Reactions to amnesty ruling

There has been a great deal of reaction to the decision of the Constitutional Chamber of El Salvador's Supreme Court which invalidated the 1993 Amnesty Law.   Human rights adocates praised the decision.   Former generals scorned it.  And the country's president, a former guerrilla commander himself, criticized the decision.  

Here is a sampling of the reactions.

Benjamin Cuellar, former director of the human rights institute at the University of Central America and one of the petitioners in the lawsuit was quoted in El Pais saying:
Este es el primer paso que llevará a El Salvador a la verdadera reconciliación; para que las instituciones funcionen y que se lleve a la justicia a quienes cometan delitos, independientemente de quienes sean. 
This is the first step that will take El Salvador to true reconciliation; so that the institutions work and bring to justice those who commit crimes, regardless of who they are.
David Morales, the current human rights ombudsman (PDDH) in El Salvador was quoted in Diario CoLatino:
Han sido disposiciones infames que tuvieron el despropósito de derogar derechos que por naturaleza son inderogables a las víctimas. Podemos ver está sentencia como una conquista de las víctimas y de las organizaciones (en pro de derechos humanos) que desde 1993 han presentado demandas de inconstitucionalidad 
There have been infamous outcomes in the past that have had the effect of diminishing the rights of victims that are, by their nature, irreducible.   We are able to see this ruling as a victory of the victims and of the human rights organization that have presented suits against the constitutionality [of the amnesty law].
Morales said that the amnesty law had caused judges and judges and prosecutors to favor the oppressors over the victims, but the new ruling would be a tool of great reach for demanding justice.

President Salvador Sánchez Cerén took to the national airwaves in a broadcast on Friday night.  The president asserted that his government had always been committed to the restoration of the victims of the war and to building a culture committed to human rights.   But he was critical of the decision of the Constitutional Chamber:
Resoluciones de la Sala de lo Constitucional no se ubican ante verdaderos problemas del país y lejos de resolver problemática diaria de salvadoreños la agudiza.  Sentencias de la Sala de lo Constitucional ignoran o no miden efectos en convivencia de nuestra sociedad, y no contribuyen a fortalecer institucionalidad. 
Resolutions of the Constitutional Chamber don't locate themselves before the real problems of the country and far from solving the daily problems of Salvadorans worsens them.  Judgments of the Constitutional Chamber ignore or fail to measure the effects on our living together in society, and do not contribute to strengthening institutionality.

Douglas Melendez, El Salvador's attorney general was in Washington, D.C. for meetings when the decision was announced.   He was quoted in El Pais saying:
Nosotros respetamos desde el punto de vista institucional esta sentencia.  Vamos a hacer lo que tengamos que hacer, vamos a cumplir nuestras atribuciones constitucionales. 
We respect from the institutional point of view this ruling,  We will do what we have to do, we will fulfill our constitutional responsibilities.
The current minister of defense David Munguia Payes asserted in Diario CoLatino that the court's decision was a "political error" and would be a setback to the process of pacification which had occurred since the end of the civil war.  He openly worried that the ruling would turn into a witch hunt.

The conservative political party ARENA (founded by a leader of the death squads in the 1970s and 1980s, and in control of the government when atrocities like the massacre of the Jesuits occurred) published an official statement urging respect for the court's decisions, but also noting that the decisions would present challenges for the process of reconciliation and the strengthening of democracy and institutions.

