Bachelet urges Salvadoran legislators to refrain from restoring amnesty for serious human rights violations

GENEVA (March 6, 2019) – The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, warned on Wednesday that the draft law on National Reconciliation that the Salvadoran Legislative Assembly is discussing would reestablish into practice an “absolute and unconditional amnesty” for some of the serious human rights violations committed in El Salvador during the armed conflict from 1980 to 1992.

“If this law is approved, those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity would be granted amnesty, the victims’ right to justice and reparation would be violated, and that would be a serious setback for El Salvador,” said the High Commissioner. “Amnesties for the most serious crimes, including war crimes and crimes against humanity, are contrary to international law.”

The president of an “ad hoc” commission of the Legislative Assembly of El Salvador proposed the bill. This commission was established in response to a ruling that the Supreme Court issued in July 2016, in which the Amnesty Law for the Consolidation of Peace, promulgated in 1993, was declared unconstitutional. The Court ordered the Legislative Assembly to prepare before July 2019 a new national reconciliation law that would guarantee the truth, justice, and reparations for the victims, providing a guarantee that these crimes would not be repeated.

“Instead of achieving these crucial goals, the bill presented could prevent victims’ rights from being fulfilled,” Bachelet said. “And by granting impunity to the perpetrators of severe crimes, it would increase the probability that those acts would be repeated,” she added.

The text of the preliminary draft contains clauses that would prevent the investigation, prosecution, and punishment of serious crimes perpetrated during the conflict and that would deprive the victims of full access to justice through the establishment of cumbersome procedures, statutes of limitation, and time limits that would restrict criminal investigations, in addition to completely abolishing prison sentences.

According to the Truth Commission, created under the peace agreement that ended the bloodstained 12-year conflict, more than 75,000 people were killed during the internal conflict in El Salvador. Until 2016, those responsible for these serious human rights violations enjoyed almost total impunity.

The ruling issued by the Supreme Court in 2016 led to important advances in transitional justice, including the adoption by the Attorney General’s Office of regulations to prosecute crimes against humanity and war crimes. Investigations were launched, but so far, none have reached the oral trial phase. An emblematic case, which is subject to examination and prior investigation process, concerns the massacre of El Mozote and neighboring municipalities and involves 18 officers of the armed forces linked to the massacre of almost a thousand people, in what is believed to have been the largest massacre perpetrated in Central America in the 1980s. Following the Supreme Court ruling, the authorities created a commission to help locate people who disappeared during the conflict.

“Those were important advances, pending for a long time, towards the recognition of the victims’ rights to justice, truth, and reparation. Accountability is essential to help society overcome the dire consequences of the conflict, to ensure that they never happen again, and to allow the rule of law to set roots,” said the High Commissioner.

“I urge legislators to seize the historic opportunity to create conditions for reconciliation through the approval of a law that allows justice, truth, reparation, and guarantees of non-repetition for the benefit of the victims. My Office is ready to provide technical assistance in this regard,” she added.

*Photograph owned by La Tercera