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[Roush photo]Jim Roush, retired from the U.S. Agency for International Development, serves as a senior associate with the consulting firm Development Associates of Arlington, Virginia. He participated in the evaluation of two USAID/El Salvador projects designed to further the 1992 Peace Accords.

The El Salvador Accords:
A Model for
Peace Keeping Actions

By James L. Roush

I N   J A N U A R Y   1 9 9 2,
the Government of El Salvador and the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) signed a peace agreement in Mexico ending twelve years of civil strife. The specific details of the Peace Accords are unique to El Salvador, but the scope of the Accords and the actions taken to implement them provide useful guidelines for those who would help other war-torn societies rebuild. The Peace Accords call for reform in many areas, coupled with a major program to rehabilitate and revitalize the zones that had been adversely affected by the war (referred to as the ex-conflictive zones).

The Historical Perspective

Army officers ran El Salvador from 1932 to 1980 and their election to the Presidency was seldom free or fair. The accumulation of grievances against these regimes led to guerrilla warfare in the 1970s. In 1979, Fidel Castro brought the leaders of five rather weak and ill-organized Salvadoran guerrilla groups to Havana and, with arms and money from the USSR, welded them together into the FMLN. As a strong, unified organization, the FMLN then started major guerrilla campaigns, which continued throughout the 1980s.

In spite of free elections, an improved new constitution, and reforms in land tenancy during the 1980s, the FMLN continued the war. Human rights violations were frequent by forces from both the left and the right. Many individuals acted with virtual impunity; the judical system was weak, overwhelmed by the magnitude of the bloodshed and burdened with corruption. With the virtual dissolution of the Soviet Union at the end of the 1980s and the close of the Cold War, both sides’ benefactors encouraged the combatants to make peace.

In early 1990, following a request from the Central American presidents, the United Nations became involved in an effort to mediate direct talks between the two sides. A chronology of the significant events of the ensuing peace process follows:

April 4. The GOES and FMLN agreed to enter into UN-mediated peace talks and expressed their shared aim of guaranteeing “unrestricted respect for human rights” in El Salvador.
May 21. A negotiating agenda was established in Caracas, Venezuela: a two-stage process of political agreements, followed by a cease-fire. The agenda items for the first stage were Armed Forces, human rights, judicial system, electoral system, constitutional reform, socioeconomic problems, and United Nations verification.
July 26. An agreement on Human Rights was signed in San Jose, Costa Rica, providing for immediate measures for the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms and international verification of their observance.
April. GOES and FMLN agreed in Mexico on a series of reforms to the 1983 Constitution related to the Armed Forces, electoral process, judicial system, and human rights; the Salvadoran National Assembly approved the foregoing reforms. [However, in accordance with the Constitution, their formal adoption also required the approval of the next elected Assembly.]
May 20. The Security Council decided to establish the UN verification mission as soon as possible, i.e., even before a cease-fire. The Council gave the mission (ONUSAL) wide-ranging and unprecedented powers.
July 26. The UN human rights verification mission was established with a mandate to “investigate the human rights situation in El Salvador … and to take any steps it deems appropriate to promote and defend such rights.”
September 25. Agreements in New York established the Commission for the Consolidation of the Peace (COPAZ). It established sub-committees for human rights, administration of justice, land issues, the National Civilian Police, and elections.
October 31. The Assembly which took office on May 1, 1991, ratified the reforms related to the electoral system, judicial system, and human rights.
December 31. The GOES and the FMLN agreed to end the war.
January 16. A final agreement, called the Accords of Chapultepec, was signed in Mexico City, the culmination of two years of negotiation facilitated by the United Nations.
January 30. The Assembly ratified the reforms related to the Armed Forces.
February 1. A cease-fire took effect.


December 15. The cease-fire terminated when the last elements of the FMLN military structure were demobilized. The Salvadoran Armed Forces already had reduced its size to about 50 percent of the 1991 level. Peace was official.

Agenda for PeaceThe provisions of the Peace Accords consolidated and expanded upon the reforms that had been set forth in the 1983 Constitution. The Peace Accords also called for specific actions designed to guarantee the implementation of the reforms in a fair and just way. The key provisions are summarized below:

1. Military Reform Measures
Development of a new armed forces doctrine stressing democratic values and prohibiting an internal security role, except under extraordinary circumstances.

