Message from the Executive Director

Dear Friends,

2018 was a volatile year in Central America’s Northern Triangle. In Honduras, electoral fraud precipitated violent repression; in Guatemala, historic efforts to combat corruption suffered major setbacks; in El Salvador, government efforts to reduce violence and regain territorial control gave rise to systematic violations of the rights of citizens. The advent of migrant caravans are symbols of exhausted options for Central Americans to live free from fear and want in their homes or anywhere in the world.

The region just beyond the United States’ southern border has reached a critical moment that will mark a trajectory either toward greater justice and accountability, democracy and peace or a descent into authoritarianism, repression, corruption and deeper conflict.

Along this trajectory lies the balance between human rights and security. In Central America, and across the globe, instability breeds a punitive brand of populism that claims that national security is incompatible with human rights. Leveraging fear, citizens are promised stability and prosperity in exchange for restrictions on rights – usually of the most vulnerable.

The defense of human rights today is the defense of a worldview in which respect for human rights and the dignity of all people, not walls, are the foundations of global peace and security. Progress toward that great vision is not linear and is dependent on commitments over lifetimes.

Cristosal's mandate is to walk with victims to challenge the assumption of the powerful, that by virtue of their power, they can do what they like with no consequence. It is our mandate to walk with victims of violence and human rights violations to seek justice, change structures of discrimination, and advocate that human rights principles form the heart of their communities.

Despite an adverse global climate for human rights advocacy, 2018 was a year of big impact for our organization. Cristosal became the first civil society human rights organization with a permanent presence in all three countries of Central America’s Northern Triangle. Together with several families displaced by violence, we won a Supreme Court ruling in El Salvador establishing the right of victims of violence to receive assistance from the state. In representing victims of the largest massacre in the western hemisphere in modern times, Cristosal began the first-ever prosecution of a crime against humanity in El Salvador’s history. In all three countries, we trained hundreds of community leaders and local government officials on their rights and provided technical tools to improve protection responses and enhance victim’s access to justice.

2018 was a year of powerful firsts, fueled by the independence and flexibility provided by unrestricted contributions from our North American friends and advocates. This report is published in gratitude to our supporters who make our work possible.

Noah Bullock, Executive Director

Our Mission

Cristosal advances human rights in Central America through rights-based research, learning, and programming. We accompany victims of violence to provide protection when they need it most, repair the lingering effects of human rights violations, and build environments where peace is possible.

How we achieve our mission.

We have five key tools for achieving our mission, all with independent goals, but tightly woven together as an integrated blueprint for defending human rights in the Northern Triangle of Central America.

  • Victim Accompaniment
  • Strategic Litigation
  • Community Development
  • Research & Learning
  • Strategic Communication

2018: A Year of Achievement

2 historic, emblematic war crimes, the massacres of El Mozote and El Calabazo, prosecuted by Cristosal.

The massacre at El Mozote was declared a crime against humanity in December of 2018, a first in the history of Salvadoran courts.

6 amparos (Supreme Court cases) won on behalf of victims of displacement, resulting in justice for six families and an unprecedented decision ordering the Salvadoran government to create laws and programs to protect victims of forced displacement henceforth.

583 internally displaced individuals assisted as Cristosal launched the most comprehensive registration system in El Salvador for displaced persons.

170 individuals trained to support their communities in protecting human rights and building environments where peace is possible.

7 interactive Global School Seminars, including Cristosal's first seminars designed especially for asylum lawyers and researchers, bringing North and Central Americans together to gain knowledge and practice around shared human rights concerns.

6 major research reports and numerous media stories published, raising public awareness of the scale and nature of forced displacement in the region.

60+ staff members distributed across all three countries of the Northern Triangle - El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. In El Salvador, all staff members are now working in one space, following a move to a larger office that allows for more effective collaboration, workshops, and specialized training.

Victim Accompaniment

Victims fleeing violence like extortion, rape, and murder have few effective options for protection and assistance in their home countries. Reporting a crime or requesting assistance is in itself a dangerous act. Many people fear further angering their aggressors, or being revictimized by corrupt officials. Cristosal understands that victims of violence, insecurity, and forced displacement have complex and evolving needs that are often ignored by government institutions.

Antonio, 24 (name has been changed) cannot show his face. He was forced to flee from his home due to gang violence and persecution in El Salvador.

In 2018, we further amplified the impact of Cristosal's work providing victims with assistance and protection by adapting models we have piloted for the unique country contexts found in Guatemala and Honduras. In addition, our victim accompaniment team strengthened our relationships with public and private institutions, and trained hundreds of civil society and government leaders regionally in human rights standards for assistance to internally displaced people. These relationships allow victims to access more protections and make our work - and the issue of internal displacement - more visible.

