During the armed conflict in El Salvador, the Inter-American
Commission on Human Rights monitored closely the events that caused the
Salvadoran people so much agony. Today,
by all accounts--even the most skeptical--,El Salvador is a new country.
The Commission was most pleased with the events that brought the
war in El Salvador to an end and is confident that the determination
that enabled the parties to bring the negotiations to a successful
conclusion, will carry over into this crucial period in El Salvador's
The international attention focused on the evolution of the
Salvadoran situation has not diminished, and many documents and reports
continue to be presented to intergovernmental bodies, particularly in
the United Nations. Of
particular interest are the reports prepared by Professor Pedro Nikken,
an expert with the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, and presented to the
United Nations General Assembly in November 1992 and to the Commission
on Human Rights in Geneva in February 1993.
His analyses, like those prepared by the ONUSAL Observer Mission,
clearly and objectively report the progress made and the obstacles that
still obstruct the quest for peace in El Salvador.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has followed these
studies closely and believes that they are excellent accounts of the
country's recent history, obviating the need for it to recount the
events that occurred in 1992.
As has been said so many times before, peace is much more than
the absence of war. With
the signing of the Chapultepec Agreements and their slow but steady
implementation, El Salvador has taken a major step toward peace and has
overcome the most pressing obstacles; it has put an end to the armed
conflict that sapped the country for twelve long years.
Today, the entire Salvadoran population is playing a role in its
institutional recovery. For
this reason, in furtherance of its functions and authorities, the
Inter-American Commission Rights continues to monitor closely the
evolution of the situation and will promote respect for and defense of
human rights, its paramount mission under the American Convention.
El Salvador has embarked upon the road to peace, reconciliation,
stronger democratic institutions and national reconstruction. All sectors, from the Government and the FMLN--once enemies,
now political opponents--to the last Salvadoran citizen, are joined in
this common cause. Needless
to say, success will mean more than observing the agreements in the
strictly formal sense; it implies a fundamental change for the
immediate, and the correction--in the long run--of two aspects that are
at the root of the conflict.
First, the observance of economic, social and cultural rights.
As long as there are sectors of the population who live below all
standards of human decency, in a state of extreme poverty, the
conditions will be there for the situation to degenerate into a new
conflict. The peasant
farmers --who constitute the majority of the population, but are
unprotected, unpropertied and without prospects for a better future--and
the many people now being reassimilated into civilian life (both from
the guerrilla movement and from the army) need priority attention to
enable them to satisfy a human being's most elementary necessities.
Decent housing, jobs, education and health must be the
fundamental objective of the government's policies and the effort is one
in which all sectors of the population, without exception, must be
engaged. Even this will not be enough, however, without the determined
support of the international community, both bilaterally and through
multilateral financing of development projects.
Under Article 26 of the Convention, States that ratify it, as El
Salvador did, undertake to gradually achieve the full realization of the
rights implicit in the economic, social, educational, scientific and
cultural standards of the Charter of the Organization of American
States. Today, the inter-American system has an Additional Protocol
on the subject, which the General Assembly of the OAS adopted precisely
in San Salvador and that bears its name.
Once it enters into force internationally, it will constitute one
more legal mechanism to realize these basic rights.
By now, no one questions the linkage between human rights,
democracy and development. International
action vis-a-vis El Salvador should be directed precisely with
that in mind. It will do
little good to rebuild a country beaten and exhausted by war if all the
rhetoric about cooperation and solidarity does not materialize into real
assistance. Obviously, this attitude must begin with Salvadoran society,
which will gain, as a whole, from the country's equitable growth.
As for the programs that emanate from the agreements and the
National Reconstruction Plan, the Salvadoran government's job is to
carry them out in a way that encourages all social forces involved to
participate actively. In
that context of participation, it is vital to determine which areas are
in need of priority attention, so that problems requiring immediate
solution do not go unaddressed or are not given the importance they
deserve. Earlier, health,
housing, employment, and education were mentioned, and these will all
figure prominently in shaping El Salvador's new society.
