss this brutal murder as a gang killing and not look into the circumstances and the menacing aftermath would have a chilling effect on El Salvador's civil society."
Rivera had been an outspoken leader of a community campaign opposing the Canadian Pacific Rim Mining Company's industrial mining projects in the area. News reports also said that he had received death threats after he and other leaders successfully denounced electoral fraud that had been planned in San Isidro during the January 2009 municipal elections. He was a member of the departmental board of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional, FMLN) party.
Human Rights Watch has also received other reports of threats and harassment against local activists and journalists after Rivera's murder. According to news reports and statements by local nongovernmental organizations, on July 23, three journalists from the Radio Victoria community radio station in Cabañas began receiving death threats alluding to Rivera's murder and saying that, "they will be next." The station had been covering local human rights and environmental issues, and had also covered Rivera's killing.
On July 27, Father Luis Quintanilla, a local priest and activist, reportedly escaped an attack while driving in Cabañas. According to news reports, after the attempted attack, Quintanilla began receiving telephone threats. Antonio Pacheco, director of the Social & Economic Development Association of Santa Marta (Asociación de Desarrollo Económico y Social Santa Marta, ADES), a local group, has also received death threats, his organization said.
"For this investigation to be adequate and effective, the investigators need to pursue the possibility that the killing was politically motivated," Vivanco said. "And they need to find the source of the threats as well."