Strategic Litigation

Forced Displacement

"As we debate a law on forced internal displacement in El Salvador, think about all of the victims currently displaced and how they are affected each day that passes without adequate measures in place to ensure their protection." Armando de Paz, Cristosal Regional Strategy Director

Cristosal's strategic litigation team seeks out cases that help set important legal precedents and bring change to a system that historically has denied the rights of victims. During 2016 and 2017, we presented six amparos (Supreme Court cases that can be brought when constitutional rights have been violated) on behalf of victims of internal displacement who were unable to obtain the protection they needed from the State. In each of the first five cases, the Court ruled in favor of the families.

In the final case, on July 13, 2018, the Court made a sweeping ruling, ordering the Salvadoran government to recognize that people internally displaced by violence have a right to protection, and to create the legal and programmatic frameworks (and budget) to protect and assist them. This was a historic event, bringing visibility and credibility to all who have been displaced by violence over decades.

Now Cristosal is working with the Salvadoran Legislative Assembly to draft a new law protecting victims, and we will accompany the government in developing victim protection and assistance programs based on the models we have been researching and piloting over the past several years.

While statistics tell the story of Cristosal's growing influence, each number represents a real person, often an entire family, in crisis.

This picture was created as part of a series of art workshops carried out with victims of forced displacement. The young girl who drew this self-portrait was one of the plaintiffs in the sixth amparo, which resulted in the precedent-setting Supreme Court ruling. It depicts the horror, grief, and hope found in displacement.

Tristeza (Sadness)

If I am free, I will be happy / I am the light that illuminates everywhere / I am your refuge, and your happiness.

Transitional Justice

"[A positive outcome for El Mozote] would, of course, be a very positive milestone for the justice system in El Salvador, but also for the strengthening of democracy and the state of human rights in El Salvador." - David Morales, Director of Strategic Litigation.

Our strategic litigation team tackles historic cases of human rights violations from the Salvadoran armed conflict. After El Salvador's 12-year long conflict ended in 1992, a blanket amnesty law prohibited survivors of the conflict from accessing justice, truth, and reparations. In 2016, the Amnesty Law was overturned, opening a door for survivors and the families of victims to seek justice.

El Mozote survivors and victim's families have their first opportunity to tell their stories in a court of law.

In 2018, Cristosal made significant progress in the prosecution of the case of the massacre at El Mozote and surrounding areas. Cristosal and our partner, Tutela Legal, accompanied the surviving victims as they demanded that their right to truth and justice finally be respected. Forty-four survivors have now told their stories on the witness stand. The judge began hearing expert witness testimony, including that of the team of Argentinian forensic anthropologists who excavated the massacre sites. The judge also rejected several attempts by the defendants throughout the year to delay or end the trial. And finally, in December, the judge declared the crimes of El Mozote "crimes against humanity," the first time in Salvadoran history that a judge has made such a declaration.

Testimony from an El Mozote victim: "It was eleven in the morning when some people came to tell me that they had killed everyone in El Mozote and burned their houses down. I waited a few days and then went to Ranchería to look for my two brothers, Facundo and Segundo. All I found was their burned-down houses. I didn’t find them or their families, there were only bones. Then I decided to go to El Mozote. I went to the church; it was missing its roof. I went into the sacristy but all I found was a lot of dead children. I couldn’t see how many there were because the stench was unbearable," he said during his testimony. Márquez Chicas summed up his petition for justice: "I'm still suffering. They killed everyone, I lost 15 members of my family between brothers and cousins. My brothers never reappeared. That’s why I’m asking for justice," he said.

Translated from an article by S. G. Orellana for Diario Co Latino.

Cristosal also began work on the case of the 1982 massacre at El Calabozo, in which a group of at least 200 civilians who had fled government bombing of their towns were killed by the US-trained Atlacatl Battalion of the Salvadoran Army. The case is currently in the preliminary phase, and Cristosal's legal team and surviving victims are working to gather the evidence needed to show who was responsible for the massacre. In December, Cristosal helped coordinate the first exhumation of the graves of one of the families massacred.

Community Development

In the face of increasing violence and insecurity, Cristosal strengthens communities by fostering a culture of transparency and promoting democratic participation at the grass-roots level.

Our approach to community development addresses both a victim’s immediate need to be integrated into a safe community, and the long-term structural need for the creation of environments that uphold human rights.

74 internally displaced individuals integrated into new communities

Edgar, his young son, and some of their extended family members were displaced when his wife was murdered by gang members. They moved around El Salvador, to Guatemala briefly, and then back to El Salvador, but they were followed by rumors that they were themselves involved in a gang. Moving in El Salvador can be complicated, as widespread violence sometimes breeds a distrust of newcomers.

