El Salvador: From Civil War to Migrant Caravans, A Look at Human Rights Violations


By Elsy Mora, Sabrina Faucette, Cristian Maldonado, Rory Crowly and Dave Ivan Cruz

Salvadorean migrants heading in a caravan to the U.S. cross the Suchiate River to Mexico as seen from Ciudad Tecun Uman, Guatemala, on Nov 2, 2018.
 (Marvin Recinos/AFP/Getty Images)

“To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity” -Nelson Mandela

In October of 2018, a caravan of 200 Salvadorans started the journey north to the U.S. in the hopes of finding a better life on the other side of the United States border. The director of the Salvadoran Institute of Migration says that between 200 and 300 people migrate every day.  A migrant says that they are fleeing the violence from gangs and the fear of being killed. The current situation of violence and desire to migrate that the citizens of El Salvador face emanates from the Salvadoran Civil war.

Since the violent and deadly civil war in El Salvador, the state has been characterized by residual trauma and ongoing violence. In 1980, due to civil unrest and political strife, the state erupted into civil war. The conflict lasted until 1992. While the war may have ended, the violence did not. Since the end of the war, many Salvadorans have migrated to escape the violence. This case file will show how the current migration patterns of Salvadorans is caused by the human rights abuses in El Salvador that trace back to the civil war.

There are a number of actors involved in this conflict. The first and foremost actor is the government of El Salvador. Rising to the civil war, the Salvadoran governments strengthened their military and increased the presence of their military throughout the country. The leadership of the country changed hands several times in the time preceding the war. Prior to the civil war, the goal of the government appeared to be an increase of control over the citizens. The government of El Salvador did this because of the increasing opposition to the actions taken by the leaders of the country. Through violent means like increasing the presence of death squads, increased military presence and a declaration of martial law, the government increased their presence within the nation. The United States of America supported the Salvadoran government in the civil war in the form of foreign aid and military training. The U.S. during this time still held the policy of containment and wished to support the government of El Salvador in their efforts to eradicate leftist ideology. The other role that the U.S. plays in this story is that it is the destination that migrants seek. The border between the United States and Mexico is the ultimate obstacle Salvadorans face and U.S. policy affects them greatly.

In response to the actions of the government in the 1970s, leftist opposition groups formed and began protesting the government’s actions. The most prominent groups were the Catholic church and the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front. (FMLN) These groups wished to stop the increased military presences and violence throughout the country, with the FMLN and other leftists and guerrilla groups taking up arms.

After the end of the war, those affected the most were the citizens of El Salvador. Migration towards the U.S. became an increasingly common trend as a result of the terror and violence that they faced in El Salvador. The aftermath of the civil war left behind a scar of violence and induced trauma that left citizenry with a militarized mindset. This, along with widespread poverty due to failures in economic policies creates limited economic opportunities as an access to a means of survival. This is a perfect breeding ground for an increase in gangs as a form of income. As a result, gang violence is widespread in El Salvador.

Human Rights apply to all people of all states. There is no doubt that citizens of El Salvador have experienced violence, death and repression during the Salvadoran Civil war and continue to do so from non-governmental forces. While it appears that state lead violence has ceased, the citizens suffer human rights abuses from gang members and others along their journey to the U.S. border. We can look no further than the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) to detail the rights of all people. The UDHR was written in 1948, more than 30 years before the outbreak of the Salvadoran civil war. Under article 3, the universal document gives humans the right to life liberty and security. Article 5 forbids cruel, inhuman or torturous treatment of any peoples. Article 6 gives humans the right against unfair detention or exile. Article 14 grants the right to seek asylum from persecution in other countries. Article 30 forbids any state to take actions that violate any of the universal human rights. These articles are the most prevalent to the case of El Salvador.  What took place during the civil war and what is taking place now among Salvadoran people violated the principles set out by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

For our full dossier, click here.

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