Impunity Continues to be a Rule in El Salvador

David Morales, Cristosal Human Rights Director, participated in the hearing "Access to Justice in the Context of the Unconstitutionality of the Amnesty Law in El Salvador,” during last week’s session of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

In July 2016, the Constitutional Chamber of the Salvadoran Supreme Court declared the 1993 amnesty law unconstitutional. With this historic decision, a symbol of impunity for crimes committed during the armed conflict was demolished.

A year later, Morales acknowledged several positive signs from the Salvadoran state, including the creation of a national mechanism to search for missing persons and the public recognition of historic massacres.

However, Morales testified, there has been little to no progress made in the persecution of civil war crimes. 100 cases have been filed over the years by victims, both before the courts and the Attorney General's Office. Victims have waited three decades for justice.

El Salvador’s Attorney General has stated that his office does not have the resources to pursue an investigation of the 1981 El Mozote massacre. Because of the Attorney General’s lack of capacity and willingness to prosecute the case, Morales is leading the prosecution team on behalf of victims as a private plaintiff. Military records from the time of the massacre have been requested, but the existence of these documents has been denied by the State.

The memorial in El Mozote

The memorial in El Mozote


A second massacre case, the massacre at El Calabozo, was reopened in December 2016. However, Morales said progress has stalled—only one request for information from the government and armed forces has been processed. There has not been a single request from the prosecution to push the case forward.

Morales’s third example was the 1980 assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero. The sole person identified as responsible, Captain Álvaro Saravia, has been dismissed. The Prosecutor's Office has not taken a position on reopening this case.

In other cases, impunity has prevailed for many years. Morales listed the Barrío massacre in Morazán (criminal complaint filed in 2003), the La Quesera massacre (complaint filed in 2007), and the San Francisco Angulo massacre (complaint filed in 2009). Despite the years that have passed, none of these massacres has been prosecuted. The same is true for a number of cases of forced disappearance cases that were presented to the Attorney General and are not subject to prosecution, including cases of the forced disappearance of children.

The Attorney General, as well as various judges who know of these cases, are to blame for this rampant impunity. A limited exception is the prosecution of the El Mozote massacre, despite a lack of support from the Attorney General.

Morales acknowledged the current Attorney General’s Office maintenance of some level of conversation with nongovernmental organizations and victims. However, this has not translated into concrete action. Morales deemed the Attorney General's argument that it lacks the resources to prosecute these cases insufficient. Although resources are important, Morales said, the Attorney General’s Office does have the ability to request basic measures for prosecution, such as military information. This capacity has thus far remained untapped.

Morales ended by reiterating appreciation for the State’s positive progress. However, he emphasized that comprehensive victim care must come before forgiveness. Morales said it is important to move toward standards closer to those established by human rights protection bodies, in support of the ruling of the amnesty law’s unconstitutionality.