Truth or Reconciliation Mechanism: Chapultepec Peace Agreement

MEXICO AGREEMENT (27 April 1991)

IV. Commission on the Truth

Agreement has been reached to establish a Commission on the Truth, which shall be composed of three individuals appointed by the Secretary-General of the United Nations after consultation with the Parties. The Commission shall elect its Chairman. The Commission shall be entrusted with the task of investigating serious acts of violence that have occurred since 1980 and whose impact on society urgently requires that the public should know the truth. The Commission shall take into account:

a. The exceptional importance that may be attached to the acts to be investigated, their characteristics and impact, and the social unrest to which they gave rise; and

b. The need to create confidence in the positive changes which the peace process is promoting and to assist the transition to national reconciliation.
The characteristics, functions and powers of the Commission on the Truth and other related issues are set forth in the corresponding annex.

Annex: Political Agreements Elaborating on the Constitutional Reform

Commission on the Truth:
The Government of El Salvador and the Frente Farabundo Martí­ para la Liberación Nacional (hereinafter referred to as "the Parties"),
Reaffirming their intention to contribute to the reconciliation of Salvadorian society;
Recognizing the need to clear up without delay those exceptionally important acts of violence whose characteristics and impact, and the social unrest to which they gave rise, urgently require that the complete truth be made known and that the resolve and means to establish the truth be strengthened;
Considering that, although the need to put an end to impunity was raised in the discussion on the item on the armed forces of the Agenda for the negotiations adopted at Caracas on 21 May 1990, the means of investigation which the Parties themselves have been prepared to set up are addressing situations whose complexity warrants independent treatment;
Agreeing on the advisability of fulfilling that task through a procedure which is both reliable and expeditious and may yield results in the short term, without prejudice to the obligations incumbent on the Salvadorian courts to solve such cases and impose the appropriate penalties on the culprits;
Have arrived at the following political agreement:

1. There is hereby established a Commission on the Truth (hereinafter referred to as "the Commission"). The Commission shall be composed of three individuals appointed by the Secretary-General of the United Nations after consultation with the Parties. The Commission shall elect its Chairman.
Functions:

2. The Commission shall have the task of investigating serious acts of violence that have occurred since 1980 and whose impact on society urgently demands that the public should know the truth. The Commission shall take into account:

(a) The exceptional importance that may be attached to the acts to be investigated, their characteristics and impact, and the social unrest to which they gave rise; and

(b) The need to create confidence in the positive changes which the peace process is promoting and to assist the transition to national reconciliation.

3. The mandate of the Commission shall include recommending the legal, political or administrative measures which can be inferred from the results of the investigation. Such recommendations may include measures to prevent the repetition of such acts, and initiatives to promote national reconciliation.

4. The Commission shall endeavour to adopt its decisions unanimously. However, if this is not possible, a vote by the majority of its members shall suffice.

5. The Commission shall not function in the manner of a judicial body.

6. If the Commission believes that any case brought to its attention does not meet the criteria set forth in paragraph 2 of this agreement, it may refer the case to the Attorney-General of the Republic, should it deem appropriate, for handling through the judicial channel.

Powers:

7. The Commission shall have broad powers to organize its work and its functioning. Its activities shall be conducted on a confidential basis.

8. For the purposes of the investigation, the Commission shall have the power to:

(a) Gather, by the means it deems appropriate, any information it considers relevant. The Commission shall be completely free to use whatever sources of information it deems useful and reliable. It shall receive such information within the period of time and in the manner which it determines.

(b) Interview, freely and in private, any individuals, groups or members of organizations or institutions.

(c) Visit any establishment or place freely without giving prior notice.

(d) Carry out any other measures or inquiries which it considers useful to the performance of its mandate, including requesting reports, records or documents from the Parties or any other information from State authorities and departments.
Undertaking by the Parties:

9. The Parties undertake to extend to the Commission whatever cooperation it requests of them in order to gain access to sources of information available to them.

10. The Parties undertake to carry out the Commission's recommendations.
Report:

11. The Commission shall submit a final report, with its conclusions and recommendations, within a period of six months after its establishment.

12. The Commission shall transmit its report to the Parties and to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, who shall make it public and shall take the decisions or initiatives that he deems appropriate.

13. Once the report has been handed over, the Commission's mandate shall be considered terminated and the Commission shall be dissolved.

14. The provisions of this agreement shall not prevent the normal investigation of any situation or case, whether or not the Commission has investigated it, nor the application of the relevant legal provisions to any act that is contrary to law.

