On July 13, 2016, the Constitutional Chamber of the Salvadoran Supreme Court declared the 1993 Amnesty Law unconstitutional. It is estimated that approximately 75,000 people were killed, another 8,000 disappeared and a million refugees were created during the civil war that lasted from 1980-1992. The amnesty law impeded the investigation, prosecution and punishment of human rights crimes committed during the civil war.
David Munguía Payes, the Minister of Defense, called the ruling “a political error” and warned that the judgement would “turn the country upside down.” President Salvador Sanchez Ceren also criticized the Supreme Court’s decision. Since he was part of the FMLN’s command structure during the war, he could theoretically face prosecution. Both the Salvadoran army and rebel fighters from the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), which is now the ruling party, have been accused of atrocities. The President stated: “These statements ignore, or do not measure the effects they may have on the fragile coexistence that exists within our society.”
Among the cases that could be reopened or investigated are the slaughter of six Jesuit priests and two of their employees (1989), the slaughter of more than 1,000 peasant farmers in El Mozote (1981), and the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero (1980).
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights, in its judgment in the El Mozote case (Judgment of October 25, 2012) called on El Salvador to never again let the Amnesty Law impede the investigation, prosecution and punishment of those responsible for grave human rights violations during the armed conflict. The Salvadoran Supreme Court made extensive reference to the jurisprudence of the Inter-American Court in this landmark decision. Florentin Melendez, one of the judges of the Constitutional Chamber, was a former member of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (2004-2009). In 2009 he was named to the Salvadoran Supreme Court.
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