Evaluation of the performance of Salvadoran officers (and recommendations for their discharge from the service where warranted) by a commission composed of three civilians and two non-voting military officers.

A fifty percent reduction of military manpower by October 1993; national guard, treasury police, and all elite counter-insurgency battalions to be dissolved.

A new civilian intelligence service to be established under the
President’s authority and legislative oversight.

Paramilitary groups to be banned, civil defense forces dissolved, a new military reserve system instituted, and forced recruitment to be ended.

2. National Civilian Police
A new civilian police force to be established for both urban and rural areas; recruits to be trained at a new, independent police academy.

The existing National Police force to be transferred from the Ministry of Defense to the Ministry of the Presidency to carry out duties under United Nations’ monitoring until the new civilian police force is in place.

3. Judicial Reform
An independent national judicial council to be established to foster a fair and independent judiciary; a school for judicial training to be established to improve the professionalism of judges and other judicial officials.

Creation of a human rights ombudsman.

4. Electoral Reform
A special commission to be established to study draft reforms to the electoral code.
5. The Agrarian Problem
The Government to implement existing land reform under supervision of a special commission.

Agricultural credit to be granted in a timely and adequate manner along with new programs of technical assistance.

6. Forum for Economic and Social Consultation
A forum shall be established in which representatives of the government, labor and the business community shall participate on an equal footing for the purpose of working out a set of broad agreements on the economic and social development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants.
7. National Reconstruction Program
Within 30 days from the signing of the agreement on the cessation of the armed conflict, the government shall submit a National Reconstruction Plan to the FMLN for its comment. The main objective of the Plan shall be the integrated development of zones affected by the conflict. Measures shall be taken to facilitate the reintegration of FMLN into the country’s civil, institutional, and political life.
8. Political Participation by the FMLN
Adoption of legislative or other measures needed to guarantee former FMLN combatants the full exercise of their civil and political rights; legalization of the FMLN as a political party, with the right to full political participation.

Roles of the Implementing Agencies

The principal responsibility for the implementation of the Peace Accords fell to the Salvadoran Government. Its primary financial support initially came from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). International donor agencies and other bilateral aid programs also contributed: the former particularly in rebuilding infrastructure; the latter by providing support to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), many of which channeled their support directly to FMLN groups and to health facilities in communities in the former zones of conflict.

Certain agencies of the United Nations played a particularly important role: ONUSAL, the UN observer mission for El Salvador; the United Nations Development Program (UNDP); the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF); and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).

The demobilization of troops was the most crucial and sensitive action to be undertaken. The ONUSAL mission was instrumental in keeping the two sides talking and working out solutions to the problems that kept arising. The UNDP also contributed by providing humanitarian assistance for FMLN ex-combatants in the process of demobilization. The UNDP and the USAID mission helped ease the transition by financing and organizing, among other things, various training programs which included stipends for the trainees.

The Human Rights Division of ONUSAL was crucial in the reduction of violence. It provided a place where complaints could be made and had its own personnel to undertake investigations. It reported periodically on the status of human rights and made recommendations to the government for improving the human rights situation. Most human rights complaints related to the procedures followed by the police and the courts.

Both the ONUSAL Human Rights Division and the UNDP were crucial in launching the Salvadoran government’s Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman. ONUSAL provided technical assistance and logistics support; UNDP provided initial funding. This support was crucial because government budget resources were not available until over eight months after the Ombudsman’s office had been established. Other nations also helped the Ombudsman get started.

The UNDP helped the government develop the National Reconstruction Program; later it helped finance and coordinate the Program’s implementation. Major financial support for the Program came from the USAID Mission; the European Economic Community supported land transfers. Other countries provided support outside of government channels to nongovernmental organizations working in the ex-conflictive zones.

The UNHCR is usually concerned only with refugees, but it was asked to take on a different role in support of the Salvadoran peace process: arranging for displaced persons, repatriates and people in the ex-conflictive zones to get their official documentation. This cedula was necessary to obtain governmental services, including a voter registration card. This took on major importance as Salvador neared its March 1994 elections for President, the National Assembly and mayors. The USAID Mission financially supported the documentation effort.