The Center for Justice and Accountability has been a leader in pursuing Salvadoran human rights violators.   The New York Times got CJA's reaction:
“Every rock that was in the path is being thrown to one side,” said Carolyn Patty Blum, the senior legal adviser to the Center for Justice and Accountability, an organization based in San Francisco that has filed Salvadoran human rights cases against military officers in courts outside the country. 
Ms. Blum said she hoped that the ruling would embolden human rights groups, prosecutors and judges to take up dormant cases. Prosecuting cases as crimes against humanity, she said, would hold the commanders responsible, not just the men who carried out orders. 
“It could be a real inspirational turning point,” she said.
One group of victims impacted by the decision were the relatives of those massacred at El Mozote noted the Washington Post:
Rosario Sánchez, whose mother and 12 other relatives were killed in El Mozote, said she was relieved to hear that the amnesty law had been declared unconstitutional. 
“For years we’ve been hearing that because of the amnesty, the soldiers who killed our relatives can’t be tried, and we can’t receive any kind of reparations for our loss,” she said.In April 2015, government forensics investigators dug up the bones of Sánchez’s family and two dozen other victims of the massacre, but the investigation has since stalled because of a 1993 decision to archive the case in light of the amnesty law. 
“With this ruling, we can return to the judge and say that the decision to close the case was illegal,” said Ovidio González, a lawyer with the human rights organization Tutela Legal, which has been representing the massacre victims for more than two decades.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights declared:
Esta decisión histórica para el país devuelve la esperanza a las víctimas y la confianza en el sistema legal....Más de 20 años después del fin del conflicto, esta decisión de la más alta instancia judicial restablece los derechos fundamentales de las víctimas a la justicia y a una reparación integral.
This historic decision for the country returns hope to the victims and trust in the legal system....More than twenty years after the end of the conflict, this decision is the highest judicial action reestablishing the fundamental rights of the victims to justice and to wholistic reparations.
Amnesty International praised the decision:
Today is an historic day for human rights in El Salvador. By turning its back on a law that has done nothing but let criminals get away with serious human rights violations for decades, the country is finally dealing with its tragic past,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.
The University of Central America, home of the Jesuits murdered in 1989, posted the following statement:
The majority of the victims are more noble than the victimizers.   They do not want vengeance, they want the injustice to be recognized.   And the State is obliged to honor them.  It is time to put the victims in the center.   The new phase that is opened for the country is positive, it means an advance for democracy and justice, and constitutes a late but just recognition for those who had been disrespected in their memory and in their pain.  


Greg said…

And of course the current president would take the position he has.

The FMLN has its own Cadre of Killers who have been protected by this "law". As the slow wheel of Justice begins to turn it will be of interest to see who among the FMLN begin to shake with fear.

Unknown said…
This ruling is a great victory for social justice activists in El Salvador (many if not most of whom are FMLN militants or supporters), whose predecessors (and family & friends) were the targets & victims of these human rights violations during the conflict. The President acknowledges and celebrates that victory in his speech.

But I think you've taken President Ceren's quote out of context and quoted it incorrectly in a way that changes the meaning. Double check that. His quote says...
"Como hemos señalado de manera reiterada, ante otras resoluciones de esta Sala, estas no se ubican ante los verdaderos y actuales problemas del país, y lejos de ayudar a resolver la problemática diaria de los salvadoreños, la agudiza." (

What President Ceren was referring to in the above section you quoted were the other rulings that aren't "media sexy" and have been buried by all the attention to the rollback of the amnesty law. They are absolutely horrible and have have potentially devastating effects for effective governance in the country. These other rulings basically gut the government's attempts to ensure sufficient funds to implement it's security programs, and throws the whole system of legislative alternates (suplentes) up in the air. These rulings are likely to have a more direct impact on the daily lives of the vast majority of Salvadorans than the rollback of the amnesty law, and it will be an overwhelmingly negative impact. That's what President Ceren was calling out, how the CSJ rulings are basically blocking/undermining his government's ability to govern by carrying out its chosen policies.

Another thing to note is that since the VAST majority of Human Rights violations were committed by RIGHTwing forces allied with ARENA and the Salvadoran military we should expect that most cases be brought by their victims. But don't underestimate the resources and spitefulness of these actors who will be willing to carryout a "scorched earth" policy of bringing cases, even spurious ones, against members of the government or FMLN deputies to destabilize the government and make the country ungovernable. Or at the very least they'll distract resources from the FMLN, both human and material, to defending themselves from prosecution and sap energy / divert attention from implementing their social, political, economic agenda.
Tim said…
Hector, I'll be adding a post shortly on those other two rulings. With respect to the Amnesty ruling, I think the president and the FMLN have been and continue to be deliberately ambiguous on the ruling. El Faro has a good summary of the FMLN's ambivalence here:

Unknown said…
Thanks again for your great reporting about ES! I reposted this post as a comment to my blog: El Salvador's Supreme Court Invalidation of Salvadoran Amnesty Law (July 24, 2016),

I plan to write another post about extradition of Salvadorans to Spain for Jesuit case and wonder if you have answers or thoughts to these questions:

1. Why did Supreme Court stay its decision on extradition other than wanting to study Constitutional Chamber's decision on Amnesty Law?

2. Any hints on when the Supreme Court will release its decision? How will it turn out?

3. How did the other 12 or so Salvadorans avoid arrest earlier this year? Any efforts now to find and arrest them?

In the meantime, this is a primer on U.S.extradition law and practice: Extradition Has Become a Hot Topic for the United States (July 26, 2016),