Washington, DC—Yesterday, El Salvador’s National Assembly delayed approval on a proposed “national reconciliation” bill that could make it difficult for victims of war crimes or crimes against humanity to bring cases forward or appeal decisions; and may even preclude the possibility of imprisonment or detention of former officials or guerrilla commanders accused of grave abuses. Continued debate over this new piece of proposed legislation will continue to be carried out as El Salvador remembers the killing of six Jesuit priests and two others by the Salvadoran Armed Forces 30 years ago.
The reconciliation bill delayed yesterday is a result of a decision by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) that prompted El Salvador’s Constitutional Court in 2016 to overturn the country’s 1993 amnesty law, which prohibited prosecutions of wartime human rights abuses, including those that involved crimes against humanity. The Salvadoran court then ordered the legislature to develop a new law that would meet international standards so that those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity could be investigated and prosecuted, and victims and families might receive a measure of justice on the road to reconciliation.
Earlier versions of this bill developed by the Salvadoran legislature have been criticized by WOLA, other international human rights organizations, and El Salvador civil society as being a roadmap for impunity, potentially allowing perpetrators of grave human rights abuses to avoid prosecution, or any criminal sentence. Furthermore, a number of international and domestic organizations have called for the legislature to heed the views of victims’ organizations, who are principally interested in seeking truth and justice on the path to reconciliation.
As El Salvador’s National Assembly considers next steps with the reconciliation bill, it’s critical that it carefully review the latest draft legislation, consult closely with victim groups, and closely study international standards for reconciliation legislation before it approves any legislation. Furthermore, the Salvadoran Supreme Court must remain vigilant in ensuring that any legislation passed by the Assembly complies with their 2016 ruling.