There has been a great deal of reaction to the decision of the Constitutional Chamber of El Salvador's Supreme Court which invalidated the 1993 Amnesty Law. Human rights adocates praised the decision. Former generals scorned it. And the country's president, a former guerrilla commander himself, criticized the decision.
Here is a sampling of the reactions.
Benjamin Cuellar, former director of the human rights institute at the University of Central America and one of the petitioners in the lawsuit was quoted in El Pais saying:
Este es el primer paso que llevará a El Salvador a la verdadera reconciliación; para que las instituciones funcionen y que se lleve a la justicia a quienes cometan delitos, independientemente de quienes sean.
This is the first step that will take El Salvador to true reconciliation; so that the institutions work and bring to justice those who commit crimes, regardless of who they are.David Morales, the current human rights ombudsman (PDDH) in El Salvador was quoted in Diario CoLatino:
Han sido disposiciones infames que tuvieron el despropósito de derogar derechos que por naturaleza son inderogables a las víctimas. Podemos ver está sentencia como una conquista de las víctimas y de las organizaciones (en pro de derechos humanos) que desde 1993 han presentado demandas de inconstitucionalidad
There have been infamous outcomes in the past that have had the effect of diminishing the rights of victims that are, by their nature, irreducible. We are able to see this ruling as a victory of the victims and of the human rights organization that have presented suits against the constitutionality [of the amnesty law].Morales said that the amnesty law had caused judges and judges and prosecutors to favor the oppressors over the victims, but the new ruling would be a tool of great reach for demanding justice.
President Salvador Sánchez Cerén took to the national airwaves in a broadcast on Friday night. The president asserted that his government had always been committed to the restoration of the victims of the war and to building a culture committed to human rights. But he was critical of the decision of the Constitutional Chamber:
Resoluciones de la Sala de lo Constitucional no se ubican ante verdaderos problemas del país y lejos de resolver problemática diaria de salvadoreños la agudiza. Sentencias de la Sala de lo Constitucional ignoran o no miden efectos en convivencia de nuestra sociedad, y no contribuyen a fortalecer institucionalidad.
Resolutions of the Constitutional Chamber don't locate themselves before the real problems of the country and far from solving the daily problems of Salvadorans worsens them. Judgments of the Constitutional Chamber ignore or fail to measure the effects on our living together in society, and do not contribute to strengthening institutionality.
Douglas Melendez, El Salvador's attorney general was in Washington, D.C. for meetings when the decision was announced. He was quoted in El Pais saying:
Nosotros respetamos desde el punto de vista institucional esta sentencia. Vamos a hacer lo que tengamos que hacer, vamos a cumplir nuestras atribuciones constitucionales.
We respect from the institutional point of view this ruling, We will do what we have to do, we will fulfill our constitutional responsibilities.The current minister of defense David Munguia Payes asserted in Diario CoLatino that the court's decision was a "political error" and would be a setback to the process of pacification which had occurred since the end of the civil war. He openly worried that the ruling would turn into a witch hunt.
The conservative political party ARENA (founded by a leader of the death squads in the 1970s and 1980s, and in control of the government when atrocities like the massacre of the Jesuits occurred) published an official statement urging respect for the court's decisions, but also noting that the decisions would present challenges for the process of reconciliation and the strengthening of democracy and institutions.
The Center for Justice and Accountability has been a leader in pursuing Salvadoran human rights violators. The New York Times got CJA's reaction:
“Every rock that was in the path is being thrown to one side,” said Carolyn Patty Blum, the senior legal adviser to the Center for Justice and Accountability, an organization based in San Francisco that has filed Salvadoran human rights cases against military officers in courts outside the country.
Ms. Blum said she hoped that the ruling would embolden human rights groups, prosecutors and judges to take up dormant cases. Prosecuting cases as crimes against humanity, she said, would hold the commanders responsible, not just the men who carried out orders.
“It could be a real inspirational turning point,” she said.One group of victims impacted by the decision were the relatives of those massacred at El Mozote noted the Washington Post:
Rosario Sánchez, whose mother and 12 other relatives were killed in El Mozote, said she was relieved to hear that the amnesty law had been declared unconstitutional.
“For years we’ve been hearing that because of the amnesty, the soldiers who killed our relatives can’t be tried, and we can’t receive any kind of reparations for our loss,” she said.In April 2015, government forensics investigators dug up the bones of Sánchez’s family and two dozen other victims of the massacre, but the investigation has since stalled because of a 1993 decision to archive the case in light of the amnesty law.
“With this ruling, we can return to the judge and say that the decision to close the case was illegal,” said Ovidio González, a lawyer with the human rights organization Tutela Legal, which has been representing the massacre victims for more than two decades.The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights declared:
Esta decisión histórica para el país devuelve la esperanza a las víctimas y la confianza en el sistema legal....Más de 20 años después del fin del conflicto, esta decisión de la más alta instancia judicial restablece los derechos fundamentales de las víctimas a la justicia y a una reparación integral.
This historic decision for the country returns hope to the victims and trust in the legal system....More than twenty years after the end of the conflict, this decision is the highest judicial action reestablishing the fundamental rights of the victims to justice and to wholistic reparations.Amnesty International praised the decision:
Today is an historic day for human rights in El Salvador. By turning its back on a law that has done nothing but let criminals get away with serious human rights violations for decades, the country is finally dealing with its tragic past,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.The University of Central America, home of the Jesuits murdered in 1989, posted the following statement:
The majority of the victims are more noble than the victimizers. They do not want vengeance, they want the injustice to be recognized. And the State is obliged to honor them. It is time to put the victims in the center. The new phase that is opened for the country is positive, it means an advance for democracy and justice, and constitutes a late but just recognition for those who had been disrespected in their memory and in their pain.