Salvadoran Civil War Criminals May Now Face Trial After 23 Years of Protection

Lead Photo: Photo: Luis Romero for AP
Photo: Luis Romero for AP
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24 years after El Salvador ended over a decade of civil war, it seems there may finally be justice for the 75,000 Salvadorans who were killed, tortured, or disappeared between 1979 and 1992. Last week, the Salvadoran Supreme Court determined that a 1993 amnesty law protecting combatants who participated in the conflict is unconstitutional. Moving forward, the country’s justice system will have the ability to try and convict those responsible for numerous atrocities that characterized the devastating war, including the architects of the Mozote Massacre and the assassination of Archbishop Romero.

The implications of this watershed decision overwhelmingly affect former members of El Salvador’s military and paramilitary groups who, according to the findings of the country’s Truth Commission, committed 90 percent of the war crimes during that time. While many criticized the decision for reopening old wounds, El Salvador is following an example set by neighboring Guatemala, which has spent the last several years trying a number of high-profile figures involved in their civil war, including ex-army general and president of Congress Efraín Rios Montt.

As Salvadoran society continues reeling from a legacy of violence, this decision finally gives their institutions the means to begin healing longstanding wounds. For more background on El Salvador’s civil war, take a look at these five films that explore the history in more depth.