El Salvador 2016/2017
Increasing levels of violence continued to affect people’s rights to life, physical integrity, education and freedom of movement. There were reports of excessive use of force by the security forces and of a surge in asylum applications by Salvadorans in various countries in the region. A total ban on abortion threatened women’s rights. However, a proposal to decriminalize abortion in certain specific circumstances was before the Legislative Assembly at the end of the year. A human rights defender was tried on charges of slander and defamation. The Supreme Court declared the 1993 Amnesty Law unconstitutional. Impunity for violence and other crimes against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people persisted.
Levels of violence and other crimes, primarily resulting from gang activity, continued to ravage the country, with 3,438 homicides reported in the first six months of the year; the equivalent figure for 2015 was 3,335. The press also reported sexual violence against women and girls by gang members.
In April, the authorities approved a series of “extraordinary measures” to try to stem the wave of violence afflicting the country, including legal reforms to introduce stricter prison regimes and the creation of a specialized reaction force of 1,000 police and military personnel to combat criminal gangs. Critics raised concerns that the use of the military in public security operations could result in human rights violations, according to media reports.
Excessive use of force and extrajudicial executions
Members of the security forces were accused of human rights violations during operations to combat organized crime. In April, the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman reported that both the police and the military had used excessive force and committed extrajudicial killings while carrying out two security operations in 2015. The Ombudsman was also reported in the press as stating that other similar cases were under investigation.
Threats to women’s rights persisted. The total ban on abortion remained in place even for cases of rape or where there is a risk to the life of the woman.
In May, María Teresa Rivera was released after spending four years in prison, convicted of aggravated homicide after having a miscarriage. The judge released María Teresa Rivera after reviewing her sentence and ruled that there was insufficient evidence to support the charges against her.1 More than 20 women remained in prison serving lengthy sentences after suffering pregnancy-related complications or obstetric emergencies.
In July, a new proposal filed by a group of parliamentarians from the main opposition party, the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA), sought to increase prison terms from a maximum of eight years to up to a maximum of 50 years for having an abortion. The reform had not been approved by the end of the year.2
In October, parliamentarians belonging to the ruling Farabundo Martί National Liberation Front (FMLN) put forward a proposal to decriminalize abortion in four circumstances, including when a woman’s life is at risk or when the pregnancy is a consequence of rape. The proposal remained pending at the end of the year.
There were high levels of gender-based violence. In the period January to July, 338 women were killed; the equivalent figure for 2015 was 249, according to official records.
Human rights defenders
In August, human rights defender Sonia Sánchez Pérez was acquitted of all charges. Her trial resulted from a lawsuit filed by a private company accusing her of slander and defamation because of her statements about the environmental impact of the company’s infrastructure project on her community. She had also denounced threats against her by private security personnel. The company filed an appeal against the decision.
Many of those who sought to leave the country were fleeing the effects of the increasing control of criminal gangs over areas of the country and the impact this had on the rights to life, physical integrity, education and freedom of movement of local populations.
LGBTI people were frequently targeted for abuse, intimidation and violence because of their sexual orientation and/or their gender identity. In particular, transgender women, who often face greater obstacles in accessing justice because of discrimination, were subjected to violence and extortion by gangs. Unable to seek protection or justice, some LGBTI people fled the country as the only way to escape the violence.
Deportations of Salvadorans, especially from Mexico, increased. However, El Salvador did not put in place an effective protocol or mechanism to identify and protect those who were forcibly returned to the communities from which they had fled.3
El Salvador acceded to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court in March.
In June, a monitoring compliance hearing relating to two cases of enforced disappearance committed during the armed conflict took place before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. In September, the Court rendered a judgment in one of the cases, Contreras et al v El Salvador, and requested that the state provide detailed and updated information about the criminal investigations and all the efforts made to identify and bring to justice those suspected of criminal responsibility for crimes under international law and human rights violations.
In July, the Supreme Court declared the 1993 Amnesty Law unconstitutional, an important step forward for victims of past human rights violations seeking justice.4
Four military officers who were the subject of a 2011 arrest warrant issued by a Spanish judge for their involvement in the 1989 killing of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter were reportedly arrested in February. However, according to press reports, the Supreme Court denied the extradition request in August.
In September, a court ordered the reopening of the El Mozote case in which hundreds of civilians were executed by military officials in December 1981.
During 2016, two former military officers who served as ministers of defence during the armed conflict were deported from the USA to El Salvador accused of human rights violations committed during the 1980s.5
- El Salvador: Release of woman jailed after miscarriage, a victory for human rights (Press release, 20 May)
- El Salvador: Scandalous proposal to increase jail terms for women accused of abortion (Press release, 12 July)
- Americas: Home sweet home? Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador’s role in a deepening refugee crisis (AMR 01/4865/2016)
- El Salvador rejects Amnesty Law in historic ruling (News story, 14 July)
- El Salvador debe abolir la Ley de Amnistía y enfrentar su sangriento pasado (News story, 14 January)