IACHR

Press Release

IACHR Concerned about Bill that Would Leave Unpunished Serious Human Rights Violations of El Salvador’s Past

April 25, 2019

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María Isabel Rivero
IACHR Press and Communication Office
Tel: +1 (202) 370-9000
mrivero@oas.org

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses its profound concern about the National Reconciliation bill that is currently being debated in El Salvador’s National Assembly, which would promote impunity in cases of serious human rights violations committed in the country in the past.

According to the information the Commission has had access to, the bill provides for a “broad, absolute and unconditional amnesty” for people who were involved in “political crimes, common crimes associated with them, and common crimes committed by a minimum of 20 people before January 1, 1992.” Among others, this bill would grant a pardon to all persons convicted of such crimes. The bill provides for exceptions to such an amnesty, including “war crimes and crimes against humanity,” but it sets a deadline to take such events before the courts, 180 days after the proposed law goes into force.

The Salvadoran State already had similar legislation in place after its internal armed conflict. In the 1990s, the Inter-American Commission established that the Amnesty Act failed to comply with the Salvadoran State’s international obligations, because it was a hurdle in the search for justice for victims of serious human rights violations and their families. In 2016, the Constitutional Chamber of El Salvador’s Supreme Court declared that the law was unconstitutional, based on the consideration that “the objective and subjective terms of that amnesty violate the obligation to protect fundamental rights […], since they preclude enforcement of the State’s obligations to prevent, investigate, prosecute and punish serious violations of fundamental rights and to provide reparations for any such violations.” The IACHR welcomed that court decision.

The IACHR and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights have repeatedly stated that dispositions to grant broad, absolute and unconditional amnesties preserve impunity in cases of serious human rights violations, since they make it impossible to effectively investigate human rights violations and to prosecute and punish the people responsible for them. The Commission has stated that crimes against humanity have a series of features that set them apart from other crimes, based on the ends and goals they seek. Such features include the concept of humanity as the victim and the aim of ensuring non-repetition of attacks against democracy and of unforgettable atrocities.

“Any dispositions that seek to prevent investigation and punishment concerning the people responsible for serious human rights violations are inadmissible,” said Commissioner Margarette May Macaulay, IACHR Rapporteur for El Salvador. “The State must not adopt regulations that enable impunity for events that are that serious.” “This bill’s dispositions are a major step back in terms of memory, truth and justice, particularly concerning amnesties for serious human rights violations,” said Commissioner Antonia Urrejola, head of the Rapporteurship on Memory, Truth and Justice. “Creating hurdles for justice prevents victims and their families from getting to know the truth and from receiving the reparations they are entitled to,” she stressed.

The IACHR urges the Salvadoran State to refrain from adopting initiatives of this kind and to keep investigating such serious crimes, identifying the people responsible for them and enforcing any relevant punishments. Finally, the IACHR encourages and supports all democratic groups in the country in their efforts to fight impunity. In the context of its operations and mandate, the IACHR remains ready to keep cooperating with the Salvadoran State and to provide technical assistance for all efforts made to ensure the effective exercise of the rights to truth and justice in El Salvador.

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 and to defend 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. 104/19