Salvador reforms back in US spotlight; Reagan certifies human rights progress; Congress wants more
Washington — El Salvador moves once again to the fore this week, stirring up continued concern over human rights in that strife-torn Central American nation.
Acting one day ahead of schedule, President Reagan delivered to Congress a new six-month certification that El Salvador has made progress in human rights areas such as ending torture and murder of citizens, ensuring land reform, and conducting free elections. By law, the US must halt all aid unless the President makes that assurance.
The move came just as the US Senate was voting overwhelmingly to put more pressure on the Salvadoran government to resolve the 1980s murders of four American churchwomen and two labor advisers in that country, as well as the disappearance of a US journalist.
The Senate action, following approval by the House, expands the list of items for certification to include the six cases. Despite five indictments in El Salvador, no one has yet gone to trial in any of the cases.
The administration's certification on El Salvador does include a report on the murdered and missing Americans.
Sen. Claiborne Pell (D) of Rhode Island accused El Salvador of ''foot-dragging'' and said that despite rumors that the trials would begin, progress has ''slowed down to a virtual halt.''
The six cases ''accurately reflect the firestorm'' in El Salvador, said Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D) of Connecticut, author of the measure that requires certification. Although he said that no accurate count is available, he charged that ''35,000 Salvadorans, mostly civilians, have been murdered'' in the country of 5 million, and the authorities have ''not been able to produce one conviction.''
That would be like 1.5 million unsolved killings in the US, he told the Senate as he protested the Reagan administration's move to certify the country for continued aid.
While the last certification notice, in January, created heated controversy on Capitol Hill, the July 28 one may bring less. Elliott Abrams, assistant secretary of state for human rights, said in a published interview last weekend that ''general violence is down'' in El Salvador, that officials are beginning to be punished for violence against citizens, and that although the ''human rights situation continues to be bad,'' it is moving in the right direction.
Critics have been somewhat mollified by the Salvadoran elections, but concern grew again when the newly elected Constituent Assembly voted to interrupt land reform.