UNICEF, in addition to providing humanitarian assistance, managed a campaign to warn the population about mines that had been left behind in the ex-conflictive zones.

Many differences arose between the Salvadoran government and the FMLN during the implementation of the Peace Accords. ONUSAL was the principal organization that facilitated discussions and pressed for solutions to keep the process going. ONUSAL also brought in observers to help ensure that the March 1994 election was fair.

Implementation Issues

There are nine categories of issues that arose in the El Salvador case which impacted on the national recovery program in the ex-conflictive zones and which would have relevance to the social and economic reactivation of other war-torn areas and societies:

  1. Participatory planning
  2. Orientation in conflict resolution and consensus-building
  3. Demobilization of ex-combatants
  4. Special health needs
  5. Structure and timing of assistance to the agricultural sector
  6. Implementation mechanisms and procedures
  7. Local political and administrative structures
  8. Local infrastructure, and
  9. Monitoring of human rights

1. Participatory Planning The Government of El Salvador developed the plans for implementing the Peace Accords, with some advice and financial support from the United Nations Development Fund and the USAID Mission. There was no means for consultation with the FMLN until after the Peace Accords were signed, but demobilization and reconstruction plans had been prepared prior to that time. Prior preparation was essential because the commitments in the Peace Accords called for very fast action once the Accords were signed. The lack of joint FMLN-GOES planning was most evident in the demobilization of combat forces (to be discussed later), and this impacted negatively on all components of the reconstruction program.

The Salvadoran government tried to involve other donors through a consultative group. The FMLN was represented in the consultative group meeting which met shortly before the signing of the Peace Accords to discuss the Salvadoran government’s reconstruction plan. The FMLN had not seen the plan prior to the meeting and was not pleased with all aspects of it; however, it agreed to the plan so that the Salvadoran government could ask for donor support. The pledged support was largely from the United States. Many bilateral donors (particularly European countries) did not trust the Salvadoran government and preferred to deal directly with FMLN organizations or nongovernmental organizations providing assistance to the FMLN or to people living in the ex-conflictive zones.

Because of the pressure to put a plan in place and the fact that a number of the provinces of the country were not accessible, the Salvadoran government did not involve provincial or local leaders in the planning process. While the government knew generally what the problems were, it was not able to assess local priorities or to determine the extent to which local communities could participate in the reconstruction of their areas. Local women’s perspectives in particular were not available to the planners.

Because foreign assistance was targeted on the rebuilding of ex-conflictive zones, one of the issues that arose very early on was the definition of ex-conflictive zones. Due to political pressure, the number of areas to participate in the reconstruction program was increased from about eighty to 115 municipalities (an administrative category) — out of 262 municipalities in the country. While a region might not have been the site of actual fighting, it could have been very seriously affected by that fighting if it was adjacent and economically linked to the zone where fighting was taking place.

One possible way to overcome in future situations some of the problems encountered in El Salvador would be to bring in an international planning group under the sponsorship of the United Nations or a principal donor. The sponsor would need to be acceptable to both parties and/or the membership of the planning team would need to have nominees from each of the protagonists.

Another scenario might be to plan prior to a cessation of hostilities only the non-controversial humanitarian, infrastructure and government service requirements which would be needed immediately upon the cessation of the conflict. Concurrently, provision would be made for two joint planning groups to begin work immediately upon termination of the conflict: one to plan demobilization and the second to plan the reconstruction phase. If appropriate, a third could work on political matters, e.g., constitutional revision or preparing for an election. Local government representatives and non-governmental organizations operating locally should be included in these groups.

The planning groups should either be chaired by an outsider (from the United Nations or a major donor acceptable to both/all sides) or co-chaired by representatives from the principal belligerent groups. One of the first tasks of each group might be to organize a symposium with representation from the principal political groups and from donors willing to participate in the reconstruction. The purpose of the symposium would be to get the opposing groups working together, while at the same time obtaining ideas, and hopefully consensus, on modus operandi for developing and implementing the requisite plans.

