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San Salvador - "I was tortured whilst injured"


Torture - Testimony

by Juan José Dalton, June 99, for People on war  

Juan José Dalton is 42 years of age; he is a journalist and has been writing for several foreign newspapers in El Salvador since 1991, before the armed conflict in this Central American country started.

He was directly affected by the war. His father and elder brother were both killed. The former at the hands of the same rebel group in which he fought, in 1975, while his brother was killed in combat in 1981.

Juan José Dalton joined the guerrilla forces in April 1988, in the region of Chalatenango. There, along with other fighters, he organised a special forces unit which devoted itself to delicate actions against the enemy.

On 17 June of that year, he was seriously wounded in combat. A bullet hit his shoulder, passed through a lung and broke three ribs on the left-hand side of his body, in close proximity to his heart.

He was treated by auxiliary health staff and later by guerrilla doctors in the La Cañada camp, on the edges of the village of Arcatao. After a month of recovering, the camp was attacked by army forces and he was forced to move to another site still in Chalatenango.

" I consider that to be the first time my rights were violated, because I was left abandoned. I was lucky enough to be rescued by a colleague from where I had been left practically unconscious " , he remembers.

" In September, the army once again carried out an major incursion. We had to mobilise ourselves, all ten of us who were wounded. We covered great dista nces. In the end my strength left me and, after days of intense movement and lack of food, I couldn’t walk any further " , he explained.

Finally he was captured by the soldiers, along with two of his comrades, when they were found asleep from exhaustion.

" They beat us hard from the start; they tied our thumbs back and led us to the village of Las Vueltas. There they had a control post and they started to interrogate us and beat us. I remember an officer approached me and asked me if I knew Sebastián and I told him that I did (Sebastián had been one of my bosses and friends). Later he told me that he himself had shot him when he had been found injured " , Dalton recalled.

I was later taken by helicopter to San Salvador. Prisoners there were in handcuffs and were still mistreated. Then in the city, they were taken to the military barracks and tortured in the most sophisticated way, even with electrical equipment and by other means.

" We didn’t even see a lawyer from the International Red Cross until after three weeks detention. Finally, on 27 October, I was moved to a prison and then my wound started to heal, although when they found out, I was mistreated and lost a lot of blood again " , he continued.

Juan José Dalton points out that he does not wish another war on his country, or on any nation. " I suffered a great deal and have physical wounds that have healed, yet in my mind I have others that don’t heal so well. My rights were trampled on. Whoever directly violates human rights and the Geneva Conventions should be sanctioned and imprisoned so as to prevent the impunity that we’re suffering from now. However, we have to learn to live together with our differences and learn to respect others, something we’ll only manage by raising the cultural level of society as much as possible. "

People on War is a worldwide project that intends to increase awareness around the world of the rules that already exist for people's protection in wartime and to encourage discussion of humanitarian law in the context of modern-day conflict. It has been designed to involve those who have experience of war.