El Salvador

Salvadoran authorities declared a state of emergency in March 2022, resulting in massive human rights violations, weakening of the rule of law, as well as a continuous and serious deterioration in access to public information. Attacks against human rights defenders and journalists remained entrenched. Authorities failed to pass a law guaranteeing the rights of victims of crimes under international law committed during the armed conflict (1980-1992). The absolute prohibition of abortion remained in force. In March 2002, the Salvadoran government decreed a state of emergency and amended numerous laws, in response to a spike in homicides allegedly committed by gangs.  Through repeated renewals by the Assembly, the state of emergency has remained in place for over a year. Amnesty International believes the grave human rights violations being committed under the state of emergency are systematic in nature due to the widespread and sustained manner in which they are occurring; the level of state organization and planning involving the convergence of the three branches of the state; the impunity and lack of accountability; the lack of transparency and access to information; and the widespread criminalization of poverty.  The systematic nature of human rights violations could lead Salvadoran state officials to bear individual international criminal responsibility. Instead of eviscerating human rights and judicial independence, Salvadoran authorities should address the longstanding inequalities that leave children from El Salvador’s most marginalized communities vulnerable to gang recruitment. ARBITRARY DETENTIONS AND UNFAIR TRIALS Most of the more than 60,000 arrests made during the state of emergency were allegedly arbitrary because they did not comply with legal requirements. Some of the arrests were based solely on individuals having tattoos or a prior criminal record or the fact that they were living in an area controlled by a gang.  Children between the ages of 12 and 16 are subject to prison sentences of up to 10 years. Thousands of people were indiscriminately prosecuted, most of whom were denied contact with their legal representatives, access to the case file, information on the reasons for their detention or the right to be heard at the indictment hearing. According to local organizations and lawyers, the rushed hearings sometimes dealt with hundreds of defendants at a time. At the end of 2022, President Bukele announced the imposition of a military siege on some areas and cities. In December alone, the military and police encircled three of the most populous and poorest cities, arresting hundreds of people on suspicion of being gang members. The Legislative Assembly approved criminal and procedural amendments contrary to international law. These included holding hearings and issuing sentences without the accused being present and withholding the identity of the judges, as well as abolishing maximum periods of pretrial detention.  According to local organizations, as of August 2022, 89% of the habeas corpus writs filed in defense of people detained during the state of emergency had not been resolved. The state of emergency has had a disproportionate impact on people living in the most impoverished areas who have historically suffered the scourge of gangs.  Thousands of families have been seriously affected economically because the main breadwinner has been apprehended and because of the additional expenses they have to incur to try to prove their relatives’ innocence, to exercise the right of defense during criminal proceedings and to try to guarantee the well-being and health of their relatives held in prisons.  Civil society organizations have reported an increased incidence in affected families of child labor and of minors dropping out of school; increased forced displacement; an increase in cases of family fragmentation; and an increased care burden on women. Both the minister of security and the chairman of the ruling party announced their intention to extend the state of emergency throughout 2023. RIGHT TO LIFE AND SECURITY OF THE PERSON During the state of emergency, El Salvador had the highest rate of people deprived of liberty of any country in the world, with 1,927 people imprisoned per 100,000 inhabitants. By the end of 2022, there were more than 94,000 people detained in the country, well over the February 2021 capacity of 30,864.  Extreme overcrowding resulted in violations of the right to life and physical integrity and caused serious sanitation problems and shortages of food and basic hygiene supplies, seriously affecting the health of detainees.  Cases were documented where prisoners were ill-treated by prison guards, as well as cases of torture by gang members, including beatings, lynchings and constant threats, which prison officials did not attempt to prevent. As of the end of March 2023, 132 people who had not been found guilty of any crime had died in state custody.  Salvadoran human rights organizations believe that there is underreporting because of reported cases of exhumations of victims from mass graves after families were finally able to learn of the deaths of individuals who had died months earlier.  Amnesty International has documented at least 10 cases of deaths in state custody and verified that the main causes include torture and cruel and degrading treatment by police officers and guards, as well as lack of access to health services. Some people released on probation reported witnessing guards and police beating prisoners to death, when seeking to extract a “confession” that they were part of a gang structure or when inflicting a supposed punishment. The withholding of information and obstacles to accessing it and the failure to take measures to clarify human rights violations and the circumstances in which they occurred, and to identify those responsible, create the conditions that allow impunity to prevail and facilitate the perpetuation and escalation of these patterns of abuse.  Amnesty International has not been able to verify that there were any investigations regarding the conduct of public officials in any of the 50 cases it has documented. FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION At the beginning of 2022, the organizations Access Now, CitizenLab and Amnesty International confirmed that the mobile phones of several journalists and members of civil society organizations had been infected with Pegasus spyware. At the end of the year, there was no information that this was being diligently investigated. In February 2022, the Legislative Assembly approved amendments to the criminal law allowing the use of “digital undercover agents”, which would permit police to implement “necessary” digital undercover operations. The Association of Journalists of El Salvador (APES) warned that vagueness and inconsistencies in the law risked leading to the legalization of abusive surveillance. In April 2022, the Assembly modified the Penal Code  to provide for prison sentences of between 10 and 15 years for those who generate “anxiety” or “panic” by reporting on gangs, in an attempt to silence the press. APES registered 125 attacks against journalists and reported that 11 had fled the country during 2022 in a context of threats on social media and public accusations by government figures. National organizations highlighted the deterioration of access to public information and transparency. HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS The president adopted a confrontational public discourse that stigmatized and attacked human rights defenders, international organizations and the independent media.  In the first half of 2022, 61 attacks were recorded against human rights defenders, according to the human rights organization Mesa por el Derecho a Defender Derechos. SEXUAL AND REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS A total ban on abortion remained in force. At least two women remained imprisoned and six faced legal proceedings on charges relating to obstetric emergencies. In July 2022, a young woman was sentenced to 50 years in prison for an obstetric emergency. RIGHT TO TRUTH, JUSTICE AND REPARATION The authorities continued to fail to adopt adequate legislation to fully guarantee the rights of victims of crimes under international law committed during the armed conflict (1980-1992).  There was little progress in investigating and bringing to justice those suspected of criminal responsibility for the crimes committed during the armed conflict.
MIRAFLORES, LIMA, PERU – 2019/12/07: Female demonstrators covering their eyes performing in a feminist flash mob “A Rapist in Your Path” (In Spanish “Un violador en tu camino”) in protest of violence against women. The song, written by Chile feminist group Las Tesis is becoming an international feminist phenomenon. (Photo by Carlos Garcia Granthon/Fotoholica Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Sheet of paper Report

Countries cracked down on asylum and the right to protest in the Americas in 2019

February 27, 2020 – arbitrary detentions