The assassination late last week of a right-wing Salvadorean politician has once again brought the controversial human rights issue to the fore. But this time the spotlight is on the human rights practices of the Salvadorean rebels: It is they who are believed responsible. Roberto Ismael Ayala is the fourth member of the Constituent Assembly, El Salvador's national legislature, to have been assassinated in the past year: Leftist rebels had claimed responsibility for the three previous slayings.
Irrespective of the origins or merits of the insurgents' struggle against the Salvadorean government, it is important to view realistically the current tactics of the leftists, like those of the government. Those tactics include terror and intimidation: The Reagan administration estimates that 40 percent of the people killed in Salvadorean human rights violations are slain by leftist forces.
During the long government-rebel struggle there has been no major rush by Salvadorean peasants to join the leftist forces, as could have been expected had the guerrillas been widely popular. One reason for this reluctance may have been the guerrillas' willingness to use terror as one weapon, just as the rightist forces use assassination as one part of their strategy.
Although most Salvadoreans may want economic change, they also desire primarily to be left alone by both sides. Although they are a very long way from getting this wish, the activity of assassination squads from the right, at least , is believed to have declined somewhat in recent months.
None of this is intended to excuse or minimize the fact that the majority of human rights violations in El Salvador, including assassinations, are conducted by the right wing. Yet it is important not to be naive: It must be realized that the left, like the political right, bears heavy responsibility.