El Salvador's Legislative Assembly attempting "Amnesty 3.0"

Monument to Memory and Truth with names of some of
75,000 civilian victims of El Salvador's civil war

This November week in El Salvador is an important one for the country's historic memory.   It is the 30 year anniversary of the "final offensive" launched by FMLN guerrillas in the country's civil war and of the November 16, 1989 massacre of six Jesuit priests, a domestic worker and her daughter at the University of Central America.  It is a time to reflect back and to pray "Nunca Más"   Never Again.

Yet in the midst of remembering those events, deputies in El Salvador's Legislative Assembly are also considering a "Special Law of Transitional and Restorative Justice for National Reconciliation."  It is a measure which critics say could work to blot out the memory of atrocities committed during the war, denying victims justice, and undercutting the possibility of "Never Again." 

The impetus for this proposal is a 2016 decision of the Constitutional Chamber of El Salvador's Supreme Judicial Court which overturned a blanket amnesty law passed in 1993.  The 1993 law had granted blanket amnesty for all crimes, including crimes against humanity and war crimes, committed during the country's 12 year civil war.  In its 2016 decision, the Constitutional Chamber required the Legislative Assembly to pass new laws to provide for post war reconciliation, taking into account victims' rights under international human rights norms.  The current deadline for the Legislative Assembly to pass such legislation, after already receiving an extension from the court, is tomorrow, November 13.

The Legislative Assembly first attempted to pass a National Reconciliation Law in May of this year.   That draft appeared to have the backing of the both ARENA and the FMLN and a probable signature by president Sanchez Ceren if the measure reached his desk before he left office on June 1.   But overwhelming opposition by human rights groups, civil society, universities, the Catholic church and incoming president Nayib Bukele led to the measure stalling at the last minute

Following that first failed attempt in May, legislators made a show of going around the country for the purpose of collecting input from victims and ex-combatants about measures which should appear in a reconciliation law.   Victims' advocates viewed the process as a sham which excluded them, and involved such things as inviting victims to come share their views sitting alongside ex-military members in their uniforms.   Victims alongside their victimizers.

The deputies now say they have taken account of what they heard in those sessions and have prepared a new draft law.  Human rights groups and organizations have uniformly denounced the most recent draft.  The primary concerns of advocates are grounded in a lack of trust of the attorney general's office (Fiscal General) which has shown little interest in moving forward human rights prosecutions and whose current head was chosen by the FMLN and ARENA in back room negotiations.  In particular, victims' advocates point to provisions which provide for:

1) Legal finality for decisions by the Fiscal which could not be changed in the future;

2) Only a limited period within which victims can denounce crimes against humanity and the Fiscal must investigate.  If the Fiscal decides after only a six month investigation (with a possible six month extension) that there is insufficient proof, the case is either archived forever or victims must prosecute the case without the help of government resources; and

3) Multiple ways to minimize or eliminate prison sentences for defendants.   Defendants convicted of war crimes can reduce their sentence to a range between 1/3 and 100% of what would otherwise be the minimum sentence in the law by acknowledging their role, apologizing, and cooperating in clarifying the facts of the case.   (This is at least some improvement over the May 2019 version which allowed sentences of community service for apologetic defendants).  Judges can also reduce sentences for the age and health of the defendants as well as similar reasons, or commute sentences for reasons under existing law.   

The draft law explicitly applies only to crimes committed between January 1, 1980 and January 16, 1992.  It is silent on how events such as massacres of demonstrators during the 1970s should be treated.  The law also has no explicit reference to cases which are already pending such as the El Mozote case.

On Monday, the Political Commission of the Legislative Assembly took up the most recent draft.   At the end of the meeting, the Commission decided to adjourn until Wednesday, the deadline for passing a law, to decide whether to ask the Constitutional Chamber for another extension.   Thus three days before the 30th anniversary of the Jesuit massacre, a case still remaining in impunity, the Legislative Assembly will once again consider passing a law with provisions which aid, not combat, ongoing impunity for the crimes of El Salvador's past.

Parts of the social media campaign against the new proposed law:


Greg said…
Actually the 1989 "final offensive" was "Final Offensive 3.0".

It, like the "final offensives" before it, saw the FMLN soundly defeated throughout the country by the combined efforts of the Salvadoran Armed Forces and U.S. Armed Forces who were their partners in the air and on the ground.

Hoping for "The TET Offensive '68 - Redux", the FMLN's only victory was in its surprise attack and subsequent foothold in the capital, San Salvador. As occurred when the FSLN attacked Managua in one of its "final offensives", guerrilla forces occupied civilian neighborhoods which, in the case of the poor and poorest, the Army and Air Forces punished brutally in combat. Only those "rich" neighborhoods were spared such punishment, as was known they would by the guerrillas.

Any claim of victory by the ESGOV and ESAF was made irrelevant with the brutal and deliberate murders of the Jesuit priests and those others killed with them. This war crime must go to trial in El Salvador and those involved punished. Perhaps after the El Mozote trial?

Following the Jesuit trial should be that of those responsible for the ambush/murder of the 4 Dutch journalists.

The current "amnesty law" effort is indeed a hoax, a sham, a self-serving last gasp by all those Parties (to include alleged war criminals in the FMLN) to escape justice at the hands of the Salvadoran People. It must not pass. It must never be raised again as a legitimate "gesture" of anything but the twisting of the garrote by the butchers and assassins on both sides.