Finally! A Search Commission for Missing Persons in El Salvador

September 25, 2017
  • An autonomous entity will be in charge of searching for 10,000 missing persons
  • Civil society and government agree on model after months of cooperative work
  • Scientific approach and respect for victims: crucial elements for the Commission's success
  • International experiences in similar contexts offer valuable lessons
On August 21, 2017, Presidential Decree No. 33 gave birth to the National  Search Commission for Missing Persons in the context of the armed conflict in El Salvador (CONABUSQUEDA), after months of joint work between government and civil society through which they agreed upon a legal proposal regarding the design and operation of an institutional search mechanism.

The upcoming steps, however, are particularly critical to the success of the Commission. On the one hand, the decree states that the new institution will be composed of three commissioners: The presiding commissioner will be appointed solely by the Executive, while the remaining two will be selected by the Executive from a list proposed by civil society organizations formed by victims of enforced disappearance, or by civil organizations that represent them. On the other hand, the Commission will be responsible for developing a National Search Plan, no later than ninety days after its formal installation.

Salvadoran history is facing a crucial moment: this mechanism represents an unprecedented opportunity to finally provide answers to an important sector of society that, for decades now, has waited for truth and justice to come. This will depend, to a large extent, on the capacity of the Salvadoran State to carry out its work with commitment, objectivity, and respect for victims. For this end, it will have to take advantage of similar international experiences and, at the same time, work on a policy of criminal prosecution and effective justice procurement that also complements the findings of the Commission.

The Executive Branch organized a public event for September 27 to perform a formal presentation of CONABUSQUEDA at the Presidential House. The first official announcement happened a few days earlier, during the 164th session of the IACHR in Mexico City, in the course of a hearing on access to justice in the context of the declaration of the unconstitutionality of the Amnesty Law in El Salvador.

DPLF salutes this progress and will follow up on the implementation of this nascent institution.
In 1993, the Truth Commission for El Salvador recorded 5,000 cases of enforced disappearances during the country's internal conflict from 1980 to 1992, however, victims and human rights organizations have documented at least 10,000 incidents. In 2007, the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances of the United Nations, after its official visit to the country, recommended the establishment of an effective mechanism for the search for missing persons which would include real participation from organized civil society.