Thursday, July 14, 2016

Salvadoran court overturns 1993 amnesty law for civil war crimes against humanity (July 14, 2016)

El Salvador's Constitutional Court declared unconstitutional a 1993 amnesty law shielding war crimes committed in the country's bloody civil conflict from prosecution. The decision paves the way for justice for crimes against humanity committed by the military and guerrillas in the country's 12-year civil war that claimed 75,000 lives before ending in 1992, reports the Associated Press.

The court found that the law prevented justice for crimes against humanity, which do not prescribe, explains La Prensa Gráfica.

The case has been before the court for over three years. Judges found that the law violated constitutionally guaranteed human rights and international human rights conventions subscribed to by El Salvador, notes El Faro.

"Amnesty is contrary to the right to access justice ... and the right to full compensation for victims of crimes against humanity or war crimes that constitute serious violations of international humanitarian law," the court said in a statement.

The judges emphasized that the crimes in question refer to actions committed by people working under the instruction of higher-ups in military, paramilitary and guerrilla organizations. The judges said that the hierarchical and vertical nature of the armed forces and the guerrilla means the high command of both could be criminally responsible, notes El Faro

In practise, this means about 30 crimes documented in the "Truth Commission" report compiled after the war can be prosecuted, according to El Diario de Hoy. Cases include numerous massacres of civilians, the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero and the killing of six Jesuit priests, reports Reuters.

El Faro points out that the decision means both high army officials and potentially leaders of the FMLN guerrilla, now a political party that governs the country. President Salvador Sánchez Cerén was part of the FMLN national command during the war, and several former guerrillas form part of the government.

The overturned law was passed by a right-wing congress in 1993, explains El Faro, and contradicted a 1992 accord between the government and the FMLN which agreed that grave crimes committed by both sides should be tried. 

Yesterday's ruling noted that the peace accords made no mention of an amnesty, explains El Diario de Hoy. While international treaties permit post-conflict amnesty, that does not mean that the legislature has the right to declare blanket amnesty without contemplating the state's obligation to protect human rights, investigate and sanction violations and provide reparations for victims.

An earlier 1992 Law of National Reconciliation established that authors of grave crimes of violence committed during the war would not enjoy amnesty, but was overturned by the subsequent 1993 law, according to Univisión.

A majority of the human rights violations documented by the "Truth Commission" report, 60 percent, were committed by the army, and approximately 5 percent were attributed to the FMLN, according to La Prensa Gráfica. The commission documented over 22,00 reports of rights violations: 60 percent were extrajudicial executions, 25 percent forced disappearances, and more than 20 percent accounts of torture.

It's an issue that also has relevance for El Salvador's current problems. The country's homicide rate is skyhigh TKTKTKTTKT. An Economist piece from January by Sarah Maslin looks at the 1981 El Mozote massacre in El Salvador as an example of how the country’s post civil war amnesty agreements – which shielded violations perpetrators on both sides of the conflict and helped make a political settlement possible – have been increasingly questioned. One expert quoted in the piece makes the case that the country’s sky-high murder rate is linked to impunity for war crimes committed during the bloody 12-year civil war between leftist guerrillas and a right-wing government.

Current defense minister Davíd Munguía Payé called the ruling a "mistake" and warned that it could lead to a witch hunt, according to La Prensa Gráfica.

The decision comes a day before the court is expected to rule on the extradition of several military officers to Spain for the massacre of Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter in 1989. There are reports that the court is leaning against the extradition, according to El Faro.

News Briefs
  • El Salvador already has what might be the world's strictest anti-abortion legislation -- which mandates that pregnancy cannot be terminated even if the mothers' life is at risk -- and the country is famous for its prosecution of women whose miscarriages are suspected of resulting from botched abortions. But the laws could become even more draconian, if the legislature adopts an ARENA proposal to sanction abortion with 50 years in jail, reports the Guardian. Existing sanctions are between two and eight years. The opposition party proposal justifies the change as  necessary to keep penalties in line with a constitution that guarantees the right to life, defined as beginning at conception. Rights groups have criticized the move. "Parliamentarians in El Salvador are playing a very dangerous game with the lives of millions of women. Banning life-saving abortions in all circumstances is atrocious but seeking to raise jail terms for women who seek an abortion or those who provide support is simply despicable," said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.
  • Brazil's lower house of Congress elected Rodrigo Maia, of the right-leaning DEM party, as speaker of the house, yesterday. Maia is an ally of acting President Michel Temer, and signaled that will support unpopular economic reforms such as limiting public spending and opening up the economy, aimed at pulling the country out of recession, reports Reuters. It's seen as a important step towards passing Temer's economic agenda and potentially consolidating his still tenuous hold of the presidency, according to the Wall Street Journal
  • Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has extended the country's state of "economic emergency" for another 60 days, reports AFP.
  • A group of Haitian women with children fathered by U.N. peacekeepers say they want child support from absentee fathers and the U.N. Civil suits will be files on their behalf in Haiti by the same firm involved in a high profile claim against the U.N. for cholera victims, notes the Associated Press.
  • A new UNODC report found that Colombia's cocaine production increased by 39 percent in 2015, following an increase of 43 percent the previous year. The new estimates mean Colombia is producing more coca than Peru and Bolivia combined. The U.N. numbers are lower than the estimates of the U.S. government, however, notes InSight Crime. Factors behind the increase include high prices for coca leaves, the end of the government's long-running aerial fumigation program. InSight Crime says its research also shows that the FARC has been telling local communities that coca crops will result in greater benefits under the upcoming peace agreement with the government.
  • Peru's anti-drug agency said it's ready to tackle coca production in the country's remote jungle region known as VRAEM, and urged the incoming government to take action, reports Reuters. Peru reduced the area for growing coca by 6.1 percent last year.
  • Cuba's economic minister and VP is being shuffled to a special commission overseeing economic matters, reports the Associated Press. Marino Murillo, who led reforms that have permitted a certain amount of private sector activity, retains his VP rank. Lastweek Murillo told a closed Parliamentary session that the country would have to cut fuel consumption by nearly a third during the second half of the year and reduce state investments and imports. (See Tuesday's briefs.)

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