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On April 6, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), together with H0meland Security, arrested Roberto Antonio Garay Saravia. The former military commander is under investigation by Homeland Security for his participation in the Salvadoran El Mozote massacre in 1981, which saw the murder of at least a 1,000 people, including women and children. From 1981 to 1985 Garay Saravia was a section commander of a specialized counterinsurgency unit known as the Atlácatl Battalion. During his time as commander, Garay Saravia's unit committed numerous atrocities and was deployed in three further missions in which hundreds of civilians were killed. His arrest is surprising since the forces responsible for the massacre were trained by the US, and in most cases the perpetrators of these inhumane crimes are never persecuted.

After investigations by Homeland Security, Garay Saravia was charged with assisting or otherwise participating in extrajudicial killings and willfully misrepresenting this material fact in his immigration application. In a press release, DHS Deputy Secretary John K. Tien stated that “Individuals who have committed atrocities overseas will not find safe haven in the United States.”

Although we are deeply opposed to ICE, we welcome the fact that one of El Salvador's worst war criminals may finally be brought to justice. 

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In November 2021, the Corporate Accountability Lab (CAL), in coalition with the Fair World Project (FWP), filed a lawsuit against the Hershey candy company as well as the certification label Rainforest Alliance. The consumer protection case suit was filed in the DC Superior Court, after CAL found cases of (forced) child labor, exploitive labor and wage theft at a number of Rainforest Alliance certified cocoa farms in West-African producing for Hershey. In the suit CAL and FWP accuse Rainforest Alliance and Hershey of false and deceptive marketing on some of their chocolate products. They bring forward the fact that labels like the Rainforest Alliance let consumers believe that the labeled merchandise is produced free from child labor, wage theft and environmental destruction. On many of the farms this is not true, and the lack of a living wage paid to the workers leads to a circle in which families have to rely on their children to work to keep themselves fed.

These working conditions have deep roots in corporate greed, a phenomenon that overweighs any ethics. The lower the price for the base product is, the more profit can be generated. In case of Hershey and the Rainforest Alliance. this greed shows its worst. In an effort to appeal to today's more aware consumers, companies cooperate with labels to distract from inhumane production conditions. This way labels and networks like Rainforest Alliance not only trick the consumers but also fail the workers who should be protected by them. 

Now, after almost 1.5 years, a key point was reached in the case on March 23, 2023. After dragging out the case, the defendants now filed a motion to dismiss it, arguing that Hershey as well as Rainforest Alliance already acknowledged the problems in their production chain. In a statement Hershey acknowledged "the existence of child labor and high deforestation rates" in the farming of cocoa beans, and stated that it is not guilty of false advertising since it "publicly acknowledged these challenges" and  that its claims are strictly "aspirational in nature." It gets even more absurd with Rainforest Alliance's excuse for child labor under its label. It stated that it never claimed that the label meant that certified farms are free from human rights and environmental abuse. Rainforest Alliance made clear that the seal "represents [Rainforest Alliance's] vision of sustainability as a journey of continuous improvement." It is clear though that this is not what consumers think the Rainforest Alliance label means.

In the end, false labels like Rainforest Alliance's do far more harm than good. A label means very little if human rights standards are still disregarded and farmers are under paid or don't even know about the certification. To actually end human rights and environmental abuses in farming and production, labeling organizations would not only need to pay fair wages but also create community based monitoring systems and long-term contracts with small, individual farms. Rainforest Alliance does none of this. 

In the end, the lawsuit's main goal is it to shine a light on this misbehavior and  to hold companies accountable for their actions and lies.  

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For decades, one of the most horrific crimes against humanity ever committed in Central America has gone without consequences. During the Guatemalan civil war, which raged from 1960 until 1996, violent death squads brought terror over the country. Between 1983 and 1985 these feared paramilitaries kidnapped and tortured at least 195 political enemies, before eventually killing most of them. Years went by without any notable investigation efforts to bring those guilty to justice. This was not unexpected, as corruption and injustice runs deep within the country, and many of the perpetrators had influential positions within the government or affiliated organization. 

