Groups slam new El Salvador law to prosecute civil war crimes
A woman holds a picture of her mother with a message that reads ‘not without the victims’ during a congress session to protest against approving the bill [Jose Cabezas/Reuters]
San Salvador, El Salvador – Legislators in El Salvador approved a controversial “reconciliation law” late on Wednesday, reigniting the debate about transitional justice after a 12-year war that ended in 1992.
The law is meant to establish how the country will handle justice and reparations for crimes against humanity during that period. But human rights groups and victims of the war – a conflict between left-wing rebels and the United States-funded Salvadoran military that left more than 75,000 people dead – accuse legislators of approving what they see as a new amnesty law.
“When the time came, the assembly did not take into consideration what we said [as victims],” said Dorila Marquez, a 63-year-old whose family was killed in the 1981 El Mozote massacre, the worst of the civil war. “We didn’t want a law of impunity, a new amnesty law in disguise. The truth is that’s what they’ve done.”
A UN truth commission found that more than 80 percent of human rights abuses were carried out by the Salvadoran government. Victims like Marquez had no path to justice for years because an amnesty law was signed shortly after the 1992 peace accords. In 2016, the country’s Supreme Court ruled the amnesty law unconstitutional. As part of the ruling, the court ordered the creation of an ad hoc commission to study the ruling and create a law to carry it out.
After a years-long process and a tense relationship with victims’ groups, the Legislative Assembly put the proposal to vote on Wednesday night. The law seeks to create a path for justice, reparations and preservation of historical memory in El Salvador. To do so, it proposes opening a National Council for Reparations, creating a national registry of victims and integrating the history of the civil war into public school curriculums, among other reforms.
Legislative Assembly President Mario Ponce told reporters Wednesday that the law complies with the terms laid out by the constitutional court in the 2016 ruling in respect to transitional justice. He said it will be up to the Supreme Court to decide if this is not true.
Human rights groups point to a few key elements of the law as re-establishing amnesty and violating international norms for human rights trials for crimes against humanity.