GENEVA (6 March 2019) – UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on Wednesday warned that a draft National Reconciliation Law under discussion in El Salvador´s Legislative Assembly would in effect reinstate an “absolute and unconditional amnesty” for some of the most serious human rights violations committed in El Salvador during the 1980-1992 armed conflict.
“If approved, this law would grant amnesty to those that may be responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity, violating victims’ rights to justice and reparation and representing a serious setback for El Salvador,” High Commissioner Bachelet said. “Amnesties for the most serious crimes under international law, including war crimes and crimes against humanity, are contrary to international law.”
The draft bill was proposed by the President of an “ad hoc” commission of El Salvador’s Legislative Assembly. The ad hoc commission had been established in response to a July 2016 Supreme Court ruling declaring the 1993 Amnesty Law for the Consolidation of Peace unconstitutional. The Court ordered the Legislative Assembly to issue by July 2019 a new law on National Reconciliation to ensure truth, justice and reparations for the victims and guarantees of non-repetition.
“Instead of achieving these crucial objectives, this proposed draft is likely to prevent the rights of the victims from being fulfilled,” Bachelet said. “And, by effectively granting impunity to those guilty of serious crimes, it would make repetition of similar crimes more likely.”
The text contains provisions that, in combination, would frustrate the prosecution and punishment of serious crimes committed during the conflict and would effectively deprive victims of access to justice through the establishment of statutes of limitation, cumbersome procedures, and overly restrictive deadlines for criminal investigations of these complex crimes.
According to the 1993 Truth Commission created as part of the peace agreement, that brought the bloody 12-year war to an end, more than 75,000 people were killed during the internal armed conflict in El Salvador. Until 2016, there was almost complete impunity for the serious human rights violations that were committed.
The Supreme Court’s ground breaking 2016 ruling allowed important advances towards accountability, including the adoption by the Attorney-General’s Office of a public policy for the prosecution of crimes against humanity and war crimes. Cases were opened but none have so far reached the hearings stage. One of the landmark cases currently under investigation is related to the massacre in El Mozote and neighbouring villages, involving 18 military officers who allegedly played roles in the killing of more than 1,000 people – believed to be the single biggest massacre in Latin America during the 1980s. In compliance with the Supreme Court ruling, authorities also created a Commission to assist the search for people who were disappeared during the conflict.
“These were important, long-overdue advances towards realising victims’ rights to justice, truth and reparation. Accountability for serious crimes is essential in helping society to overcome the awful consequences of conflict, ensuring that they never happen again and allowing for the rule of law to firmly take root,” the High Commissioner stressed.
“I call on El Salvador’s legislators to take this historical opportunity to enable reconciliation by enacting a law that is geared towards justice, truth, reparation and guarantees of non-repetition for victims. My Office stands ready to provide technical assistance in this regard,” she added.
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