Press Release

IACHR Hails Determination of Unconstitutionality of Amnesty Law in El Salvador

July 25, 2016

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Washington, D.C.—The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) welcomes the determination that the General Amnesty Law for the Consolidation of Peace in El Salvador is unconstitutional. With this ruling, El Salvador has come into compliance with decisions adopted in the 1990s by the inter-American human rights system.

Through a press release issued by the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of El Salvador on July 13, 2016, the Inter-American Commission learned that the General Amnesty Law for the Consolidation of Peace was declared unconstitutional. Since it was adopted on March 20, 1993, this law had been an insurmountable obstacle to the search for justice for thousands of victims of grave human rights violations and their families. The hope for peace and justice after the signing of the Chapultepec Accords on January 16, 1992, had been obscured by the adoption of the Amnesty Law, days after the publication of the report of the Truth Commission, “From Madness to Hope,” on March 15, 1993.

Citing the American Convention on Human Rights and other international human rights instruments, the Constitutional Chamber declared the challenged law unconstitutional, “because the objective and subjective extension of amnesty is contrary to the right of protection of fundamental rights…as it prevents compliance with State obligations to prevent, investigate, prosecute, punish, and remedy serious violations of these rights.”

Since the 1990s, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights had determined that El Salvador’s Amnesty Law was incompatible with the State’s international obligations, and repeatedly urged that the law be eliminated from the country’s legal system, underscoring the need to adopt the necessary measures to ensure that victims would have effective access to judicial protection and judicial guarantees. In 1993, the IACHR sent a letter to the President of El Salvador recommending that he veto the Amnesty Law on grounds that this law would lead to eventual incompliance with the State’s international obligations. Moreover, in January 1999, in the case of Lucio Parada Cea et al., the Commission concluded that in approving and enforcing the General Amnesty Law, the Salvadoran State violated the right to judicial guarantees. In December 1999, in the case of Ignacio Ellacuría S.J. et al., the Commission determined that by surrounding serious violations of human rights with impunity, the Amnesty Law legally removed the right to justice established in the American Convention on Human Rights, as it made impossible any effective investigation of human rights violations, or the prosecution and punishment of all those involved and the reparation of damages caused. The Commission took a similar position in its Merits Report in the case of Monsignor Oscar Arnulfo Romero, approved in the year 2000, among other cases.

The direct or indirect application of the Amnesty Law in matters that have come before the IACHR and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights—such as the cases of Monsignor Romero (1980), Rochac Hernández et al. (1980), Contreras et al. (1981), the massacre at El Mozote and nearby places (1981), the disappearance of the Serrano Cruz sisters (1982), the massacre at Las Hojas (1983), and the extrajudicial execution of six Jesuit priests and two women (1989), among others—resulted in determinations that the State of El Salvador was responsible for violating its international human rights obligations.

As the IACHR has said before, “All societies have the irrefutable right to know the truth of events, as well as the reasons and circumstances in which such aberrant crimes come to be committed, so as to prevent such events from occurring again in the future.” States, for their part, have an unwaivable legal duty to take reasonable steps to prevent human rights violations, to use the means at their disposal to carry out a serious investigation of violations committed within their jurisdiction, to identify those responsible and impose upon them the appropriate punishment, and to ensure the victim adequate compensation.

The IACHR welcomes this historic ruling as a milestone in the road to truth, justice, and reparation in El Salvador, with the elimination of the obstacles the Amnesty Law had represented for the investigation of the grave crimes perpetrated during the internal armed conflict, the identification of those responsible for them, the enforcement of punishment, and the determination of fair compensation. Moreover, given that the impunity surrounding these grave crimes encourages their repetition, progress made in obtaining justice in these cases will also make it possible to prevent future violations of human rights.

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 area. 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.

No. 098/16