January 16 was the 24th anniversary of the signing of the Peace Accords which ended El Salvador's civil war which lasted from 1980-1992. In the official commemoration of the event, president Salvador Sanchez Ceren asked for forgiveness from the victims and their families who suffered at the hands of the country's armed forces during the conflict. He described the creation last year of a new registry of the victims which may enable them to receive reparations from the Salvadoran state.
El Salvador's civil war resulted in the deaths of 75,000 civilians or more. The war was marked with human rights violations and massacres with names like El Mozote and Rio Sumpul and Santa Cruz. No post-war judicial proceedings have ever been conducted in El Salvador against those responsible for ordering those crimes against humanity. And so 24 years after the signing of the Peace Accords, the victims continue to search for justice.
On January 8, the US deported to El Salvador former Minister of Defense Gen. José Guillermo García after US immigration courts found him responsible for grave human rights violations. Under General Garcia's command the country's armed forces executed some of the worst atrocities of the Salvadoran civil war. As National Catholic Reporter recounts:
The same court upheld findings that Garcia had protected death squads and "assisted or otherwise participated in" 14 assassinations, six massacres, and the torture of countless civilians including [Dr. Juan] Romagoza.
The court also found that Garcia failed to investigate the murders of Romero and the churchwomen, or the 1980 Rio Sumpul massacre of about 600 civilians and the 1981 El Mozote massacre in which the army systematically executed 1,000 villagers, including more than 250 children -- a crime Garcia not only refused to investigate, but denied ever happened, calling it a fabrication by Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) guerrillas for propaganda purposes. In fact, it was the worst massacre of civilians in contemporary Latin American history.Garcia was greeted at El Salvador's newly renamed Oscar Arnulfo Romero International Airport by protesters and activists who shouted "assassin" and "torturer" When some shouted for him to answer about the desaparecidos, he shouted back "go look for them." There are no current judicial proceedings against Garcia in the country he has returned to.
The election of a new Attorney General in the country has led to hopes that maybe this prosecutor will be willing to prosecute former war criminals. However, nothing in what Douglas Meléndez has said so far suggests that he is inclined to do so.
Still the major underpinning for impunity remains the amnesty law passed in 1993. El Salvador's Supreme Court has had a suit challenging the law before it for years, but has never ruled. The law could be repealed by the legislature, but there has never been a serious movement towards doing so.
Twenty four years after the civil war officially ended, its victims still clamor for justice.