Struggling to find a sense of belonging in their new community, the family was referred to Cristosal by one of our partner organizations. Our community development team helped them get settled in their new community, and worked with them to define their long-term goals. The family decided they wanted to raise chickens in order to sell eggs in their community. Together with our partner organization we gave them the funds they needed to build a coop and buy their first 50 chicks. Edgar's chicks have now grown and laid their first eggs, his nieces and nephews have been able to enroll in school, and the family has begun to build trust with the community. As one Cristosal staff member commented, "They aren't alone, they can trust in an organization that's supporting them."

Research & Learning


Cristosal's research and learning team works from a belief that the results of research are only as relevant as the voices that inform them. We make an effort to incorporate and center perspectives that are often ignored or marginalized. This year, our research areas have expanded to include:

  • Stigma and violence against the LGBTQI+ community
  • Economic opportunities for LGBTQI+ youth
  • Prison conditions and rights violations of incarcerated people

In April, we published a report on forced displacement, Making the Invisible Visible, that received widespread coverage in the Salvadoran press, helping to raise public awareness. In November, we published our first regional report on forced displacement in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador; our newly expanded regional capacities allow us to create better targeted programs and advocacy strategies. In addition to our regional report, we published multiple other reports and articles on displacement, migration, structural violence, and strategic litigation.

Global School

Our Global School seminars are intercultural, participatory learning experiences that equip human rights leaders and citizen activists with the tools they need for meaningful action. Seminars bring Central and North American participants together for a week to explore a variety of human rights topics. After an immersive week, attendees return to their homes able to advocate for human rights in their own communities as well as in the wider international community.

97 Global School Participants attended 7 seminars during 2018 from the US, Canada, and Central America.

  • The Cristosal Model
  • Youth Leadership and Human Rights
  • Making the Case for Asylum
  • State Violence and Police Abuse
  • LGBTI+ People, Hate Crimes & Violence
  • The Central American Refugee Crisis

2019 Global School Seminars

Strategic Communication

Our communication team supports our victim accompaniment and advocacy efforts by positioning key issues, such as internal displacement, in public discourse. Often, Cristosal is presenting data-based information that sheds light on issues that state actors have tried to ignore but that are of great concern to the general public.

Cristosal in the news! Seen from left to right are our Director of Research and Learning Jeanne Rikkers, Chief Program Officer Celia Medrano, and Director of Strategic Litigation David Morales.

At the end of 2018, Cristosal worked with a respected public opinion survey institute in El Salvador to create the first national survey on forced displacement and extraordinary security measures. The results of this survey helped us gauge public opinion on some of the key issues of our work to better tailor our communication strategies and influence public debate on these issues.

Funding the Mission


We strive for financial transparency and are happy to share our 2018 financial overview here. In addition, our annual 990 returns can be accessed through Guidestar.

2018 Donors

Cristosal's institutional partners provide significant investments that fund our major initiatives and we are so grateful for these important partnerships. Equally important are the contributions of individuals, families, faith communities, and businesses. These unrestricted gifts allow us to be independent, nimble, and responsive to emerging news and needs. Thank you all. We're pleased to acknowledge our 2018 Donors here. To join Cristosal's family of supporters, see our giving options here.

Donor Spotlights

Julie Parsonnet and Dean Winslow, Stanford, CA: “We’ve seen firsthand the physical and psychological toll of human violence. We are proud to be able to help Cristosal rebuild lives and create safe communities for our neighbors to the south.”

Beth Wigen and John Toccalino, Los Altos, CA : “Cristosal sets a standard we try to follow in all of our social justice work."

The Rev. Juan Maria Acosta, San Diego, CA: "Fr. Juan was a kind and thoughtful presence . . .helping guide Cristosal through time of significant growth and transition."


Staff Directors

  • Noah Bullock, Executive Director
  • Celia Medrano, Chief Program Officer
  • Abraham Abrego, Director of Victim Advocacy
  • David Morales, Director of Strategic Litigation
  • Armando de Paz, Director of Regional Strategy
  • Mauricio Quijano, Director of Community Development
  • Jeanne Rikkers, Director of Research & Learning

Board of Directors

Cristosal Board (left to right): the Rev. Amy Denney Zuniga (Vice President), Scott Pentzer (President), Beth Hershenhart, Dianne Paulsell, Noah Bullock (Executive Director), Doug Mouncey (Treasurer), Gail Wheeler Rolfe, Audrey Denney, Kathy Veit (Vice President), Roger Jones, the Rt. Rev. Thomas C. Ely, Glen Mitchell (Secretary), the Rt. Rev. Gladstone (Skip) Adams III. Not pictured: Cheryl Gnade McGrattan, the Rt. Rev. Gregory Rickel, and Elmer Romero.

Cristosal gratefully acknowledges board members who concluded their terms at the end of 2018: the Rt. Rev. Skip Adams, Beth Hershenhart, Cheryl Gnade McGrattan, and the Rev. Amy Denney Zuniga. Joining the Board in 2019: the Rev. Mike Angell and Roger Jones.

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