With this history it was even more surprising when Judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez started investigating the case. In 2016, the so called Death Squad Dossier took off, when Gálvez ordered the seizing of critical military documents for the case. The resulting process finally started in 2021 with the arrest of 11 suspects, followed by a second sweep shortly after, in which four more individuals were detained. One year later in May 2022, the first evidence hearing started after which nine of the accused perpetrators were ordered to trial. During the hearings more and more devastating stories came to daylight, including rape, murder and forced displacement. In the period of the Death Squad activity, at least 131 people were forcedly displaced, six of which were later found in military bases.

At first it seemed like this process might finally bring clarity about what happened to the victims and their families, and would bring the criminals to justices, but as Judge Gálvez later had to realize it was all down hill from there on. 

Until today, many of the perpetrators still have important political connections and positions and even work with criminal organizations like "La Cofradia" (The Brotherhood) and are even on the run. These connections often lead to efforts to keep these criminals out of condemnation.

Following the arrest of Toribio Acevedo Ramírez in Panama in 2022, a massive campaign against Gálvez was started to prevent the hearing. Trying to avert a prosecution, the Foundation Against Terror (FCT), a pro-military organization, sought to criminalize Gálvez by bringing charges against him to lift his immunity. Additionally the FCT started a social media campaign to denounce Gálvez and the lawsuit.

After months of immense pressure, Gálvez unexpectedly resigned on November 15, 2022, after 25 years as a judge. In an attempt to escape the threats and allegations, Judge Gálvez left the country and now lives in exile in Europe. 

The resignation of Judge Gálvez opened the door for collaborating judges to dismantle the case; a process started promptly. The new judge assigned to the case started lifting custody orders for five of the defendants due to "health" issues. This de facto release is more than just a punch in the face of all victims, it also undermines the Guatemalan constituti0n under which defendants charged with murder must stay in detention until trial. 

Get deeper insight into the accused perpetrators, their connections to political and criminal organizations, and the general case in the article below.  

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'Systematic' human rights abuse. With these words the human rights organization Amnesty International has described El Salvador's anti-gang efforts in a report on April 3.

More than a year ago, the Salvadoran Bukele government has established a still ongoing "state of exception" in an effort to combat gang activities in the country. Since the first introduction, the state of exception, which only stays active for a month on a time, has been renewed 12 times, and with every additional month the devastating consequences of Bukele's strategy are worsening.      

According to Amnesty International, government security forces and the national judicial sector have committed wide spread human rights violations, such as mass arrests, torture, forced disappearances and the denial of a fair process. In the course of the last year, more than 66,000 individuals have been detained, many of whom not even having any gang affiliation. Furthermore, according to Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International, at least 132 individuals have died in custody. Guevara-Rosas stated that, “The systematic violation of human rights and the dismantling of the rule of law are not the answer to the problems facing the country.”

Despite the international criticism, Bukele is holding on to his iron fist crack down strategy, and his popularity has only been surging since the implementation of the state of exception. Only a few months ago, the largest of Bukele's projects, a new mega-prison called "Terrorism Confinement Center" was finished. So far, the prison has a population of 4,000 despite having the capacity to hold up to 40,000 individuals, but this is believed to change soon. Proud of the arrest and the "Confinement Center," Bukele stated: “This will be their new house, where they will live for decades, all mixed, unable to do any further harm to the population.”   

In their report Amnesty International condemns the reliance on imprisonment, with Guevara-Rosas saying that “The dehumanization that thousands of unjustly imprisoned people are suffering is intolerable.”

IRTF supports Amnesty International's denunciation of the Salvadoran anti-gang crackdown. We believe that the problem of gang violence can not be solved by more violence and imprisonment. We call for a solution that goes to the roots of the problem like poverty, ghettoization, the lack of future prospects for the youth, and one that actually protects the innocent population instead of criminalizing them.