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Report of the Commission on the Truth for El Salvador

UN Commission on the Truth for El Salvador, From Madness to Hope: The 12-Year War in El Salvador, Report, 15 March 1993, in UN Secretary General, Letter to the President of the Security Council (S/25500), Annex. (PDF link)



2. International humanitarian law

1. International human rights law

The international human rights law applicable to the present situation comprises a number of international instruments adopted within the framework of the United Nations and the Organization of American States (OAS). These instruments, which are binding on the State of El Salvador, include, in addition to the Charters of the United Nations and OAS, the following human rights treaties: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the American Convention on Human Rights. El Salvador ratified the Covenant on 30 November 1979 and the American Convention on 23 June 1978. Both instruments entered into force for El Salvador before 1980 and were thus in force throughout the conflict to which the Commission’s mandate refers.

Clearly, not every violation of a right guaranteed in those instruments can be characterized as a "serious act of violence". Those instruments themselves recognize that some violations are more serious than others. This position is reflected in a provision which appears in both instruments and which distinguishes between rights from which no derogation is possible, even in time of war or other state of national emergency, and those from which derogations can be made in such circumstances. It is appropriate, therefore, that the Commission should classify the seriousness of each "act of violence" on the basis of the rights which the two instruments list as not being subject to derogation, in particular, rights related directly to the right to life and to physical integrity.

Accordingly, the following rights listed in article 4 of the Covenant as not being subject to derogation would come within the Commission’s sphere of competence: the right to life ("No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life"); the right not to be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; and the right not to be held in slavery or any form of servitude. Article 27 of the American Convention on Human Rights provides that these same rights cannot be suspended even "in time of war, public danger, or other emergency that threatens the independence or security of a State Party".

Under international law, it is illegal for a State, or for persons acting on its behalf, to violate any of the above rights for whatever reason. Violation of these rights may even constitute an international crime in situations where acts are of a consistent type or reflect a systematic practice whose purpose is the large-scale violation of these fundamental rights of the human person.