“In the Name of the Salvadoran State, I Ask for Forgiveness”
On January 16, in a historic speech marking the 18th anniversary of the
signing of the Peace Accords that ended El Salvador’s military conflict,
President Mauricio Funes asked forgiveness of the
victims of that cruel war.
On this the 18th anniversary of the signing of the Peace Accords, we recover its celebration as an act recognizing its historic importance. It is therefore an honor for me to preside over this event and to feel accompanied by our country’s highest authorities; by representatives of the diplomatic corps and international organizations; by the people’s legitimate representatives, mayors and legislators; by leaders of the business world and of unions and social organizations. I thank you all sincerely for your presence this morning. I also thank the thousands of Salvadoran men and women who through the media are accompanying us in their homes. I especially want to thank all those who have directly or indirectly suffered the consequences of the armed conflict that was ended by the very Peace Accords we are remembering today and whose signatories also join me today.
When the majority of Salvadoran people voted for your humble servant to occupy the Republic’s presidential seat, they didn’t just give me their backing. They also gave me a mandate to follow a path of change. They didn’t indicate a path of confrontation, struggle or violent transformation and much less one of intensifying the antagonism among brothers and sisters.
Nor did the Salvadoran people ask to follow the path of inequality, injustice, backwardness or poverty. Salvadorans wanted to face their reality, their past and their present but especially their future, to set out along a path of unity and progress for all, to achieve a reconciliation that is impossible to reach by denying history. Quite the opposite, it can only be reached through truth and justice.
As United Nations rapporteur Louis Joinet said of the struggle against impunity, “In order to turn the page one has to have read it first.” So I believe this act is a reflection of the will of Salvadoran men and women to rescue the importance of January 16 as a crucial date on which to reaffirm the spirit of these Accords that constituted the greatest social contract in the whole of Salvadoran history.
Truth and justice as the basis of reconciliation oblige us to recognize the decisive progress the Peace Accords have made towards the pacification and democratization of the country’s political life, but in the same way they lead us to admit debts that, if left unpaid, are an obstacle to the Salvadoran people’s unity and fraternity. That is my intention this morning: to read an important page from our recent past in order to move towards the future with our wounds healed and the past resolved, and with the peace the spirit needs to leave such a painful and tragic period behind.
The message I want to put across to you today is part of a debt the Salvadoran State ran up with all its citizens18 years ago. And it is my responsibility at this moment, as the highest representative of the State, to recognize that debt and start to repay it. By virtue of a conscientious, impartial and responsible reading of the letter and spirit of those Accords, I have made a resolution I want to communicate to you, to which I attach real historical significance.
As head of the nation’s executive branch and in the name of the Salvadoran State, with regard to the context of internal armed struggle that ended in 1992, I recognize that agents belonging at the time to State institutions, among them the armed forces and the public security bodies, as well as other para-state organizations, committed serious human rights violations and abuses of power, and made an illegitimate use of violence that shattered the constitutional order and violated basic norms of peaceful cohabitation. Among the crimes committed are massacres, arbitrary executions, forced disappearances, torture, sexual abuse, arbitrary deprivation of liberty and different acts of repression. The majority of all these abuses were executed against defenseless civilians with no role in the conflict.
I publically acknowledge the State’s responsibility in these acts, by both commission and omission, given that it was and is the State’s obligation to protect its citizens and guarantee their human rights.
For all of this, I ask for forgiveness in the name of the Salvadoran State. I ask forgiveness in the name of the Salvadoran State of children, young people, women, old people, religious workers, peasants, workers, students, intellectuals, political opponents and human rights activists. I ask forgiveness of those who have been unable to move beyond their grief because they do not know where their loved ones lie. I ask forgiveness of the martyrs who gave their lives defending peace and whose sacrifice has never been recognized. I ask forgiveness of mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters. I ask forgiveness of each and every one of those affected and of their families, of all those who have carried the tragedy in their hearts with no help from any institution. The international courts have already recognized the right of some of these victims to forgiveness. Of course I also direct this petition to them. To all of you I declare my highest respect.
May this forgiveness serve to bring dignity to the victims, may it help to assuage their grief and help heal their wounds and those of the entire country. May this gesture help strengthen peace, cement national unity and construct a future full of hope.
On January 16, 1992, El Salvador signed a commitment to say “never again” to many things through its Peace Accords. Never again the violation of human rights. Never again the use of violence. Never again the abuse of State institutions. Never again the use of repression to silence ideas. Today we add another “never again” to this list: never again turn our backs on the victims, never again deny our reality.