Implementation History

1992

Intermediate Implementation

U.N Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali installed the Commission on the Truth for El Salvador on 13 July 1992. The Commission consisted of three members, including former Colombian president Belisario Betancur, former Venezuelan foreign minister Reinaldo Figueredo and former president of the Inter-American Court for Human Rights Thomas Buergenthal. The Commission had a mandate to investigate serious acts of violence that have taken place in El Salvador since 1980 and whose impact on society urgently demanded that the public know the truth.1 The Commission on the Truth began its work on 13 July 1992. Its ability to investigate every report was limited by its six-month mandate, so it maintained an “open-door” policy for hearing testimony throughout its operation, and resolved to only report on complaints which it could confirm. The commissioners were not chosen from El Salvador to maintain impartiality.2

1993

Full Implementation

The commission did not meet its 6-months deadline to submit its final report. The report was handed over on 15 March 1993 in New York, United States. It had received over 22,000 complaints of serious acts of violence occurring between January 1980 and July 1991. Over 60% of the complaints related to extrajudicial killings, over 25% to forced disappearances, and over 20% to torture. The majority of the violations were committed by the FAES and other Government agents. The Commission’s report included a number of recommendations for administrative, legislative and constitutional reform to hold perpetrators of violations accountable and prevent future crimes.3 As the report implicated some generals, the United States asked president Cristiani and gave him one week to purge 15 officers. The Secretary General also asked to get rid of implicated generals.4

The High Command of the FAES, the President of the Supreme Court, some high-ranking government officials and political leaders, and segments of the media rejected the conclusions and recommendations of the Commission. A week after the release of the report, the Legislative Assembly approved a general amnesty, negating the Commission’s recommendations and drawing swift criticism from the FMLN.5 UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali criticized the amnesty law, insisting that the full implementation of the recommendations of the Commission on the Truth was an integral part of the peace process.6

ONUSAL saw the report of the Commission on the Truth as one of the most importation human rights developments during its mission. It was clear that it viewed the recommendations of the Commission on the Truth as mandatory for the parties to the conflict.7

As death squad activity—mainly directed at former FMLN and affiliated combatants—flared up again after the general amnesty, the FMLN leadership complained that the Commission on the Truth failed to adequately investigate the death squad phenomenon and demanded that the Commissioners release the names of all known death squad members still operating in El Salvador. The Commissioners did not release any additional names than those in the report, which included only a few key FAES decision-makers.8 On April 2, 1993, the government agreed to remove 15 high-ranking military officers according to the TRC recommendation.9

  • 3. “Report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Observer Mission in El Salvador,” United Nations Security Council (S/25812), May 21, 1993.
  • 4. "The World this Week: Truth time for the generals in El Salvador," The Independent (London), March 15, 1993.
  • 5. ibid., UNSC (S/25812).
  • 6. “U.N. chief criticized Salvador’s amnesty for war abuses,” United Press International, International Section, March 24, 1993.
  • 7. “Report of the Director of the Human Rights Division of the United Nations Observer Mission in El Salvador up to 30 April 1993,” United Nations General Assembly / Security Council (A/47/968 S/26033), July 2, 1993.
  • 8. Jorge Pina, “El Salvador: FMLN leader demands and end to death squad impunity,” Inter-Press Service, October 26, 1993.
  • 9. "El Salvador: Government Agrees to Dismiss Top Military Officers," IPS-Inter Press Service, April 2, 1993.
1994

Full Implementation

UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali strenuously impressed upon the Government of El Salvador to finally phase out the National Police, complete the reintegration process and institute the constitutional reforms recommended by the Commission on the Truth. Despite multiple appeals, President Cristiani and the Government remained reluctant to move on these issues.10

The Legislative Assembly passed some constitutional amendments to incorporate some, but not all, of the recommendations from the Commission on the Truth.11

  • 10. “Letter Dated 28 March from the Secretary-General Addressed to the President of the Security Council,” United Nations Security Council (199 S/1994/361), March 30, 1994.
  • 11. “Eleventh Report of the Director of the Human Rights Division of the United Nations Observer Mission in El Salvador (1 March – 30 June 1994),” United Nations General Assembly / Security Council (A/49/281 S/1994/886), July 28, 1994.
1995

Full Implementation

The recommendations of the Commission on the Truth were not fully implemented, despite urgings from Salvadoran human rights groups for the Government to at least admit to the crimes detailed in the report.12

  • 12. Juan Jose Dalton, “El Salvador – Human Rights: Army urged to follow Argentina’s lead," Inter-Press Service, April 27, 1995.
1996

Full Implementation

The TRC completed its mandate and submitted its report in 1993. Some recommendations were implemented but issues related to commemorating the victims of the conflict did not happen. Similarly, an ongoing forum for truth and reconciliation was never created.13 Due to the general amnesty issued by the Government following the release of the report of the Commission on the Truth in 1993, no one was ever held accountable for the crimes identified by the Commission.14

  • 13. “Assessment of the Peace Process in El Salvador: Report of the Secretary-General,” United Nations General Assembly (A/51/917), July 1, 1997.
  • 14. “El Salvador: 10th anniversary of Peace Accords, still no justice for victims of human rights violations,” Amnesty International (AI Index AMR 29/001/2002), January 16, 2002.
1997

Full Implementation

No further developments observed.

1998

Full Implementation

No further developments observed.

1999

Full Implementation

No further developments observed.

2000

Full Implementation

No further developments observed.

2001

Full Implementation

No further developments observed.