Issues to be addressed in the reconstruction planning group might include:

  1. Should a plan be developed by the planning group for the overall reconstruction effort or should the group only develop an overall strategy and monitor and assist a planning effort carried out at provincial level–or inter-provincial level around economic development poles (or magnet areas) which overlap provinces?
  2. what is the best way to organize the development of the plan in order to ensure maximum local participation from all political spectrums?
  3. how might the implementation of the plan be managed, e.g.: by creation of an autonomous special development authority and provide it with technical assistance; through a coordinating contractor or grantee; by beefing up an existing provincial or regional organization; or possibly by trying more than one technique in different areas.
  4. What modalities will be used to involve local groups of various types in the implementation of the plan?
  5. How can existing programs be reoriented to support the reconstruction program?

2. Orientation in Conflict Resolution and Consensus Building International donors trying to assist in a post-war situation will likely face project counterparts and beneficiaries holding deep-seated emotions and mutual distrust and animosities toward each other due to their recent belligerent status. The counterparts and beneficiaries may hold similar feelings towards the donor’s representatives if the donor has been identified with one of the parties to the conflict. This was the case in El Salvador between USAID, which was identified with the Salvadoran government, and FMLN officials. USAID also found itself often caught in the middle between the FMLN and the government on specific issues.

In addition to organizing joint planning, as indicated above, the United Nations or a neutral donor should include in its assistance package a provision for training in conflict resolution and consensus building for the belligerent parties, particularly among leaders and the planning groups. Such training would also be appropriate for in-country representatives of the principal donors and non-governmental organizations involved in implementing the reconstruction program. Special programs for fostering reconciliation should also be planned for political and administrative leadership at both national and local levels.

Initially, orientation and training in conflict resolution will probably need to be provided by outside experts brought in by the United Nations or a major donor. In time, it may be possible that this function can be taken over as a continuing activity by the office of the human rights ombudsman, if such were established, or by a specialized center in a local university.

3. Demobilization of ex-combatants

This was the most contentious issue in the immediate post-war period in El Salvador. To help prepare the Salvadoran government for this crucial task, USAID financed a study by an outside organization of the demobilization experiences of other countries. The contractor, Creative Associates International, Inc. of Washington, D.C., reviewed post-conflictive reintegration programs in Nicaragua, Zimbabwe, Colombia and the United States, as well as the assimilation of military personnel into the security forces of Panama. Subsequently, Salvadoran government planners and personnel from the United Nations Development Program and USAID visited Nicaragua and Colombia.

Based on the foregoing, a demobilization strategy was developed by the Salvadoran government and the USAID based on two assumptions that turned out to be unacceptable to the FMLN and the Salvadoran Armed Forces: 1) the ex-combatants would be dealt with on an individual basis; and 2) the best solution would be the reintegration of the ex-combatants into society as quickly as possible, i.e., they would lose their identity as ex-combatants and receive benefits along with others who had suffered from the war.

The reasons for this approach were: to accelerate the integration of the ex-combatants into the general population; to avoid the predictable resentment of assistance dedicated to ex-combatants on the part of the general population, which also had suffered during the conflict; and to impact in an equitable manner on the larger target group of poor peasants (displaced persons, a repatriated population and the inhabitants of the ex-conflictive zones who had remained there during the war).

The FMLN, which had not been a party to the demobilization planning, refused to allow its people to be dealt with on an individual basis, claiming that it feared for the safety of its sympathizers if the Salvadoran government knew their names. The FMLN also insisted that all ex-combatant assistance pass through it. It continually made new demands for ex-combatant assistance, based on feedback from its troops. The Salvadoran armed forces also insisted on serving as a channel for benefits to its veterans, and demanded that their demobilized personnel receive the same benefits as those negotiated by the FMLN for its troops.

Because it was unable to get a cash mustering out payment for its personnel, the FMLN insisted that the ex-combatants should have demobilization (or household starter) packages (tools and supplies) and special programs for them in all the fields in which the inhabitants of the ex-conflictive zones were to participate: land transfers, vocational technical training, agricultural credit, micro-enterprise credit, and assistance to the war-wounded.

The proposed demobilization strategy, which was rejected by the FMLN and Salvadoran armed forces, would likely have resulted in more, and certainly more relevant, benefits being provided to the ex-combatants more rapidly and in a manner that would have promoted reconciliation. The extended negotiations and reprogramming needed to carry out the activities sought by the FMLN resulted in delays in the demobilization process, in the obtaining of benefits by those being demobilized, and the implementation of the program for social and economic reactivation of the ex-conflictive zones.