This recognition and plea for forgiveness we make today brings us, starting right now, to assume as a strategic objective of governmental administration the dignifying of the victims, without which this act would make no sense and would rather represent a new frustration. With this aim in mind I have decided to create a commission whose sole purpose will be to propose to the presidency the adoption of measures of moral, symbolic and material reparation within the possibilities offered by the state finances and with the obligation to offer concrete results in time and form. The commission members will be representatives of the ministries of national defense, foreign affairs, health, the treasury and the President’s secretariat for social inclusion. And the office of the ombudsperson for the defense of human rights will be invited to act as an observer with consultative status.
In the new El Salvador the journey towards restoring the victims’ dignity has begun, reaching its highest and most decided expression today. This government has already deployed a new vision of the country’s governance, rescuing the spirit of the Peace Accords’ democratization and human rights agenda. The creation of the Economic and Social Council once more takes up the spirit of the Economic and Social Forum contained in the Peace Accords.
We have made institutional spaces available in the Foreign Ministry for dialogue with the organizations that are defending the rights of the victims and have reached important agreements with them.
By decision of the President of the Republic, the Salvadoran State awarded the Order of José Matías Delgado, Grand Cross grade wth gold plaque to the Jesuit priests assassinated in 1989. It was in the hall of honor in the presidential house on November 16, the same date they were assassinated along with two of their closest helpers, that I had the honor of presenting this award to their families and friends. I want you know that this very day I will sign a decree to create a national commission to search for disappeared children, a commission that will meet the standards required by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
This decision is not just a symbolic act. It is an executive act of relief and reparation to one of the sectors of victims that has struggled most for its rights and that was embodied by the many years of effort by our now deceased brother, Father Jon Cortina, to whom we today pay homage and express our gratitude.
The executive branch pledges to provide the broadest and most active collaboration with the relevant national and international authorities in their investigations into cases resulting from humans rights’ violations. It is the State’s obligation to do so and this President will not evade his responsibility.
Another chapter of the Peace Accords that the Salvadoran State is committed to fulfill and hasn’t fulfilled yet is to guarantee the rights and satisfy the demands of the war wounded. A debt was left by previous administrations that didn’t comply with their obligation to pay pensions. My government will attend to this legitimate demand in the time limits allowed by our finances, starting with an agreement with those affected. To this end, as of next week I will set up a working group to dialogue and negotiate with representatives of organizations of people who were wounded and disabled in the armed conflict and with government delegates to establish the amount of the debt, and the form and timing of payment. I also want to announce that in the coming days the protection fund for people wounded and disabled in the armed conflict will be fully operational, with programs for social and productive rehabilitation with respect to training, productive support, mental health, labor insertion, the construction of a factory to make prostheses and an institutional credit system.
Dear Salvadoran men and women: starting today, on this symbolic date, we are initiating a new relationship by the State with human rights organizations and those protecting people wounded and disabled in the war, which from now on will find in this government an ally that will actively collaborate in their work. This recognition of the State’s illicit behavior, its consequent acceptance of responsibility and the necessary plea for forgiveness we have made today must not be taken advantage of by any minority group to try and bring discord and division into the Salvadoran community. We need acts of love, never again of hate. We need acts that dignify, never again that harm. We need acts of solidarity, never again of selfishness.
We are aware that many of the structural causes that led to the armed conflict, especially all those of an economic and social nature have not yet been solved or answered. This government of change has embarked on a process that has economic development, fair distribution of wealth and full social inclusion as its final aim. I consider my work to be a response to the spirit that inspired the signing of the Peace Accords in 1992 in the fullest sense: to deepen the values of democracy, national union and agreement, and social commitment, especially with the most needy and vulnerable. Because of this, I also reaffirm today my preferential option for the poor, in line with the teachings of our martyred bishop and national spiritual guide, Monsignor Óscar Arnulfo Romero.
Our country still needs to walk down the road to full democracy, which implies not only systematic exercise of the right to vote but also the assurance of equal opportunities and social justice. There will be no lasting peace, no harmony, as long as there are still different forms of inequality, misery, backwardness and exclusion of the great majority from quality education and health services, the labor market, culture and social progress. This course of action will only be possible in the framework of national union. The political struggles of democracy cannot and must not compromise this road chosen by the Salvadoran people: the road to peace, coexistence, fraternity and love of one’s neighbor. As I have always said: every Salvadoran is our brother or sister.
Many thanks again to all of you for your presence at this event. And thank you to the victims and their families for receiving my plea for forgiveness in the name of the Salvadoran State. May God bless you, the Salvadoran people and El Salvador.