-2the Commission on February 16, 1999.
In its application, the Inter-American Commission indicated that the alleged
“capture, abduction and forced disappearance of the then children Ernestina and
Erlinda Serrano Cruz” (hereinafter “Ernestina and Erlinda Serrano Cruz”, “Ernestina
and Erlinda”, “the Serrano Cruz sisters” or “the alleged victims”), who were “7 and 3
years old, respectively [commenced as of June 2, 1982, when] they were [allegedly]
captured […] by soldiers, members of the Atlacatl Battalion of the Salvadoran Army,
during a [military] operation” known as “Operación Limpieza” [Operation Cleansing]
or the “guinda de mayo,” in the municipality of San Antonio de la Cruz, Chalatenango
Department, from May 27 to June 9, 1982. “Around fourteen thousand soldiers”
allegedly took part in this operation.
According to the Commission, during the operation, the Serrano Cruz left their home
to protect their lives. However, only María Victoria Cruz Franco, Ernestina and
Erlinda’s mother, and one of her sons were able to cross “the military barricade on
the way to the village of Manaquil.” Dionisio Serrano, Ernestina and Erlinda’s father,
and his children Enrique, Suyapa (who was carrying her 6-month old baby),
Ernestina and Erlinda Serrano Cruz, together with a group of villagers crossed the
mountains in the direction of the settlement of “Los Alvarenga,” which they reached
after walking for three days. Once there, they hid for another three days, despite the
lack of food and water. Suyapa Serrano Cruz decided to hide with her baby near the
place where her father and siblings were, so as not to endanger them because her
baby cried. Dionisio Serrano and his son, Enrique, went to fetch water from a nearby
river “at the insistence of his daughters.” Finding themselves alone, the children
Ernestina and Erlinda began to cry and were discovered by “the military patrols.” The
Commission stated that Suyapa Serrano Cruz was sure the soldiers took her sisters,
because she heard one soldier ask the others whether they should take the girls or
kill them, to which another soldier replied that they should take them. When she no
longer heard any noise, Suyapa began to look for her two sisters; then her father
returned and he also searched around the place where he had left them.
The Commission indicated that Ernestina and Erlinda Serrano Cruz “were last seen
21 years ago, when a Salvadoran Armed Forces helicopter took them” from the site
of these events to a place known as “La Sierpe” in the city of Chalatenango. The
Commission stated that there is no evidence to prove reliably whether the soldiers
who captured the girls handed them over to the International Committee of the Red
Cross or to the Salvadoran Red Cross. The Commission also indicated that these
facts form part of a pattern of forced disappearances in the context of the armed
conflict, allegedly “perpetrated or tolerated by the State.”
The Commission stated that Mrs. Cruz Franco was in Honduras “as a refugee in a
camp,” with her daughter, Suyapa. It also indicated that, because “the facts occurred
at a time when domestic legal remedies were inoperative,” it was only on April 30,
1993, that María Victoria Cruz Franco, the alleged victims’ mother, filed a complaint
before the Chalatenango Trial Court for the alleged disappearance of Ernestina and
Erlinda. The girls’ mother filed the complaint “a month and a half after the
Salvadoran population recovered its faith in its Judiciary,” following publication of the
United Nations Truth Commission’s report on March 15, 1993. On November 13,
1995, Mrs. Cruz Franco filed a petition for habeas corpus before the Constitutional
Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice. The Chamber rejected it, considering that
this remedy was not appropriate for investigating the whereabouts of the sisters. In
this regard, the Commission indicated that “the whereabouts of Ernestina and Erlinda

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