Slow wheels of Salvadoran justice

It has been almost two years since El Salvador's Supreme Judicial Court overturned the 1993 amnesty law which had prevented prosecution of crimes committed during the country's civil war.  This week the Constitutional Chamber of the court has summoned branches of the Salvadoran government to report on how they have been pursuing justice for crimes against humanity committed during El Salvador's civil conflict.  This follows a similar hearing in July 2017, where the branches displayed little progress in working on transitional justice.

The attorney general's office (FGR) is responsible for investigating and putting cases together for crimes against humanity.   The FGR indicated to the court that that office is currently investigating 160 such cases from the conflict years.

Among those cases already open are the cases of the forced disappearance of the Serrano Cruz sisters and the massacres at El Mozote, Tecoluca, and El Calabozo.  The FGR indicated that it is in the process of reopening proceedings for:

  • Murder of the Dutch journalists, 1982.
  • Massacre at Las Hojas, 1982.
  • Massacre of the Jesuitas, 1989.
  • Murder of the president of ISTA and two EU aids, 1981.
  • Murder of Mons.Romero, 1981.
  • Murder of Dr. Francisco José Guerrero, president of the CSJ, 1989.
  • Murder of profesor María Cristina Pérez, 1989.
  • Murder of Patricia Méndez, 1982.
  • Murder of 5 leaders of the FDR, 1980.

As it did last year, the FGR indicated that its investigations are hampered by a lack of resources.   The National Civilian Police have designated only four offcers to work with the FGR on the investigation of these 160 cases.   The FGR's office itself, suffers from an insufficient budget to do all of its work, including these investigations.

The representative of the National Assembly had to acknowledge to the Court that legislators had largely ignored the representation made a year earlier by Guillermo Gallegos that there would be an ad hoc commission created to address questions.  It was not until June 13, one week ago, with this hearing looming, that Norman Quijano announced the appointment of five members of this commission to study the development of a law of national reconciliation.

Members of the human rights community held a press conference on Thursday morning to express their disappointment and concern with the slow progress of justice for these crimes lefts for thirty years or more in impunity.  Advocates expressed concern that the new commission of the National Assembly would be made up of persons linked to defendants in these war crimes cases rather than having representation of victims and their families.

The human rights organizations filed an amicus curie brief with the Constitutional Chamber commenting on these points, and also warning against any possibility that the government might be considering enacting a new version of an amnesty law.

The hearing continues Friday, June 22, with a representative of the armed forces required to respond to the court about access to archives.