End of Amnesty for War Crimes in El Salvador

On Wednesday, July 13, El Salvador’s Supreme Court declared unconstitutional the nation’s Amnesty Law, passed in 1993. The law–passed in 1993, just five days after the El Salvador Truth Commission published a report that investigated the intellectual authors of war crimes carried out during the long civil war–granted immunity from prosecution to the perpetrators of such crimes.

The law protected the masterminds behind these crimes, the military, paramilitary groups, and guerrilla groups, from prosecution. This was touted as necessary in order for the country to move forward with the Peace Accords and end the civil war. Yet in 2013, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights declared the amnesty law invalid based on international law, which states that there can never be amnesty for genocide or crimes against humanity. But until this week the law was still in effect in El Salvador. Now, the perpetrators of those crimes can finally be brought to justice in El Salvador.

As long as the perpetrators of genocide and mass murder have amnesty, the path of justice remains blocked. How can citizens feel safe when the very masterminds behind massacres and attacks during El Salvador’s bloody civil war have a seat in the new, post-war government, with no accountability for their crimes? Striking down the amnesty law may give El Salvador a new chance to seek justice and healing and move forward from its gruesome past. The path to reconciliation is not easy. But perhaps bringing the criminals to justice can clear the path toward a better future.

Yet while El Salvador is addressing the problem of impunity by repealing the amnesty, another nation’s impunity remains unaddressed. Will the United States ever be held accountable for its role in the mass murder and political repression in El Salvador and across Latin America? Not only did the CIA assist in ousting left-leaning political leaders in El Salvador and across the continent in the name of “democracy,” but the U.S. also provided military training to the very military leaders that committed massacres across Central America at the U.S. Army School of the Americas. Even if the army leaders in El Salvador who planned crimes such as the 1981 El Mozote massacre, where the Salvadoran military killed over 1,000 people, are brought to justice, when will the members of the CIA and the U.S. government who trained and supported these military men ever be held accountable for their role in the crimes?

I believe that the most important way that the U.S. can ever make amends for its involvement in war crimes such as these is to never let it happen again. Instead of allowing the CIA to continue toppling leftist leaders with impunity and training military leaders from other countries in techniques of torture and dirty war, the United States needs to close the School of the Americas (now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation), stop trying to control Latin American nations for the U.S.’s own financial benefit, and let those nations choose their own paths, wherever they may lead. Then, we can close a bloody, ugly chapter in our own history and move toward international reconciliation and justice.

See here and here for more on the amnesty law (links in Spanish). 


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