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Map of Central America with Highlighted El Salvador

The Center for Latin American & Latino Studies (CLALS) at American University has launched a project that will analyze and enhance public understanding of the implications of establishing an international commission against corruption and impunity in El Salvador. Like neighboring Central American countries, El Salvador has been plagued by high levels of corruption, undermining legitimacy of institutions and diminishing resources available to meet urgent social needs. Two former presidents have been convicted of massive appropriation of public funds for private gain, and another has gone into exile to avoid judicial proceedings charging him with similar crimes. The fact that such senior figures have been held accountable testifies to important advances made by the justice system in recent years, particularly by the Attorney General’s office. Nonetheless, by all accounts judicial institutions remain weak, and widespread impunity and criminal violence continue to erode public confidence in democracy.

El Salvador's newly elected president, Nayib Bukele, based his appeal in large part on his determination to rid the system of entrenched corrupt actors. During his campaign, he floated the possibility of establishing an international commission that would work to strengthen and supplement Salvadoran judicial institutions. The scope and structure of such a commission, as well as its international sponsorship and relationship to existing institutions, remain uncertain and the subject of considerable controversy in a highly polarized political environment.

This initiative will assess the plausibility and implications of this proposal and consider the forms that such a body could take in light of experience with international commissions in neighboring countries. Under the direction of American University Professor Charles Call and a team of senior researchers at CLALS and in Central America, this effort will draw on international expertise to provide sound, detailed analysis of lessons that anti-impunity efforts elsewhere in Central America may hold for El Salvador. This effort will build on previous CLALS-sponsored studies, most notably an analysis of the Mission against Impunity and Corruption in Honduras (MACCIH).

CLALS will produce both a report published in English and Spanish and high-profile event in San Salvador to disseminate findings to the Salvadoran public. Efforts will be made as well to engage international stakeholders both in preparation of the study and in debates regarding its conclusions. This project is funded by Open Society Foundations.