El Salvador Peace Anniversary Offers Chance to Critique Blanket Amnesty Law

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Elyssa Pachico’s piece, analyzing the anniversary of the Salvadoran Peace Accords, from today’s Pan-American Post requires reading as well, and offers a slightly different point of view.

In a speech commemorating the 1992 signing of the El Salvador peace accords, President Mauricio Funes voiced a strong critique of the current amnesty laws which protect perpetrators of war crimes.

As the AP reports, the focus of Funes’ speech was an apology for El Salvador’s most well-publicized war massacre, the 1981 El Mozote killings, in which 936 civilians were killed by the military. Funes spoke at the site of the massacre before thousands of people, asking for “forgiveness from the people of El Salvador, who suffered an atrocious and unacceptable violence.”

While Funes praised the military’s transformation into what he described as a more democratic institution, he issued sharper words as well. He condemned the army’s refusal to accept legal responsibility for crimes such as El Mozote. The Third Infantry Brigade, for example, still bears the name of the commanding officer who ordered the 1981 massacre, reports La Prensa Grafica.

El Faro notes that Funes’ most significant criticism was directed against the laws which still protect the authors behind war crimes like El Mozote. El Salvador’s general amnesty law is unique in the region because it essentially blocks all investigation into cases involving human rights violations committed during the 1980s civil war. The United Nations Truth Commission, created alongside the 1992 peace accords, eventually detailed thousands of cases of massacres, disappearance and displacement in El Salvador. But thanks to a series of amnesty laws passed in the early 1990s in quick succession by Congress, then controlled by the conservative ARENA party, El Salvador basically made it impossible to prosecute war criminals.

Funes, the first presidential candidate to end ARENA’s 20-year reign of power, previously assumed a more passive position towards the general amnesty law. On other occasions, Funes apologized for the state’s war crimes and even said those responsible for the most serious violations should not be protected under law. But he also argued that the executive branch lacked the power to overturn legislation passed by Congress, implying that he was not going to fight the issue.

But during Monday’s speech, Funes went so far to state that El Salvador’s reconciliation law was essentially ineffective because it used amnesty as an excuse to grant impunity for those guilty of war crimes. El Faro argues that this is a significant break from the rhetoric of Funes’ predecessors. It may also indicate Funes’ support for the Inter-American Human Rights Court, currently processing the El Mozote case because no Salvadoran court will do so.

Funes has announced other concrete measures to accompany the 20th anniversary of the peace agreement, including a health care and pension system for some 25,000 former members of guerrilla group the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), now a political party, El Faro reports.

The anniversary has also provoked more general reflections over how far El Salvador has come since 1992, and the serious challenges which remain. Project Syndicate has an interesting comparison of how El Salvador managed to maintain peace for two decades and reduce its dependency on foreign aid, in contrast to other conflict-ridden countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. IPS provides background on the signing of the peace accords, while a guest post at Central American Politics summarizes some of the problems still lingering in the country. For an even broader look at what 20 years of peace means for El Salvador, Al Jazeera has a brief video report.

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