Ending the armed conflict in El Salvador


After 12 years of devastating civil war, the armed conflict in El Salvador was finally ended after negotiations mediated by the UN culminated with the signing of the Chapultepec Peace Accords in 1992.

El Salvador collapsed into civil war following a military coup d’état in October 1979. For over 12 years, a coalition of left-wing armed groups united under the banner of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional, FMLN) fought against the US-backed Salvadorian government. Regional efforts to reduce armed conflict culminated with the Esquipulas II Agreement in 1987, however the war in El Salvador continued.1 Two years later, government officials began meeting with representatives of the FMLN and laid the groundwork for further negotiations to take place. An unsuccessful military offensive in November 1989 served to convince the Government of El Salvador to invite the UN to mediate a peace process between the belligerents.2

UN Secretary-General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar dispatched Álvaro de Soto to mediate the peace process.3 Progress was made within months, and on 4 April 1990, the Geneva Agreement was signed, establishing ‘a negotiation process for resolving the El Salvador conflict.’4 In July, the Agreement on Human Rights was signed in Costa Rica in an effort to reduce the impact of the conflict on civilians.5 By the end of the year, all Salvadorian political parties had voiced their support for an end to the war. However, the ongoing negotiations remained unable to find a compromise on the future of the military and it was not until a fresh round of talks were held in New York that the belligerents agreed to initial a settlement.6 The peace process culminated with the signing of the 1992 Chapultepec Agreement, a comprehensive accord which provided the framework for a ceasefire and disarmament, as well as a programme of comprehensive government reforms.7 The Agreement represents the first UN-brokered end to an armed conflict and was hailed as a ‘revolution’ by the Secretary-General.8 The nine-month ceasefire stipulated in the Agreement held firm, and the FMLN began its transition from armed force to political party. In 1994, the former belligerents reiterated their commitment to implementing the terms agreed at Chapultepec and building peace.9 While myriad problems continue to challenge the Salvadorian people, the country has been spared from war since February 1992.

1 Procedure for the Establishment of a Firm and Lasting Peace in Central America (Esquipulas II), 1987. Available at: https://peacemaker.un.org/centralamerica-esquipulasII87 (Accessed 13/10/2020)

2 UCDP. El Salvador. (UCDP, 2020) Available at: https://ucdp.uu.se/conflict/316 (Accessed 13/10/2020)

3 Alvaro de Soto. “Harnessing incentives for peace: An interview with Alvaro de Soto.” Conciliation Resources. (2008) Available at: https://www.c-r.org/accord/incentives-sanctions-and-conditionality/harnessing-incentives-peace-interview-alvaro-de-soto (Accessed 13/10/2020)

4 Geneva Agreement, 1990. Available at: https://peacemaker.un.org/elsalvador-genevaagreement90 (Accessed: 13/10/2020)

5 Agreement on Human Rights (San Jose Agreement), 1990. Available at: https://peacemaker.un.org/elsalvador-sanjoseagreement90 (Accessed: 31/11/2020)

6 Álvaro de Soto. “A Key United Nations Moment and its Lessons.” UN Chronicle. Available at: https://www.un.org/en/chronicle/article/key-united-nations-moment-and-its-lessons (Accessed: 13/10/2020)

7 Chapultepec Agreement, 1992. Available at: https://peaceaccords.nd.edu/accord/chapultepec-peace-agreement (Accessed: 13/10/2020)

8 David Holiday & William Stanley. “Building the Peace: Preliminary Lessons from El Salvador.” Journal of International Affairs, Vol. 46, No. 2. (1993) pp.415-6

9 Joint Declaration by the Government of El Salvador and the Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional, 1994. Available at: https://peacemaker.un.org/elsalvador-jointdeclarationfmln (Accessed: 13/10/2020)

Start Year


End Year



El Salvador

UN Regional Group

Latin America and the Caribbean

Type of Conflict

Vertical (state-based) intrastate conflict with foreign involvement

Type of Initiative

Mediation of a peace agreement

Main Implementing Organisation(s)

The UN




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