El Salvador’s Amnesty Law Up for Review by Supreme Court (Juan José Dalton, El País)

This article first appeared in Spanish in El País on 6 February 2014. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

El Salvador’s Amnesty Law Up for Review by Supreme Court
by Juan José Dalton (El País)

–       The High Court orders unprecedented investigation into a massacre from 1981

On 25 July 1981, a twenty-soldier patrol from the El Salvadoran Army arrived in the town of San Francisco Angulo. It was around 1100 in the morning. Without a word, they murdered 45 people. In 2005, the victims’ families began to demand justice, and that they knew the truth had been covered up. On Wednesday, the Constitutional Chamber of El Salvador’s Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ) offered a ray of hope in the case, ordering the Attorney General to investigate the case to identify who committed the murders.

During El Salvador’s civil war, between 1980 and 1992, such butchery resulted from a “scorched earth” counterinsurgency tactic. The strategy attempted to “drain the water from the fish” – meaning, eradicate the guerrilla’s social support.

In some massacres, like those of El Mozote and Río Sumpul, about 1,000 people died in each. The UN Truth Commission documented these crimes against humanity. Judges in El Salvador have never reviewed these atrocities: impeded as they are by a 1993 Amnesty Law, passed during the government of Alfredo Cristiani.

The Constitutional Chamber’s judgement now favors victims’ families: Higinio Ponce Ruiz, Ina de los Ángeles Arias de Rodríguez, Miguel Romero and Blanca Nohemy have demanded since 2005 their right to know the truth about what happened. Although 40 victims’ bodies have been exhumed, the Constitutional Chamber considers “that the Attorney General violated rights of access to justice and to know the truth about what happened. The Attorney General failed to discharge its duty to investigate the group murders in San Francisco Angulo, unjustifiably delaying its investigations. The investigations have until now neither been serious, exhaustive, diligent, nor conclusive.

Claudia Interiano, who represents the families for the Madelaine Lagadec Centre for the Promotion of Human Rights says, “the judgment is unprecedented within El Salvador. It is the first time that the Court has spoken of a constitutional rights’ violation: access to justice, and as part of that it’s the first time it has found a violation of the right to know the truth.”

Interiano explains that the current Supreme Court of Justice has opened its doors so that the victims’ families and survivors of the Tecoluca massacre can receive emotional, psychological, and physical restitution. “It’s a step forward for the health of El Salvador’s society,” emphasizes the activist.

Sectors of society linked to human rights and rule of law groups in El Salvador have demanded the Constitutional Chamber annul the 1993 Amnesty Law. The Chamber admitted the petition last year and the expectation is that it will issue a favorable judgment. This week’s Tecoluca massacre decision points in that direction, asserts Interiano.

Editor Juan José Dalton reports for El País and DPA from El Salvador where he edits Contrapunto a daily online newspaper. This story first appeared in El País bearing the title, “El Supremo de El Salvador cuestiona La Ley de Amnistía,” available at, http://internacional.elpais.com/internacional/2014/02/06/actualidad/1391717629_342220.html.

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP), a quality selection of Spanish-language journalism about Latin America rendered into English. Follow him on Twitter @patricktimmons.

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