Human rights activists and legal experts last week applauded a recent decision by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights that condemned the government of El Salvador over a 1981 massacre in which more than 1,000 people were tortured and killed during the country's Civil War.
In a ruling handed down on December 10, the IACHR said that the Salvadoran government could not apply amnesty laws in cases involving human rights violations that occurred during an armed conflict. Known as the El Mozote massacre, it is considered the largest mass murder ever to have taken place in Latin America. The crimes were committed by a US-trained army battalion between December 10 and 13, 1981. Soldiers said that they were trying to find leftist guerrillas from the Farabundo Martí Front for National Liberation (FMLN) in the small hamlet located in the eastern province of Morazán.
Most of the victims were women and children.
"This decision is groundbreaking, not only for Central America, but for the entire Latin American region, as it sets an important precedent that legal obstacles may no longer impede justice for serious human rights violations, even when committed in the context of an armed conflict," Viviana Krsticevic, executive director for the Washington-based Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), which represents the victims.
In 1993, then President Alfredo Cristiani introduced amnesty laws to protect military officials who had committed abuses during the 1980-1992 Civil War in which 75,000 persons died and 8,000 disappeared.
Krsticevic believes that El Salvador "still faces an important challenge when it comes to implementing the structural reparation measures" that have been ordered by the court, including handing down justice in all high-profile cases, such as the murder of Archbishop Óscar Romero and the 1989 killing of five Spanish-born Jesuit priests, which the High Court in Spain is still investigating.
"The decision of the Inter-American Court in the case of El Mozote helps to reinforce the obligation of authorities in El Salvador to cooperate with the judicial procedures that are taking place in Spain or elsewhere, despite the existence of the amnesty law," Krsticevic said in an email interview.