The conflict in El Salvador emerged from a decade of political volatility during which the military establishment confronted a largely landless agrarian population. The murder, by a right-wing death squad, of Archbishop Oscar Romero in March 1980 reflected the brutality that characterized the following decade.
Unofficial estimates put the number of those who went missing during the 1980-92 conflict at 8,000 to 9,000. A significant number of these were children, many of whom are believed to have been adopted through irregular procedures by families in El Salvador, the US and Europe.
A 1993 amnesty law, approved just five days after the UN-backed Truth Commission had issued its report (an integral part of the peace agreement) on wholesale human rights violations during the conflict, allowed perpetrators of disappearances and other crimes to go unpunished.
Efforts to locate and identify the missing therefore represent a significant element in the post-conflict process of national reconciliation, since in most cases the families of the missing do not have the option of seeking legal remedies.
Several organizations have been created to address the problem of missing persons in El Salvador. These include the Pro-Búsqueda NGO, formed in 1994 to search for children who disappeared as a result of the conflict.
ICMP’s involvement in El Salvador has been undertaken in partnership with the Human Rights Center of the University of California, Berkeley, through a grant provided by the US Government. The aim of the ICMP project is to enhance in-country forensic DNA analysis capacity, and to foster overall capacity building, and coordination and information sharing in regard to locating and identifying the missing.
In August 2012, ICMP signed an agreement with the Human Rights Center and Pro-Búsqueda on generating kinship information and DNA profiles from biological reference samples received from El Salvador.