In January 1932, a peasant revolt against the regime was crushed and 30’000 civil, mainly indigenous people, were massacred by the military. After this event, the Salvadoran military dominated the government, and the conflict between the left and the right wings became a feature of the country.
On October 15, 1979, moderate officers overturned the dictator Carlos Humberto Romero and formed the Revolutionary Government Junta (JRG). In January 1980, right-wing violence broke out, including bombings against government newspapers, kidnappings and murder.
On 24 March 1980, Archbishop Romero who denounced the death squad slaughters and preached for justice was assassinated. On the day of his funerals, where 250’000 persons gathered in the cathedral in San Salvador, snipers attacked the crowd, and killed 42, and wounded 200. This massacre triggered the civil war which will last for 12 years.
In December 1980, four American churchwomen were raped and murdered, allegedly by military and paramilitary forces. Despite these outrageous human rights violation, the US President Ronald Reagan, elected in 1980, reasserted his support to the Salvadoran military government
Throughout the 1980s, the El Salvador’s civil war opposed the US-backed Salvadoran military forces and paramilitary forces against the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), a Marxist-Leninist guerrilla group, created in September 1980 by the five major leftist revolutionary organizations. Systematic human rights violations were committed, such as torture, mutilation, forced disappearance, extrajudicial killing and rape.
The atrocity of the Jesuit Massacre in Novembre 1989 led to the creation of a special investigative task force by the US Congressman Joseph Moakley. Its findings revealed that the high command officers of the Salvadoran army had been responsible for the murders of the Jesuits.
The report also presented an international process to end the conflict and to reduce the US support to the rightwing Salvadoran government– which had reached approximately US$ 4 billion, including money, weapons and training in assistance to El Salvador’s military during the conflict.
It is estimated that 75’000 people died during the civil war, which ended with the signing of the Chapultepec Peace Agreements on 16 January 1992. An UN-backed Truth Commission was established to investigate the abuses committed since 1980. The Commission presented its final report on 15 March 1993, documenting thousands of killings, disappearances and torture. The experts named individuals allegedly responsible for human rights violations and attributed the overwhelming majority of the human rights abuses to the Salvadoran armed forces and the paramilitaries. The Commission set out a series of recommendations, calling for investigations to be carried out and for those responsible for human rights violations to be brought to justice.
On March 20, 1993, five days after the release of this report and recommendations, the Salvadoran Legislative Assembly adopted a blanket amnesty law, preventing prosecutions of wartime atrocities. In 1999, the Inter-American Commission considered that El Salvador’s amnesty law violated international law by foreclosing further investigation in the 1989 murders of six Jesuit priests and two women.
On 14 July 2016, the Constitutional Court judged that the 1993 amnesty law is unconstitutional and violates El Salvador’s international obligations under the American Convention on Human Rights and the Geneva Conventions. It also ruled that the statute of limitations does not apply to crimes against humanity. The ruling states that the government has an obligation to “investigate, identify and sanction the material and intellectual authors of human rights crimes and grave war crimes” and to provide reparations to victims.
The annulation of this blanket amnesty will hopefully lead to the investigation and prosecution of crimes against humanity and war crimes committed during the 12 years long civil war.