El Salvador's reconstruction is one great challenges and
commitments of the present administration, to be accomplished through
the branches of government, the organs created under the Peace
Agreements or those that received a new mandate as a result of the
Commission hopes that this mission will be carried out in the belief
that the realization of economic, social and cultural rights is the
basis of authentic, ongoing development and is part of the inalienable
enjoyment of human rights. The
Commission would like to remind the Government of El Salvador of a
recommendation made in its 1991 Annual Report, which was that the
"economic adjustments must be structured in such a way that they do
not do further injury to the most needy and most vulnerable sectors,
those who have suffered most as a result of internal violence and
There is a second aspect, as important as the first will be in
forging the peace. El
Salvador does not now enjoy --nor has it in the recent past-- the kind
of efficient, impartial administration of justice that is the best
safeguard against impunity and an effective deterrent against crime.
Throughout the armed conflict, and once it was over, human rights
organizations and experts of all leanings and origins concurred on this
Year after year, in its reports to the General Assembly, the
Commission has made this point. Now,
with the change underway in El Salvador, it has to be made again, in a
constructive sense, confident that the new laws to strengthen the
judiciary, create institutions such as the Office of the Attorney
Delegate for Human Rights, etc., will build an effective system for the
administration of justice with the minimum requisites needed to be
effective in repressing unlawful conduct and to end impunity.
If the citizenry does not have confidence in the administration
of justice and if its impartiality and independence are not effectively
guaranteed, the efforts at investigation now underway will be useless
and the atrocities of the past will repeat themselves.
The social crisis that El Salvador is experiencing is evident in
the increase in the incidence of crime, in the number of gangs, in drug
trafficking, and personal vendettas.
The Commission is disturbed by reports it has received to the
effect that certain acts being committed, which have the appearance of
common crimes, are targeted at members of opposition forces, groups or
organizations or those critical of the Government.
The Commission trusts that these actions, committed by groups
whose style is similar to the so-called death squads, will be prosecuted
quickly and properly by the Salvadoran authorities, as they violate not
only the peace agreements but the American Convention as well, and
jeopardize the entire pacification process underway.
The need to strengthen the judicial system is crucial here:
justice must be active in all realms of a nation's normal life.
It is a right recognized in international instruments and a duty
of the state. Under Article
25 of the convention, "Everyone has the right to simple and prompt
recourse, or any other effective recourse, to a competent court or
tribunal for protection against acts that violate his fundamental rights
recognized by the constitution or laws of the state concerned or by this
Convention, even though such violation may have been committed by
persons acting in the course of their official duties."
As a counterpart to the right to judicial protection, this same
article goes on to stipulate what the States Parties undertake, which is
"to ensure that any person claiming such remedy shall have his
rights determined by the competent authority provided for by the legal
system of the state", "to develop the possibilities of
judicial remedy" and " to ensure that the competent
authorities shall enforce such remedies when granted."
The two elements briefly touched upon--the weakness of the
economic, social and cultural rights of the majority of the population
and the absence of an adequate administration of justice--combined and
contributed to the crisis that degenerated into an armed conflict;
today, it is the sincere commitment of the parties and the international
vigilance and support that the country receives that will decide whether
or not there is another war.
There is another element of pivotal importance which the
Inter-American Commission would like to emphasize:
the planned report of the Truth Commission, still not delivered
as of the time this Annual Report was adopted.
Under the terms of the agreements, the Commission is to present
recommendations on the legal, political or administrative measures that
might be indicated by the investigation entrusted to the Commission.
Those recommendations might include "measures designed to
prevent a reoccurrence of such events, as well as initiatives aimed at
national reconciliation." The
Report of the Truth Commission will be decisive in consolidating the
process presently underway in El Salvador, and implementation of its
recommendations will help effect a true reconciliation among
Salvadorans. The atrocities committed during the war will be made public
to the people of El Salvador, who will have an opportunity to reflect
upon them in peacetime and learn a lesson for the future about the sorts
of things that must never again be allowed to happen in their country.
The Truth Commission's Report will also have an impact on the
enforcement of the National Reconciliation Law (Legislative Decree No.
