[JURIST] The Supreme Court of El Salvador [official website, in Spanish] on Wednesday struck down the amnesty law of 1993 [backgrounder, PDF], opening the way for prosecution of those associated with various war crimes and crimes against humanity during the country’s civil war. In a 4-1 decision the court held [WP article] the law unconstitutional and stated the government was under obligation to “investigate, identify and sanction the material and intellectual authors of human rights crimes and grave war crimes,” as well as grant reparations to those affected. The decision was hailed as a victory [UN press release] by many human rights advocates, including a group of independent experts of the UN who claimed that the “decision by the highest court will restore the fundamental rights to justice and integral reparation of the victims.” Some are less optimistic, however, as they believe the ruling will lead to a “political witch hunt” and intensify current political polarization. Mauricio Ernesto Vargas, a retired general who had been involved in the peace negotiations, stated “[t]he country doesn’t have the economic and social conditions to add one more destabilizing ingredient to the mix.” It is believed that the conflict led to the death of 75,000 and the disappearance of 8,000 more, as well as many more victims of torture, sexual violence, and displacement.
This decision will allow El Salvador to follow suit with the US, which has made significant strides over the past decade in prosecuting those involved in the El Salvadoran civil war. In 2011 the Obama administration charged [JURIST report] General Eugenio Vides Casanova, former defense minister of El Salvador, for human rights crimes committed during the civil war while he served as the country’s top military officer. The US was also seeking to deport [La Página report, in Spanish] Vides, who retired in Florida after completing his six-year term as defense minister. Vides was successfully deported [JURIST] in 2015. In 2006, US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit [official website] upheld a $55 million verdict [JURIST report] against Vides and his co-defendant Jose Guillermo Garcia for allowing torture and other human rights violations during the war. In 2005, a US federal court reached a verdict against Nicolas Carranza, top commander of El Salvador’s security forces during the civil war, for $2 million in compensatory damages [JURIST report]. The case was brought by five Salvadoran citizens who alleged torture or had family killed by Carranza’s soldier during the war. In 2000, however, the US lost the battle to seek justice for the murders of four American churchwomen [NYT report] during the civil war when both Vides and Garcia were acquitted. The ruling was grounded in the doctrine that the generals, although responsible for their soldiers, may not have had complete effective power to reign in the abuses of their troops.