Preventing A Conflict Relapse In El Salvador

Preventing A Conflict Relapse In El Salvador

Year(s): 1989 – 1995.

Location: El Salvador.

UN Regional Group: Latin America and the Caribbean.

Type of Conflict: Risk of a Conflict Relapse.

Type of Initiative: An observer mission and a political mission.

Main Implementing Organisation(s): The UN.

Impact: Lasting.

Summary: The United Nations Observer Group in El Salvador and the United Nations Mission in El Salvador verified the implementation of a ceasefire, contributed to stabilising the country, and strengthened the fragile institutions, preventing a conflict relapse in El Salvador

Description of Case 

The first UN presence in El Salvador came in January 1990 with the opening of the regional office of the United Nations Observer Group in Central America (ONUCA). Much of ONUCA’s focus, however, was on monitoring interstate borders in the region rather than managing the war in El Salvador.[1] In May 1991, the UN Security Council established the United Nations Observer Group in El Salvador (ONUSAL), which had been mandated by the human rights agreement signed in Costa Rica the previous year.[2] In July, ONUSAL established offices across the country and became the first UN mission to focus on the investigation of alleged human rights abuses.[3]

Following the signing of the Chapultepec Peace Accords, ONUSAL’s mandate was expanded to include verifying the ceasefire, separating the former belligerents, re-establishing government control in former areas of conflict, and removing land mines.[4] The UN effort in this regard was highly successful, and not a single violation of the ceasefire was reported.[5] With the initial phase of El Salvador’s post-conflict transition complete, ONUSAL’s mandate was further extended to include maintaining law and order, strengthening domestic institutions such as the Salvadorian police and judiciary, and monitoring elections.[6] The peacekeepers in El Salvador were the first to be given such a task. Beginning in 1993, ONSUAL also began preparatory work for the restoration of democracy in El Salvador. This entailed identifying how many Salvadorian citizens were not registered to vote and ensuring that the Supreme Electoral Tribunal of El Salvador was carrying out its duties effectively.[7] In 1994, ONUSAL’s efforts to strengthen the Salvadorian state received support from the UN Development Programme, which provided expertise and guidance on reintegration programmes and electoral reform.[8] ONUSAL kept working to build peace in El Salvador until May 1995, when it was withdrawn and replaced with a small political mission tasked with verifying the peace process and providing good offices. The new mission, the United Nations Mission in El Salvador, remained in the country for a year.[9] Although Salvadorian society continues to face many challenges, it has been spared from war since 1992.


[1] UN Peacekeeping. United Nations Observer Group in Central America: ONUCA. Available at: (Accessed: 13/10/2020)

[2] UN Peacekeeping. United Nations Observer Group in El Salvador: ONUSAL. Available at: (Accessed 13/10/2020)

[3] Tommie Sue Montgomery. “Getting to Peace in El Salvador: The Roles of the United Nations Secretariat and ONUSAL.” Journal of Interamerican Studies and World Affairs, Vol. 37, No. 4. (1995) p.150

[4] Ibid. p.141

[5] Susan Burgerman. “Building the Peace by Mandating Reform: United Nations-Mediated Human Rights Agreements in El Salvador and Guatemala.” Latin American Perspectives, Vol. 27, No. 3. (2000) p.71

[6] Holiday & Stanley. “Building the Peace.” p.416

[7] Montgomery. “Getting to Peace in El Salvador.” p.153

[8] Bugerman. “Building the Peace by Mandating Reform.” p.71

[9] UN Peacekeeping. El Salvador – ONUSAL: Background. (UN, 2020) Available at: (Accessed 13/10/2020)