El Salvador Must Investigate Grave Human Rights Violations from
the Armed Conflict
October 2, 2013
Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) once again stresses that the State of El Salvador must ensure that the General Amnesty Law for the Consolidation of the Peace does not stand in the way of investigating the grave human rights violations that took place during the armed conflict, nor hamper the identification, prosecution, and eventual punishment of those responsible for the crimes.
According to information received by the IACHR, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court admitted a petition of unconstitutionality on September 20, 2013. According to the petitioners, the law violates constitutional provisions in terms of form (Articles 85 and 135) because the legislative proceedings did not respect requirements related to public notice, argument, free debate, and discussion. The petitioners also allege that in terms of the merits, Articles 1, 2, and 4 of the Amnesty Law are in violation of Articles 2, 12, 131, and 144 of the Constitution.
The IACHR and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights have established repeatedly that any provisions—whether legislative, administrative, or of any other nature—that stand in the way of investigating and punishing those responsible for grave human rights violations are incompatible with the States’ international human rights obligations. Specifically, Inter-American Court judgments have established time and again the inadmissibility of amnesty provisions, statutes of limitation, and exculpatory provisions that attempt to impede the investigation and punishment of those responsible for grave human rights violations such as torture; summary, extralegal, or arbitrary executions; and forced disappearances, all of which are prohibited because they contravene non-derogable rights recognized under international human rights law.
During the armed conflict in El Salvador, approximately 75,000 people were killed and 8,000 were victims of forced disappearance, including thousands of children. The bodies of the inter-American human rights system have ruled several times on the Salvadoran State’s international responsibility for human rights violations that took place during the armed conflict. The IACHR and the Inter-American Court have specifically called for the General Amnesty Law for the Consolidation of the Peace to be annulled, as it stands in the way of the investigation, prosecution, and punishment of those responsible for human rights violations and violations of victims’ rights to truth, justice, and reparation. The Inter-American Commission reiterates that it is the State of El Salvador’s duty, without delay, to pay history’s debt to the memory of the victims, to their surviving relatives, and to all of society, who more than 30 years after the fact have still been unable to learn the truth or obtain justice through the punishment of those who committed these crimes against humanity.
The Inter-American Commission has issued decisions and published reports on individual cases related to this subject. In the cases involving the extrajudicial executions of the Archbishop of San Salvador, Monsignor Oscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdámez, and the Jesuit priests Ignacio Ellacuría, Ignacio Martín Baró, Segundo Montes, Armando López, Joaquín López y López, and Juan Ramón Moreno, as well as the extrajudicial executions of Julia Elba Ramos and her daughter Celina Mariceth Ramos, by death squads made up of agents of the State, the Inter-American Commission recommended that the State conduct a complete, impartial, effective, and swift investigation, in accordance with international standards, in order to identify, prosecute, and punish the perpetrators and masterminds of the violations that were found, without prejudice to the decreed amnesty. It also recommended that El Salvador adapt its domestic legislation to the precepts of the American Convention, in order to invalidate what is known as the General Amnesty Law. Moreover, in the case involving the forced disappearances of the children José Adrián Rochac Hernández, Santos Ernesto Salinas, Manuel Antonio Bonilla Osorio, Ricardo Ayala Abarca, and Emelinda Lorena Hernández, which took place between 1980 and 1982, the Commission recommended that the State, among other things, conduct a complete, impartial, and effective investigation into the facts so as to determine responsibility and punish all perpetrators of human rights violations against the victims in the case, including any investigations needed to determine responsibility and punish those who participated in the cover-up of the events and in the denial of justice.
In addition, the Inter-American Court established the following in its judgment in the Case of the Massacres of El Mozote and Nearby Places v. El Salvador: “The State must ensure that the Law of General Amnesty for the Consolidation of the Peace never again represents an obstacle to the investigation of the facts that are the subject matter of this case or to the identification, prosecution and eventual punishment of those responsible for them and for other similar grave human rights violations that took place during the armed conflict in El Salvador.” The Inter-American Court added: “This obligation is binding on all the State’s powers and organs as a whole, which are obliged to exercise ex officio the control of conformity between the domestic norms and the American Convention; evidently, within the framework of their respective competences and the corresponding procedural regulations.”
A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this matter. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.