Clearly, there was a need for more inter-party consultation and for an integrated planning process which went beyond the regrouping of troops and the turning over of arms. The FMLN leadership needed to have participated in the orientation tour on demobilization in other countries. Where the benefits for the ex-combatants will be funded by one or more donors, those donors should be included in planning sessions.

Another lesson from the El Salvador experience that is frequently over-looked is that the “how” of project implementation is often just as important, or more so, as the content of the project. This is especially so in a project that is supposed to promote reconciliation of previously warring parties.

Delays in demobilization were also a problem in an otherwise relatively successful peace restoration operation in Mozambique. It appears from the two operations that there are two important factors that are in conflict in such operations. One, rapid demobilization is seen as essential to minimize the likelihood of a resumption of fighting. Two, the opposing forces do not trust each other and do not want to demobilize until they are sure that a political reconciliation has been realized and will hold. Further, each military force will want to protect its own members and to maintain their loyalty–either for political support in an up-coming election or for military support if the peace process is not consummated.

The foregoing suggests that a rapid and smooth demobilization often will not be feasible, and it would be well to look for alternative methods for minimizing the likelihood of a resumption of fighting. The El Salvador experience also suggests the need to look for a simpler way of providing assistance to ex-combatants for their transition to civilian society.

In all likelihood, all post-conflict situations will leave large numbers of people in need of repatriation and devastated areas badly in need of rehabilitated infrastructure to facilitate commerce, a revival of industry, and access to health and education facilities. Perhaps it would be feasible to reassign military units from both (or all) sides to manage some of the immediate humanitarian assistance and rural infrastructure activities. They might work under the general supervision of, and be paid by, nongovernmental humanitarian organizations or donor-funded contractors.

As each unit was reassigned, it would be required to turn in its arms to a repository under the control of the United Nations or other neutral agent. As soon as possible, efforts should be made to develop jointly-planned projects, to carry out integrated conflict resolution workshops and eventually joint or integrated operating units, i.e., with personnel from each of the warring sides.

Carrying out individual counseling sessions to determine the needs of individual ex-combatants is not likely to be feasible immediately upon cessation of hostilities. What may be possible would be to develop a questionnaire, without names, that could solicit the plans and aspirations of the individual ex-combatants and their anticipated training and capital needs. On the basis of the responses, special programs could be developed and vouchers provided for those who wished to attend.

In addition, it seems important to provide for all ex-combatants to receive a certain sum of money at demobilization and monthly for a certain period of time. Based on the El Salvador experience, it seems likely that this amount, although large, would not exceed the amount that went into many specialized training programs that were attended only to get living allowances; most of the funding went to those who put on the programs, and the benefits to the ex-combatant were minimal in many cases.

A major problem in El Salvador was providing government identity cards to the many who had not had them or who had lost them during the war. It might be feasible to ensure that all ex-combatants were issued new cards prior to their demobilization. Some of the units designated for demobilization could also be utilized to facilitate the registration process in the ex-conflictive areas.

The assignment of military medical personnel to health facilities in the ex-conflictive zones could promote reconciliation, as well as improve health standards in the region.

While it makes good sense to demobilize the troops as quickly as possible and integrate them into civil society, this appears not to be acceptable generally to the armed forces involved. The suggestions here, therefore, are to look for ways to use the military forces in peaceful ways that promote a rapid restoration of the economy and the productive capabilities of the people. This will give more meaning to the ex-combatants’ immediate post-war lives and achieve a more rapid reconstruction than otherwise would be likely because governments under the more typical methods get bogged down trying to meet unrealistic demobilization targets.

In El Salvador, about 30 percent of the ex-combatants were women. Yet their needs were ignored in the planning and implementation of the ex-combatant program. Among possibly other needs, consideration should be given to designing training programs for women and providing day care facilities so they would be able to participate.

4. Special Health Needs

The immediate post-war health needs involved expanding or establishing health care facilities in the ex-conflictive zones and ensuring health coverage for ex-combatants while in the process of demobilization. The success of this effort will depend in part on the availability of on-going programs that can be expanded on short notice.

