by Mayra Gomez
Between the years of 1978 and 1985, the peak years of mass execution and State repression, some 42,171 persons were killed in El Salvador, a number which at the time constituted nearly 1% of the Salvadoran population. The total number of those killed during the entire length of the conflict has been estimated at 75,000 persons, the vast majority of whom were killed by State security forces. An additional one million persons fled the country as refugees, or became internally displaced.
The war officially came to an end in 1992 with the signing of the Mexico City Peace Accords. There has been slow and steady progress toward the implementation of the provisions of the Peace Accords, yet occasional killings and incidents of torture continued to be reported. Human rights organizations have noted that prominent human rights defenders continue to be threatened and harassed and members of the police continue to be responsible for human rights violations, including torture and ill-treatment of detainees, contributing to deaths in custody in some cases. Additionally, there have been reports of new clandestine vigilante groups, somewhat reminiscent of the "death squads" of the 1980s, which have appointed themselves responsible for implementing a policy of "social cleansing." These vigilante groups have targeted alleged criminals and street children, and have been connected to members of the security forces.
El Salvador is also struggling with the issue of impunity. The prosecution of individuals who had committed human rights violations during the civil war was effectively undermined with the adoption of a Law of National Reconciliation. This Law granted a blanket amnesty to all persons responsible for the perpetration of violence during the civil conflict, with the notable exception of those responsible for the killing of Archbishop Romero in 1980. The Amnesty Law continues to be one of the leading human rights concerns with respect to El Salvador. Most recently, the Inter-America Commission of Human Rights recommended that the Government of El Salvador adjust its domestic legislation so as to make it consistent with its obligations under the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, and thereby repeal the general Amnesty Law.