We Cannot Permit Another Amnesty Law

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During the 1980s, El Salvador underwent an internal armed conflict, which resulted in tens of thousands of arbitrary assassinations, thousands of people being tortured and forcibly disappeared, massive forced displacements, and thousands of other crimes against humanity and war crimes, including massacres or massive exterminations of noncombatant civilian populations.

Despite this painful past, State policies in the last two decades have institutionalized complete impunity for these crimes. This, despite the fact that the Peace Accords created a Truth Commission, supported by international law, that revealed the scale of the atrocities, and recommended access to justice and reparations for the surviving victims. In 1993, a broad and absolute Amnesty Law was implemented, contradicting aspects of the 1992 Peace Accords focused on overcoming impunity for the human rights violations that were perpetrated during the armed conflict.

The surviving victims who suffered the aforementioned crimes in the midst of the internal armed conflict have never received adequate reparations, nor had access to justice; on the contrary, they were stigmatized while the perpetrators received institutional protections, impunity for their crimes, and a retelling of history that favored them. Nevertheless, the executive branch has taken small steps towards reparations in the last few years.

On July 26, 2016, there was a major advancement towards overcoming impunity for grave human rights violations committed during the armed conflict, when the Constitutional Chamber of El Salvador declared the Amnesty Law unconstitutional, removing it from the judicial system (Unconstitutionality Ruling 44-2013/145-2013).

The Constitutional Chamber ordered an investigation into the crimes against humanity and war crimes that took place during the internal armed conflict, citing the victims’ right to truth and judicial protections, and prohibiting the approval of new amnesties or the use of statutes of limitation. It also ordered the Legislative Assembly to implement measures to strengthen the criminal investigation of cases from the armed conflict and facilitate access to public information regarding the military operatives that resulted in these acts. At the same time, the Constitutional Chamber ordered the legislation of a comprehensive reparations program for the victims, in accordance with international human rights standards.

Unfortunately, the Legislative Assembly did not comply with the ruling that declared amnesty unconstitutional, something the Constitutional Chamber noted in two follow-up hearings, the last of which took place on July 13, 2018, just before the terms of many of the judges that made up the Chamber ended.

A few hours before the last follow-up hearing, however, the Legislative Assembly created an “Ad Hoc Commission” to study the implication of this ruling for the Legislative Assembly; it was comprised of five deputies, four of whom were direct actors during the armed conflict (two ex-military chiefs and an ex-staff advisor for the Armed Forces, as well as an ex-chief of the guerrilla forces). Also, two of the members of the Ad Hoc Commission were identified by the Truth Commission as responsible for covering up grave human rights violations.

Since the creation of the Ad Hoc Commission, the human rights organizations that accompany the aforementioned victims expressed concerns and doubts about the mandate and composition of the “Ad Hoc Commission.” Cristosal, along with 16 other organizations belonging to civil society, forms part of the “Group Against Impunity in El Salvador.” Some of the organizations that make up this group requested a hearing with the Commission to get to know their work and present our perspective as representatives of the victims, but we were not received. The few organizations that were convened by the Ad Hoc Commission were only called on to provide information, but not to provide an opinion regarding the unconstitutionality of the process and hearing; on the contrary, the Ad Hoc Commission has invited a diverse group of Salvadoran lawyers and politicians who, for years, have publicly supported absolute amnesty, justifying impunity.

In July 2018, the organizations of the Group Against Impunity in El Salvador submitted a petition before the Government Ethics Tribunal (GET) against the four deputies that are part of the Ad Hoc Commission and who were important actors in the armed conflict (General Mauricio Vargas, Coronel Antonio Almendarez, the lawyer Rodolfo Parker, and ex guerrilla Commander Nidia Díaz). The petition would ideally push the GET to consider that the aforementioned actors directly benefited from the previous amnesty law, like their colleagues and ex fellows in arms, thus proving a conflict of interest that makes them unfit for the job, in violation of the internal rules of the Legislative Assembly.

The GET rejected the demand of the organizations in November 2018, the Group Against Impunity then submitted a request for a reexamination which the GET has not yet resolved. In light of this, the human rights organizations do not recognize the legitimacy of the Ad Hoc Commission and we address the Executive Committee of the Legislative Assembly to present our written concerns: a) the Ad Hoc Commission has an incongruous mandate to “study” (not comply) with the unconstitutionality ruling and has avoided developing a mandate to strengthen justice processes and access to information; b) the members belonging to the Commission demonstrate a conflict of personal interests from having been participants themselves in the war, and c) the Commission has excluded the victims and the organizations that represent them from the process of evaluating the unconstitutionality ruling.

For these reasons, we request that the Executive Committee of the Legislative Assembly modify the composition of the Ad Hoc Commission, define a more inclusive consultation process that involves the victims and the human rights organizations that represent them, and expand their mandate to reflect the specific and clear terms established by the Constitutional Chamber. On January 22, 2019, the Executive Committee rejected our request, citing that the members of the Commission were “notable parliamentarians” and that they would continue their work, which should conclude in the short term.

The context before the unconstitutionality ruling 44-2013/145-2013 adds to the opacity of the work of the Ad Hoc Commission, which has not generated a single debate about the agenda of its work. Recently, on February 19th of this year, the Commission made known the existence of a draft Reconciliation Law created by deputy Rodolfo Parker (the Truth Commission’s report found Deputy Parker responsible for presumably altering information in order to cover up the participation of high ranking military chiefs in the assassination of six jesuit priests and two employees of the Central American University (Universidad Centroamericana).

Likewise, it is important to remember that the Legislative Assembly has ignored a proposal for a “Comprehensive Reparations Law” for over a year, as presented by various human rights organizations that are members of the coalition “Management Group” for a reparations law.

The organizations that form part of the Group Against Impunity in El Salvador believe that the composition and functioning of the Ad Hoc Commission are not legitimate, that it contradicts international human rights standards for these types of processes, and excludes the affected victims. Thus, we assume that it is very probable that the Ad Hoc Commission seeks to propose a project that constitutes a new impunity law, failing to comply with the ruling that declared the Amnesty Law unconstitutional.

If this possibility comes to fruition, it could slow down the initial, but unpublished, attempts by the Attorney General of the Republic to investigate the human rights violations that occurred during the armed conflict, as well as the work of the tribunals that have reopened various judicial cases, among them the investigation of the massacre by the Atlacatl Battalion of almost one thousand civilians, the majority of them children, in El Mozote and the surrounding area in 1981.

We ask the Salvadoran population to pay attention to the work of the Ad Hoc Commission, from whom we demand transparency, a change in its membership, and a redefinition of its mandate; we call on the international community to reject the new attempts to consolidate El Salvador’s historic impunity.

San Salvador, February 20, 2019

El MozotePaulina PEl Mozote