147). The IACHR is
disturbed by reports it has received to the effect that the Amnesty Law
will have an adverse effect on the outcome of the Truth Commission's
work. According to what the
IACHR has been told, the Truth Commission's very purpose, which is to
put an end to impunity, could be compromised because the law covers
crimes committed by 20 or more persons and those committed by anyone in
the course of the armed conflict. However,
the Amnesty Law does not include those individuals whom the Truth
Commission singles out as being responsible for acts of violence since
1980. The amnesty--which
once granted is irrevocable--took effect before the Commission began its
The Inter-American Commission cannot predict the outcome of the
process now underway. Nevertheless,
as a State Party to the American Convention on Human Rights and by its
ratification of it, El Salvador has, as the Inter-American Court of
Human Rights pointed out,
"a legal duty to take reasonable steps to prevent human rights
violations and to use the means at its disposal to carry out a serious
investigation of violations committed within its jurisdiction, to
identify those responsible, to impose the appropriate punishment and to
assure the victim adequate compensation."
In reference to Article 1 of the Convention, the Court added that
the "the State is obligated to investigate every situation
involving a violation of the rights protected by the Convention.
If the State apparatus acts in such a way that the violation goes
unpunished (...), the State has failed to comply with its duty to ensure
the free and full exercise of those rights to the persons within its
The Commission must again point out that the political agreements
concluded by the parties do not in any way relieve the State of the
obligations and responsibilities it undertook with ratification of the
American Convention on Human Rights and other international instruments
on the subject.
Furthermore, under Article 27 of the Vienna Convention on the Law
of Treaties, a State may not invoke the provisions of its internal law
as justification for its failure to perform the obligations imposed by
the Convention. Finally, Article 144, paragraph 2 of the Constitution of El
Salvador states that "The law may neither amend nor abolish what
has been agreed to under a treaty in force for El Salvador. In the event of a conflict between the treaty and the law,
the treaty shall prevail." In
Chapter III of this Annual Report, in its report on case 10,287, known
as the "Las Hojas Massacre", the Commission made some
observations in this regard.
Under the Chapultepec Agreements the bases were established for
the mechanisms by which the Armed Forces would be undergoing a selective
review. An Ad Hoc
Commission was established for that purpose, one of its functions being
to evaluate the conduct of all members of the Armed Forces.
As for human rights, the Commission investigated direct
participation in abuses, negligence in the face of abuses or conduct
that led to such abuses, and systematic violations attributable to a
While the aforementioned processes have still not been completely
implemented, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is confident
of the determination of the Salvadoran Government, as expressed in the
Peace Accords, and hopes that determination will lead to strict
observance of these and other aspects of the agreements still pending as
of presentation of this annual report.
Major advances, among them a reduction in the size of the Army
before the deadline originally set and the creation of a National
Civilian Police Force, are testimony to the Salvadoran Government's
resolve. It is vital that
this constructive, positive behavior be present in all areas covered by
the Chapultepec Agreements.
The Commission has been informed that as of the date on which
this Annual Report was approved, those provisions of the Chapultepec
Peace Agreements whereby licenses allowing private persons to carry
weapons that are reserved for the Armed Forces were to be revoked and
the weapons immediately retrieved had still not been carried out.
This and the alarming levels of crime discussed earlier must be
brought under control by the authorities, in a context where the rule of
law and the country's institutions and international obligations are
respected. For example, the
National Civilian Police Force should be better paid and better equipped
to protect the citizenry, so that it can effectively defend and
guarantee the people's fundamental rights.
Resorting to extraordinary measures such as the proposal to
reinstate the death penalty or the proposal to use the Armed Forces to
police public security will, rather than solve the problem, merely
create new, unsettling issues that heighten tensions and will doubtless
be detrimental to the consolidation of peace and the tranquility of the
The Commission is also calling upon the FMLN, which is today part
of El Salvador's political life, to carry out the letter and spirit of
those aspects of the Peace Agreements that have not yet been completely
settled, as a demonstration of its commitment to the peace that the
Salvadoran people need so much.
Even though, as noted, there have been obstacles to the complete
fulfillment of the Peace Agreements, considerable progress has been
achieved and deserves to be applauded as a model of commitment and to
encourage the pursuit of genuine democracy in El Salvador.
It is the Commission's desire that the present attitude of
cooperation on the part of the Government of El Salvador will enable the
many individual cases that the Commission is now processing to be
concluded swiftly, through the administration of justice and the
implementation of the necessary corrective measures in respect of all
those events denounced during the period of conflict.
The Commission has received an invitation from the Government of
El Salvador to conduct an on-site visit there.
It hopes to make that visit in the second quarter of 1993,
whereupon it will prepare a special report on the situation of human
rights in that country.