A longer term health problem relates to the war-wounded, particularly those injured by land mines–seventy-five percent of the civilian physically war-wounded in El Salvador were injured by land mines. Land mines continue to provide a health hazard after the war, and a major effort will usually be needed to warn civilians about the danger of mines. The elimination of the mines is likely to take years. The war-wounded will need special surgery, prosthetic and orthotic devices, and training in their use.

Another likely special health problem for both civilians and ex-combatants will be post-war traumatic stress disorders (psychosis and acute and severe depression). The affected population in El Salvador was expected to exceed one million, or about one-fifth of the population.

Because the foregoing are special health problems, there is usually little capability in-country to deal with them. There will be a need for immediate technical assistance to survey the magnitude of the problem; identify existing and needed institutional capabilities (including facilities near the victims); and design a strategy for the activities needed to cope with the situation. It was time-consuming and difficult to get agreement in El Salvador on a strategy for dealing with the war-wounded.

There may be special needs for women and children in families in which ex-combatants will be reintegrating.

Structure and Timing of Assistance to the
Agricultural Sector

It was expected that many ex-combatants and displaced persons would return to farming in the former conflict zones. Programs were put in place to provide agricultural credit and technical assistance to those wishing to return to or go into agriculture. In addition, because many of the potential farmers did not have land, a land transfer program was also established.

Land transfers are not easy to administer under the best of circumstances. They are especially difficult to carry out in ex-conflictive zones where buildings and farms/orchards may have been destroyed and where owners of the land may be difficult to locate. Special efforts will be needed to streamline procedures and facilitate the participation of those without land. Furthermore, the beneficiaries will need shelter and a safe water supply immediately. Probably few will have ever owned farms or be skilled farmers. They will need technical assistance on how to grow crops and/or raise livestock and on farm management. They will need credit for inputs.

The timing of the technical assistance and credit must relate to the growing season or it may be lost. The amount of credit must be sufficient to operate all income-generating activities of the farm and raise food for the family, not just enough to plant one specific cash crop. The terms of the credit should be designed to improve the credit worthiness of the recipients, not just permit them to survive. Special arrangements, including possibly revised legislation, may be needed to ensure that women farmers can have access to land, credit and technical assistance.

Inadequate attention to the foregoing can result, on one hand, in inadequate numbers being given land at demobilization and, on the other hand, those who have settled not being able to make a reasonable living. Either result can have seriously adverse political results and possibly threaten the peace process.

Implementation Mechanisms and Procedures

Immediate and appropriate action to implement approved peace accords is going to be essential to obtain the confidence and cooperation of the non-governmental adversaries. Furthermore, the government’s actions must be perceived as having been fairly executed. This suggests that the government must have an implementing agency in place when the peace accords are signed, and that the agency should be one with which the adversary group(s) are willing to work. The Salvadoran implementing agency was seen as a counter-insurgency agency, and it took many months before reasonably cordial working relations were established between the government agency and the FMLN.

Perhaps a jointly-administered oversight committee could be created during the immediate post-accord planning period to monitor the actions of the government’s implementing agency. This could provide the outsiders with some assurance that they could ensure fair action by the government’s designated implementing agency.

In most postwar situations, as in El Salvador, it probably will be necessary and desirable to use a number of nongovernmental organizations to help implement the reconstruction program. In El Salvador, there was a reluctance by the government to work with a number of the local organizations because they had been affiliated with and/or supporting the FMLN or populations sympathetic to them. The USAID also felt constrained from working with them because they were not familiar with or organized to meet USAID financial control requirements. Yet, these groups were in a position to deal effectively in many of the ex-conflictive zones.

To deal with the situation, the USAID eventually financed training courses for the local nongovernmental organizations and used international nongovernmental organizations as umbrella entities which would pass money to, and monitor, the local organizations.

Almost immediately after the cessation of hostilities, there will be a need for at least humanitarian activities. In El Salvador, the USAID was able to reprogram funds from existing projects, reallocate Public Law 480 Title II commodities, and authorize the use of host country owned local currency that had been generated in previous years. These resources often may not be available. It will be especially important that donors plan to use emergency procedures to move resources quickly, procedures that are used for disaster relief. Furthermore, these procedures should be continued for at least a year in order to get all aspects of demobilization and reconstruction initiated quickly.

