Salvadoreans attack amnesty law. They criticize new bill for absolving death squads
San Salvador — El Salvador's amnesty bill, passed by the National Assembly on Tuesday, is being sharply criticized by human rights, church, and labor groups. Amnesty is one of the requirements of the Aug. 7 Central American peace plan.
The new law will absolve the military, security forces, death squads, and guerrillas of any crimes said to be politically motivated. It also states that political prisoners, who are held on the suspicion of being guerrillas or guerrilla supporters, would be released eight days after the law goes into effect. Approximately 500 political prisoners will, thus, be released Nov. 5.
In a last-minute change Tuesday, the bill will pardon only crimes committed until Oct. 25. This means it will not pardon the assassins of Herbert Ernesto Anaya, the head of the country's private Human Rights Commission, who was killed Monday.
In addition, the bill will not pardon the killers of Archbishop Oscar Romero who was assassinated in March 1980. Nor will it absolve those who have participated in kidnappings for profit, extortion, and drug trafficking.
The law's critics say the amnesty is mainly aimed at pardoning military-connected death squads and Army massacres that human rights groups blame for most of the more than 50,000 political killings in the last eight years.
``It leaves clear all those who could be charged for crimes committed now that there is no possibility of trying those responsible for 50,000 murders,'' said Msgr. Ricardo Urrioste, vicar-general of the Roman Catholic Church.
The government extended the amnesty to the military and rightist death squads to avoid confrontations, political analysts say. ``Obviously this was done with an eye to pleasing the military,'' said a human rights observer, requesting anonymity.
``Politically it is difficult,'' admits a top government official, who spoke on condition that he wasn't named. ``There could not be an amnesty for just the guerrillas. The government side has to be covered. All the right and most of the military believe that President [Jos'e Napole'on] Duarte wants to turn the country over to the communists.''
Mr. Duarte, a Western diplomat said, ``can't bring any of the military to justice. He can't push through the trials of any of even the most obviously guilty.''
Few political analysts think the amnesty plan will succeed in persuading the rebels to lay down their arms, since they say the rebels have developed deep roots in the country over the last decade.
Anaya's killing sparked protests throughout the capital. Members of the the country's largest, most radical union, the National Union of Salvadorean Workers (UNTS), spent an all-night vigil Tuesday in front of the United States Embassy. Yesterday, they took Anaya's coffin through the capital to the Army high command, whom they also blame for his death. UNTS members then went to the Foreign Ministry office, where they had scheduled a meeting with the national reconciliation commission.
The Democratic Revolutionary Front, the guerrillas' political allies, says Anaya's murder is making it consider whether to proceed with dialogue with the Duarte government.