Following the invalidation of El Salvador's 1993 Amnesty Law, many are wondering what happens next. While many assume that there should be prosecutions of such infamous war crimes as the El Mozote or Rio Sumpul massacres, the form of such proceedings is far from certain. El Salvador's courts seem ill-equipped for the job, and the country's chief prosecutor is not exactly showing an eagerness for the possible challenges ahead.
From the New York Times:
However, there appears to be little political will in El Salvador to revisit a painful chapter of its history in courtrooms. Politicians across the political spectrum have questioned the viability of war crimes tribunals at a time when the country’s judicial institutions are overwhelmed by endemic gang violence. President Salvador Sánchez Cerén warned that the ruling threatened the “fragile coexistence” that binds Salvadoran society.
His concern has some merit. Politicians may be tempted to use the case to settle political scores. As a former guerrilla leader, Mr. Sánchez is among the country’s leaders who could be exposed to prosecution. Some of his allies have criticized the decision as a veiled coup....
Douglas Meléndez, El Salvador’s attorney general, said the government would abide by the ruling. But he has not indicated that his office intends to start dusting off old files and start building cases any time soon. Unless that happens, the ruling will serve as little more than a reminder of long-ago brutalities for which the country’s leaders refuse to make amends.From the Economist:
The supreme court’s ruling is a sign that El Salvador’s judiciary is eager to assert its independence of both political parties. If Mr Meléndez takes up its invitation to prosecute civil-war-era crimes, that separation of powers will become more pronounced.
.... A belated pursuit of justice would force Salvadoreans to relive the horrors of the 1980s and remind them of the bloody origins of the main political parties. Some will ask whether amnesty and impunity were too high a price to pay for peace.Can El Salvador develop a process of national reconciliation? President Salvador Sanchez Ceren has stated that he will seek to reach agreement with the country's political parties on a new national reconciliation law which would investigate crimes against humanity, but would also allow for forgiveness of the transgressors.
The idea of designing a process to declare the truth and provide pardons for those who acknowledge fault is supported by the country's Roman Catholic bishops. From the Catholic Register:
Salvadorans must not overreact to the Supreme Court decision to declare the country's amnesty law unconstitutional, said Auxiliary Bishop Gregorio Rosa Chavez of San Salvador.
"We have to see this with calm," he said. "My call is to not see this in a dramatic way, but with simplicity, in a natural way, because human beings need truth and justice."
While Salvadorans must not forget what happened during their more-than-12-year civil war, people must learn to seek reconciliation, not revenge, he said.
"Those who have been offended have the right to ask for forgiveness ... We can't forget (what happened), but we've got to know how to deal with it," he said.Such a process might be based on principles of restorative justice:
After the decision, rights defenders argued that Salvadoran officials should not seek to jail hundreds of "war criminals," explaining instead that restorative justice efforts would better bring truth and relief to victims of the violence.
"We want the perpetrators to apologize, and the country must seek appropriate mechanisms to forgive and repair, so that that does not happen again," said Miguel Montenegro, director of the nongovernmental Human Rights Commission.
David Morales, human rights ombudsman of El Salvador, told reporters that "politicians are sending messages of fear, but at this stage of our democracy, those speeches are nonsense."
"There will be no chaos nor witch hunt, but some justice to victims," he told reporters.
Montenegro said that before forgiveness can be given, the truth surrounding atrocities must come to light. The war left about 70,000 people dead and more than 8,000 missing.
"Those opposed to justice have always invoked the amnesty law, but they can't hide behind it anymore," Montenegro said.The slow process of justice for the victims of crimes against humanity committed in El Salvador has taken decades. The process has overcome a major obstacle with the removal of the Amnesty Law, but there is a long road yet to go.