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El Salvador is Committing "Massive" Human Rights Violations, Amnesty Alleges

Police officers and soldiers arrest a young man in San Salvador, El Salvador [File: Jose Cabezas/Reuters]


Amnesty International accused the Salvadoran government of committing "massive human rights violations" during a security crackdown, including thousands of arbitrary detentions and violations of due process and torture, and ill-treatment.

On March 27, El Salvador's Legislative Assembly approved a state of emergency requested by President Nayib Bukele following a spike in gang violence that left 62 dead in a single day.

The emergency decree suspends certain fundamental rights, namely, the right to legal defence and the freedom to be informed of the reasons behind the detention. 

On March 30, the government approved additional measures, including establishing indefinite periods for pretrial detention and the ability to try people accused of crimes in absentia – that is, without their presence in court.

Moreover, minors between 12 and 16 can now be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison for gang-related crimes. According to Amnesty, between March 27 and May 17, at least 1,190 children were arrested and held in youth facilities, most charged with being a member of an illegal group of terrorist organizations.

More than 36,000 have been arrested under the "state of exception." If proved to be accurate, almost 2% of the country's entire adult population is behind bars: from 4,374,606 million Salvadoran adults, 74,547 are incarcerated in different penitentiary centres.

On Twitter, the National Civil Police of El Salvador created the #GuerraContraPandillas, under which they record every update of the operation. Their latest tweet reads, "in this #GuerraContraPandillas, criminals only have two paths: jail or death."

"On the pretext of punishing gangs, the Salvadoran authorities commit widespread and flagrant violations of human rights and criminalize people living in poverty. Instead of offering an effective response to the dramatic violence caused by gangs and the historic public security challenges facing the country, they are subjecting the Salvadoran people to a tragedy", said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International.

Amnesty detailed cases of such alleged abuse in their report.

Thousands of people are being held without a legal and fair process. Purely "because the authorities view them as having been identified as criminals in the stigmatizing speeches of President Bukele's government. And because they have tattoos, are accused by a third party of having alleged links to a gang, are related to someone who belongs to a gang, have a previous criminal record of some kind, or simply because they live in an area under gang control," according to the organization.

The increasing number of inmates resulted in overcrowding of over 250% of the prison capacity, which causes violations of the right to life and physical integrity, unsanitary conditions, food shortages, and lack of basic hygiene. According to a new report from Amnesty International, released Thursday, at least 18 people have died in state custody since March 27.

The state of emergency was due to end on April 25, 2022, but was renewed twice by Bukele's government. 



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Tags: Human Rights El Salvador Gang Crime Drug Trafficking


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