Victims organize, but will it be enough?

Cristosal graphic

A possible "law of national reconciliation", which would eliminate the possibility of jail time for war criminals and make it more difficult to prosecute crimes against humanity, continues to progress through El Salvador's National Assembly.

Human rights organizations and groups representing the victims of abuses committed during El Salvador's civil war have come together under the umbrellas of the Roundtable against Impunity in El Salvador (Mesa contra la Impunidad en El Salvador) and the Coordinating Group for the Law of Holistic Reparation for Victims of the Armed Conflict (Grupo Gestor para la Ley de Reparación Integral de Víctimas del Conflicto Armado).

After protesting that the legislators have never taken input from the victims in the three years since the 1993 amnesty law was overturned, the National Assembly finally granted a hearing to victims' rights groups this morning.   (The hearing had been delayed from yesterday to today to allow the groups time to consult broadly with the victims and get endorsement of a common position).   The victims' rights groups went to the National Assembly and denounced the process which had been followed by the Ad Hoc Commission and now the current Sub-commission of the Assembly, and demanded that a process be restarted with ample participation by the victims groups.

The victims groups have also developed their own proposal for a law which would provide justice:

Dorila Márquez reports about the delivery of a draft law of reconciliation developed by the victims: "the deputies have deceived us, only one got down and accompanied us with the initiative for our draft,"  but we continue fighting. 

The one deputy accompanying the victims is Juan J. Martel of Democratic Change who sponsored the proposal of the victims in the Assembly:
Deputy  @juanjmartel de @CD_ESA accompanies various organizations of civil society in which they propose a draft Law of Reconciliation that they describe contains guarantees of truth, justice, reparations and guarantee of non-repetition.

But for those opposing the reconciliation law, there are some worrying signs. Roberto Angulo of the PCN party chaired today's meeting of the subcommission with victims' rights groups.   "This meeting left me with the sense that we are on the same ship" he said after meeting with the victims groups.  He also stated that although he did not know when a law could be taken up by the full Asssembly, "if it could be this week, it would be good.  We know there will not be unanimous consensus."

If the bill were put to a vote, it would likely get the 43 votes in the 84 deputy Assembly needed for passage just including the deputies from right wing parties ARENA (37), PCN (9) and PDC (3).   The deputies from  GANA (10), CD(1) and the independent deputy all oppose the law.   That leaves the 23 votes of the FMLN and president Salvador Sánchez Cerén as the deciding force.  If Sánchez Cerén, signs the bill, it becomes law without any other votes needed.   If Sánchez Cerén vetoes the law, however, the FMLN along with GANA have enough votes to uphold the veto and prevent the law from passage. 

(If the National Assembly waits until after June 1, president Nayib Bukele would apparently veto the law, and the FMLN would need to join its votes with ARENA to override that veto).

So what will the FMLN do?   Recently FMLN deputy Damian Alegria appears to have been signaling his support for the law.   In one recent statement he asserted, that this bill was just a temporary measure and that any war criminal could be prosecuted in ordinary course after five years.  (That assertion does not appear to agree with the language in the most recent draft available).  When asked about the law at a forum on Saturday night, FMLN official Roberto Lorenzana did not express any opposition to the law,  but neither did he strongly defend it.

The bigger question may be whether the deputies in the National Assembly are willing to ignore an enormous wave of opposition, from president-elect Nayib Bukele, to the universities, to the Roman Catholic church, and broad swaths of civil society. 

A host of international human rights organizations, including the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) have also condemned the proposal:
[The IACHR] expresses its concern about the processing of the National Reconciliation Bill that would deviate from the international obligations of the State of El Salvador in matters of truth, justice, and reparation for the serious human rights violations committed during the armed conflict... 
On her part, Commissioner Antonia Urrejola, Rapporteur for Memory, Truth and Justice said: "It is very serious that a bill that does not comply with international standards on memory, truth and justice is being processed. The State should refrain from approving laws that violate the rights of victims and impede justice for serious human rights violations." 
The IACHR reiterates its call to the State of El Salvador to refrain from approving initiatives of this nature and to strengthen its efforts to continue advancing in the investigation of these serious crimes, in the identification of those responsible and in the application of the pertinent sanctions. Finally, the IACHR encourages and accompanies all democratic sectors of the country in their efforts to fight impunity.