Donors planning a substantial contribution should expand their local staffs immediately, sending additional program, logistics and administrative personnel for the first few months of operations–not wait until those in place are unable to cope. Donor coordination will be essential during the immediate post-war period; the donors will probably need to encourage and assist the host government to carry out this activity.

Local Political and Administrative Structures

The provision of health services seemed to be the most important activity in El Salvador for promoting reconciliation at the local level. Next most important was local involvement is deciding on priorities for rural infrastructure projects. The latter were approved for financing by the Municipalities in Action program only after they had been discussed in open meetings organized by the local mayor.

In some areas, however, the mayors had left the area during the fighting and were afraid to return to their posts. Since the FMLN had not participated in the previous election for mayors, there were no mayors who were sympathetic to the FMLN even though many areas had large numbers of FMLN sympathizers in the population. The make up of the local municipal councils was similar. Furthermore, the electoral system for the councils provided that the majority party took all seats on the council. Thus, the make-up of the councils changed very little even after new elections were held in which the FMLN participated.

In some postwar situations, it may be that there are no locally elected personnel–only appointees. Whether local officials are appointed or elected, it will be important for the success of the reconciliation process for the “outsiders” to be able to participate freely and meaningfully in local decision-making as soon as possible. This could be done by establishing development planning committees and project implementation monitoring committees with proportionate representation from local groups and organizations.

Electoral reform could provide either for voting for individuals for the municipal councils or that the majority of the seats would go to the political party with the majority of votes, but that the rest of the seats on the council would be distributed to the other party(ies) in proportion to their share of the vote.

Donors should use their influence to ensure that any local groups that will relate to donor-funded activities should include appropriate representation from women or women’s groups. (It was interesting to note in El Salvador that reconciliation appeared to take place much more rapidly at the local level than in the national arena.)

Local Infrastructure

In El Salvador the Municipalities in Action program had been financing local infrastructure activities during the war. When the Peace Accords were signed, the program was expanded into the ex-conflictive zones. As indicated in the previous section, this program was helpful in bringing people together–as well as providing funding for badly needed local infrastructure. Something like the Municipalities in Action program would probably be very important in any post-war situation, particularly in the geographic areas that had suffered most from the war.

Once programs are in place to replace major infrastructure (roads, railroads, electric power, urban water supplies) and local infrastructure (as in the Municipalities in Action program), it will be important to initiate a planning activity to bridge the national and the local. Regional or provincial development plans, or inter-regional plans based on development poles or magnet areas, should be prepared.

The planning for regional or provincial infrastructure should look not only at the needs and how to meet them. The planning should also look at the financial and technical manpower requirements for maintenance of the infrastructure once constructed and propose institutional mechanisms for ensuring that the needed maintenance would be carried out efficiently and effectively.

The construction of safe water supply facilities and appropriate sanitary facilities is potentially one of the most important activities in a local infrastructure program. It is essential, however, that the activity be seen as a health activity, not just infrastructure. Such projects in rural areas will not have the desired health impact, nor be sustainable, unless there is organized community participation and meaningful (to the community) health promotion activity preceding, during, and after the construction period. This was amply demonstrated in the experience in El Salvador. It was also demonstrated that such activity, when carried out correctly with local participation (especially of women), can also contribute significantly to reconciliation.

Monitoring Human Rights

The Peace Accords in El Salvador provided for the establishment of the office of ombudsman of human rights, the Procuraduría para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos. The organization was not well funded by the Salvadoran government and began operations with assistance from the United Nations and bilateral donors. It eventually began to have increasing influence, but it was not the major protector of human rights in El Salvador during the immediate post-war period.

Rather, that role was played by a special office in the United Nations Observer Mission that was organized to investigate allegations of human rights violations anywhere in the country and to report them to government authorities and the public. The establishment of an ombudsman for human rights is appropriate, but it will usually be unrealistic to assume that that office will have much influence in the immediate post-war period. Therefore, the presence of an internationally staffed human rights office should be planned for. It should accept as part of its mandate the provision of technical assistance to, and working with, the national ombudsman.

