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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)


1. International human rights law

3. Conclusions

2. International humanitarian law

The principles of international humanitarian law applicable to the Salvadorian conflict are contained in article 3 common to the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and in Additional Protocol II thereto. El Salvador ratified these instruments before 1980.

Although the armed conflict in El Salvador was not an international conflict as defined by the Conventions, it did meet the requirements for the application of article 3 common to the four Conventions. That article defines some fundamental humanitarian rules applicable to non-international armed conflicts. The same is true of Protocol II Additional to the Geneva Conventions, relating to the protection of victims of non-international armed conflicts. The provisions of common article 3 and of Additional Protocol II are legally binding on both the Government and the insurgent forces.

Without going into those provisions in detail, it is clear that violations - by either of the two parties to the conflict - of common article 3 6/ and of the fundamental guarantees contained in Additional Protocol II, 7/ especially if committed systematically, could be characterized as serious acts of violence for the purposes of the interpretation and application of the Commission’s mandate. Such violations would include arbitrary deprivation of life; torture; cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment; taking of hostages; and denial of certain indispensable guarantees of due process before serious criminal penalties are imposed and carried out.


6/ Article 3 (common to the four Conventions): conflicts not of an international character

In the case of armed conflict not of an international character occurring in the territory of one of the High Contracting Parties, each Party to the conflict shall be bound to apply, as a minimum, the following provisions:

  1. Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria.

    To this end, the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above- mentioned persons:

    1. violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture;

    2. taking of hostages;

    3. outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment;

    4. the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court, affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.

  2. The wounded and sick shall be collected and cared for ...

7/ See, for example, article 4 of Protocol II.