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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)





The Esquipulas II Agreement 89/ signed by President Duarte provided a political opportunity for leaders of FDR to come back at the end of 1987. They participated as a coalition in the 1989 presidential elections.

Although progress was made in what the international community termed "the humanization of the conflict", 90/ there was a resurgence of violence, with a definite increase in attacks on the labour movement, human rights groups and social organizations. FMLN carried out a campaign of abductions, summary executions and murders against civilians affiliated with or sympathetic to the Government and the armed forces. The dialogue among the parties came to a standstill and it became clear that human rights violations were being fostered by institutional shortcomings, complicity or negligence and that they were the main obstacles to the peace process.


Protests against tax measures and electoral reforms became more widespread, as did workers’ demonstrations and violence against leaders of the cooperative movement. 91/ In August 1987, the five Central American Presidents meeting in Guatemala signed the Esquipulas II Agreement, which called for the establishment of national reconciliation commissions in each country, an International Verification Commission and amnesty legislation. The Papal Nuncio, for his part, offered to host meetings between the Government and FMLN-FDR, with Archbishop Rivera y Damas acting as moderator. The parties publicly endorsed the Esquipulas II Agreement and announced the establishment of commissions to deal with the cease-fire and other areas covered by the Agreement.

The Legislative Assembly adopted Legislative Decree No. 805, entitled "Amnesty Act aimed at achieving National Reconciliation". 92/ The Special Representative for El Salvador of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights 93/ and such human rights organizations as Americas Watch criticized the scope of the amnesty. 94/ In fact, Christian Legal Aid went so far as to bring an action challenging the constitutionality of the article which extended the benefit of amnesty to all kinds of offences. 95/

Moreover, the coordinator of the Salvadorian Human Rights Commission (non-governmental), Herbert Anaya Sanabria, was murdered. The incident caused great outrage in the country. 96/ The United Nations Special Representative, José Antonio Pastor Ridruejo, reported more humanitarian patterns of conduct in the armed forces compared with the previous year. He also noted that he had not received any reports of mass murders attributed to the armed forces or of the use of torture. 97/ The Special Representative concluded by assigning responsibility to the guerrillas for most of the civilian deaths or injuries caused by the explosion of contact mines. He also referred to the forcible recruitment of minors by the guerrilla forces. 98/ Overall, however, there was a decline in the number of victims compared with 1986.

General Adolfo Blandón, Chief of the Armed Forces Joint Staff, presented his annual balance sheet, which stated that 75 per cent of the armed forces, estimated at over 50,000 men, had taken part in a total of 132 military operations. Government forces had suffered 3,285 casualties: 470 dead and 2,815 wounded, 90 per cent of whom had returned to active duty. Rebel casualties totalled 2,586: 1,004 dead, 670 wounded, 847 taken prisoner and 65 deserters. 99/

The Commission on the Truth received testimony concerning a total of 136 victims of serious acts of violence occurring in 1987.


The elections for the National Assembly and municipal councils resulted in a majority for ARENA. FMLN attempted to boycott the elections with transport stoppages, kidnappings and murders, and by car-bombings. The Supreme Court, in application of the Amnesty Act, exonerated the officers and alleged perpetrators of the Las Hojas massacre, as well as those implicated in the murder of the American agrarian reform advisers and the Director of ISTA. 100/

The army reverted to the practice of mass executions, the most serious having occurred in the district of San Sebastián, San Vicente, where 10 peasants were killed (see reference to the case in chap. IV). Furthermore, the number of those killed by the death squads was three times higher than in 1987, averaging eight victims a month. 101/

FMLN began to target as military objectives municipal officials and suspected army informers. Thus, the guerrillas killed eight mayors (see reference to the case in chap. IV) and threatened to execute a similar number of informers. 102/ More than 150 people are estimated to have been killed by mines in 1988.

The Commission on the Truth received testimony concerning 138 victims of serious acts of violence occurring in 1988.


89/ The document entitled "Procedure for the establishment of a firm and lasting peace in Central America", known as the "Esquipulas II Agreement", was signed by the Central American Presidents on 7 August 1987 in Guatemala City. Among the main points of the Agreement are the objective of concluding a cease-fire within 90 days, the establishment of national reconciliation commissions, a general amnesty, formation of an International Verification Commission and the termination of logistical assistance and arms supplies to all armed groups in the region.

90/ "The humanization of the conflict" refers to the objectives of halting such practices as abductions, bombings, indiscriminate attacks on civilians, summary executions and the indiscriminate planting of mines, etc.

91/ In a paper issued on 22 July 1987, Amnesty International expressed concern about what appeared to be a campaign of repression against the cooperative movement. Over 80 cooperative workers and leaders had disappeared, been summarily executed, arbitrarily detained or beaten.

United Nations, Report of the Special Representative to the Commission on Human Rights, 1988, p 3.

92/ The Act conferred unconditional amnesty on anyone who had been involved in political offences or politically motivated ordinary offences committed prior to 22 October 1987 in which fewer than 20 persons had participated. This option was also applicable to the rebels if they came forward, renounced the use of violence and manifested their desire to be amnestied within 15 days following the promulgation of the Act.

The Act would not apply to persons who: (a) participated in the murder of Monsignor Romero; (b) engaged in kidnappings for profit; (c) were involved in drug trafficking; or (d) participated in the murder of Herbert Anaya.

Op. cit., United Nations, Report of the Special Representative to the Commission on Human Rights, 1988, p. 19. OAS-ICHR: Report on the situation of human rights in El Salvador, 1978, p. 299. Amnesty International: Annual Report, 1988, p. 137.

93/ The United Nations Special Representative said that the broad scope of the Act that had been promulgated might make it even more difficult to overcome the climate of impunity that existed in El Salvador.

94/ "... the Esquipulas II Agreement is not being served by an act that pardons the murderers of non-combatants and whose authors are connected with FMLN, the armed forces or the death squads".

95/ Op. cit., United Nations, Report of the Special Representative to the Commission on Human Rights, 1988, p. 19.

96/ Op. cit., United Nations, Report of the Special Representative, 1988, p. 5.

97/ Op. cit., United Nations, Report of the Special Representative to the Commission on Human Rights, 1988, p. 12.

98/ Op. cit., United Nations, Report of the Special Representative to the Commission on Human Rights, 1987, p. 18.

99/ Op. cit., OAS-ICHR, Annual Report of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, 1987-1988, p. 294. This report estimates the loss of life caused by the civil war at 60,000 persons.

100/ On grounds of an error in procedure, the Supreme Court revoked the request for the extradition of Captain Alvaro Saravia, who was implicated in the murder of Monsignor Romero.

With regard to the implementation of the Amnesty Act, military judge Jorgé Alberto Serrano Panameño, just before handing down his decision on the case of abductions for purposes of extortion, stated that he opposed granting amnesty to the officers implicated in those cases. The following day, 11 May, he was shot dead by persons unknown in the doorway of his home.

101/ Op. cit., Proceso, "Annual Summary", San Salvador, December 1988, p. 27.

102/ Source: IDHUCA. See in Proceso, "Annual Summary", December 1988, p. 30.