The human rights monitoring offices (national and international) should plan for regional offices as quickly as possible, particularly in the ex-conflictive zones. The two offices should collaborate in organizing workshops, seminars, etc. to provide the training and orientation proposed above in conflict resolution and consensus building and organize other activities to promote reconciliation at all levels. One such activity might be the holding of a conference on the human rights situation in the country (or a region) and the steps that would be needed to deal with the threat and foster a more harmonious society.

In the case of El Salvador, the principal violations of human rights involved improper actions by either the police or judicial authorities. This could be expected in other countries. Although reform of both of these institutions was part of the Peace Accords, it takes time and strong pressure to carry out such reforms. Hence, the importance of having a human rights ombudsman office operating when the peace accords become effective.

Concluding Comment and Recommendations

Most crucial to the peace process in El Salvador were the thoroughness with which issues that contributed to the conflce were dealt with in the Peace Accords; the strong role played by the UN’s local office, ONUSAL, in mediating between the two parties and in defending human rights; and the steady support for the peace process given by President Cristiani in spite of opposition within his own majority political party. Substantial U. S. and UN technical and financial support also played an important role. Of the nine implementation issues discussed above, those that are most likely to be essential to the peace process in almost any setting are:

  • The planning process for demobilization and rebuilding
  • orientation in conflict resolution and consensus building
  • the actual demobilization of ex-combatants, and
  • the monitoring of human rights violations.

Finally, a recommendation: The U. S. government should request the UN Secretary General to undertake an evaluation of the work of UN agencies and the principal donors in rebuilding war-torn societies.The evaluators would consist of, among other specialists, conflict resolution experts and persons knowledgeable about the culture and history of the country concerned. Specific items to be reviewed should include the following:

  • Planning for the demobilization of troops, especially on the part of the insurgents, and determining whether more efficient and effective arrangements could have been made;
  • The amount of training and orientation in conflict resolution and “provention”* (Burton 1991) which was arranged for United Nations personnel and for the leaders and negotiators for the protagonists;
  • The extent to which local level officials, women, and other donors were included in the discussions of the implementation of specific activities called for by the peace accords;
  • The actions taken to establish and strengthen a national office for human rights monitoring and the results obtained by the office;
  • Steps taken to ensure that United Nations personnel were, and were perceived as, “neutral”;
  • The extent to which various political parties were brought into discussions at crucial points, e.g., in the formulation of the peace accords and in the planning for and monitoring of the implementation of the accords, and the results of their participation; and
  • Actions taken which appear to have contributed significantly to the reconciliation process and actions which appear to have detracted from reconciliation.The report generated by this evaluation, as well as any similar broad-gauged information on the topic that becomes available, should be widely distributed.

    * “Provention” is a term coined by Dr. John Burton to emphasize the need to deal with causes, not symptoms–as is usually the case in governmental conflict prevention. See the Burton reference in the bibliography.


    Burton, John. Conflict: Resolution and Provention . New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1990.

    ———–. 1989. “Conflict Resolution as a Political System”. PEACE in Action, February 1989. Garner, NC: Foundation for a Peaceful Environment Among Communities Everywhere.

    “Evaluation of USAID/El Salvador’s Public Services Improvement Project (519-0320).” Cambridge Consulting Corporation. Agency for International Development, Washington, DC,1995.

    “Evaluation of the Social Stabilization and Municipal Development Strengthening Project (MEA Project).” Checchi and Company Consulting, Inc. and Daniel Carr & Associates. Washington, D.C.: Agency for International Development, 1994.

    “Evaluation of USAID/El Salvador’s Peace and National Recovery Project (519-0394).” Development Associates, Inc. Washington, D.C.: Agency for International Development, 1994.

    “El Salvador: Human Rights Ombudsman Assessment.” Development Associates, Inc. Washington, D.C.: Agency for International Development, 1993.

    “Peace Agreement of 16 January 1992 between the Government of El Salvador and the Frente Farabundo Marti para la Liberacion Nacional (A/46/864; S/23501)”. New York: United Nations, 1992.

    “The First Three Years of the Peace and National Recovery Project (519-0394): Lessons Learned”.USAID/El Salvador. Washington, D.C.: Agency for International Development, 1994.

    © Copyright 1997 by James L. Roush

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