El Salvador approves law to prosecute civil war crimes, president to veto

Representatives discuss during congress session on the approval of an amnesty bill that exempts the prosecution of crimes committed during the civil war, in San Salvador, El Salvador February 26, 2020

El Salvador’s Congress on Wednesday narrowly approved a controversial law intended to allow the prosecution of crimes committed during the country’s bloody civil war, although President Nayib Bukele said he would veto it.

While proponents argue the law is meant to ensure that nobody receives an amnesty or pardon for their crimes during the civil war, opponents, including human rights organizations, argue it will achieve the opposite.

Bukele called it “an amnesty law that protects war criminals” and said he would veto it. If he does not, it will become law within 60 days of being officially announced.

The law covers compensation, reparations, history and access to military and police archives, and makes it illegal to praise disgraced characters for their role during the civil war.

One of the main criticisms, however, is that it allows judges to significantly commute sentences for reasons of health or age, or because alleged perpetrators collaborate. It was approved by 44 out of 84 possible votes.

El Salvador’s civil war that pitted the former Farabundo Marti Front for National Liberation (FMLN) against the army lasted from 1980 to 1992 and left 75,000 dead as well as 8,000 missing.

FMLN party members did not vote, arguing the law is not in victims’ interest.

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