Covering events from January-December 2001

Republic of El Salvador
Head of state and government: Francisco Flores
Capital: San Salvador
Population: 6.4 million
Official language: Spanish
Death penalty: abolitionist for ordinary crimes
2001 treaty ratifications/signatures: Optional Protocol to the UN Women's Convention

Impunity in two prominent past cases of human rights violations underlined long-standing concerns. There was a new attempt to reinstate the death penalty. There were serious problems in various government institutions, including the Office of the Human Rights Procurator and the judiciary.


More than 1,000 people died in two massive earthquakes which devastated the country in January and February. Infrastructure and thousands of homes were destroyed, further deteriorating the living conditions of already impoverished communities.

Profound public concern persisted at the high levels of criminal activity, such as kidnappings for ransom in which several victims died, including children. Organizational problems within the judiciary undermined public confidence. The Attorney General's Office found that the qualifications of dozens of professionals working within the judicial system were irregular, and there were also allegations of corruption among officials. By the end of the year the Supreme Court of Justice had not taken steps to remove inadequately qualified incumbents, including judges, prosecutors and lawyers.


Impunity for past human rights violations continued to be a serious concern.

  • In January the Court of Appeal in San Salvador stayed proceedings against six people accused of ordering the killings in 1989 of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter. All the accused were in high-ranking civilian and military posts at the time. This ruling was the result of an appeal against the dismissal of the case in December 2000 on the grounds that criminal responsibilities had lapsed since the crime had been committed more than 10 years previously. The Third Magistrate's Court of San Salvador had indicated at that time, however, that the accused could have been prosecuted as the 1993 Amnesty Law would not have benefited them.
AI argued that the statute of limitations did not apply in this case because the human rights violations committed in El Salvador between 1980 and 1991, including these killings, constituted crimes against humanity which, according to international law, are not subject to such limitations. In November several non-governmental organizations initiated the process for this case, and that of Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero, murdered in 1980, to be examined by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Death penalty

In July a new attempt was made to reinstate the death penalty, which had been abolished in 1983 for all but some crimes under military law. The move was initiated as a result of public concern at the increase in the crime rate. However, the Legislative Assembly approved instead an increase to the length of sentences for murder, kidnapping and rape from 35 to 75 years' imprisonment.

Office of the Human Rights Procurator

In July, the Legislative Assembly elected Beatrice Alamanni de Carrillo as Human Rights Procurator. There was serious concern that the functions of the Office had stagnated during the more than one year's delay in her appointment, apparently as a result of political partisanship within the selection process. AI made several appeals to the Legislative Assembly to proceed with the election and to support rather than undermine the Office of the Human Rights Procurator, one of the cornerstones of the 1992 peace accords.

National Civil Police

There were reports of an improvement in the performance of the Policía Nacional Civil (PNC), National Civil Police, and consequently in its perception by the public. More crimes were solved and there were fewer complaints about the police. A large number of people responsible for kidnappings were reportedly arrested by PNC members. However, reports persisted of involvement by PNC members in human rights violations and criminal activities, including kidnappings.
  • In October a man died reportedly as a result of a beating by police officers. He had allegedly been causing a disturbance and police came to his house to investigate. He was handcuffed and beaten and, according to forensic evidence, died as a result. Five police officers were charged with causing his death; three were arrested and brought to trial and two evaded arrest. Further proceedings were pending at the end of the year.

The Asociación Pro-Búsqueda de Niñas y Niños Desaparecidos, Association for the Search for Disappeared Children, continued its efforts to locate children separated from their families during the armed conflict of 1980 to 1992 and reunite them with their families. In November Moisés Morán, aged 27, met his family for the first time since 1981. The Asociación persisted with its requests to the government to create an official commission to locate children who had "disappeared" in the conflict.

AI country reports/visits

  • El Salvador: Peace can only be achieved with justice (AI Index: AMR 29/001/2001)
  • El Salvador: Legislative Assembly must support, not undermine the Office of the Human Rights Procurator (AI Index: AMR 29/005/2001)
  • El Salvador: The death penalty is a retrograde step and does not work (AI Index: AMR 29/007/2001)

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