WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
15 May 2019 | Press Release

El Salvador Legislature Must Honor Rights of Victims, Drop Debate of Proposed Amnesty Law

Rush to Approve New Amnesty Law Would be a Blatant Attempt to Secure Impunity for War Crimes

Washington, DC—Press reports indicate that the Salvadoran National Assembly is moving to debate and approve a new amnesty law for war crimes before President-elect Nayib Bukele takes office on June 1. It is unclear how much this proposal would differ from a previous draft, which would have ended all current prosecutions and blocked all future convictions involving human rights crimes committed during El Salvador’s 12-year civil war (1980-1992). It is essential that Salvadoran lawmakers only move forward with a proposal that satisfies the demands of families and victims who seek truth and justice for war crimes, said research and advocacy group the Washington Office on Latin America.

“While details of the new proposal are not yet known, it would be very troubling if El Salvador’s legislature rushed through a proposal in the next two weeks that denied the right of victims and survivors to justice and truth,” said WOLA Vice President for Programs Geoff Thale.

El Salvador’s National Assembly voted to block prosecutions into war crimes in 1993, but the country’s Constitutional Court overturned this in 2016. That ruling has allowed for new prosecutions and investigations into several major wartime human rights cases, such as the 1981 El Mozote massacre, in which more than 800 civilians died at the hands of the military. An ad hoc commission of lawmakers, charged with developing new “national reconciliation” legislation to replace the 1993 law, had previously come up with a proposal that granted amnesty those convicted or under investigation for war crimes. This proposal was widely denounced by the Archbishop of San Salvador, victims groups and families, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, international human rights lawyers, and academics, among others.

“The international community, including Members of the U.S. Congress, will be outraged if El Salvador’s National Assembly moves to restore amnesty for those who committed serious human rights abuses during the armed conflict,” said Thale.

President-elect Nayib Bukele has criticized reported efforts by lawmakers to rush the debate and approval of the new “national reconciliation” law. He has previously asserted that he would veto any proposal granting amnesty to those accused or convicted of war crimes.

“President Sánchez Cerén would stain his legacy if one of his last acts would be to approve any proposal that, under the guise of ‘reconciliation,’ protects those guilty of abuses and leaves the victims without hope or justice,” said Thale.