El Salvador 2019
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El Salvador 2019

The rights of the victims of crimes under international law and human rights violations and abuses during the internal armed conflict were under threat. Levels of violence continued to provoke internal displacement and forced migration. The total ban on abortion remained in place. Restrictions on freedom of press and limited access to official information were reported throughout the year. Enforced disappearances remained a challenge and the Legislative Assembly ended the year without ratifying the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

Background

Presidential elections took place in February and Nayib Bukele, the new president, assumed office in June.[1]

In December, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) visited the country, 32 years after its previous in loco visit. Its preliminary observations focused primarily on the issues of public security, transitional justice, people deprived of their freedom, migration and forced displacement, women's rights and LGBTI people.[2]

Impunity

The rights to justice, truth and reparation of victims of crimes under international law and human rights violations and abuses committed during El Salvador’s armed conflict from 1980 to 1992 were not recognized, bar in a few exceptional cases.

In May, a draft Special Law for Transitional and Restorative Justice for National Reconciliation was discussed in the Legislative Assembly. The text of the proposed bill was described by human rights groups as a threat to the right of access to justice for victims and a mechanism for perpetuating impunity.[3] Further, the President of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights asked El Salvador to suspend the legislative progress of the bill and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights warned that the draft bill contained a series of provisions that could translate into a de facto amnesty. Also in May the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence concluded his official visit to the country and expressed concerns about the slow pace of action by the Attorney General's Office in investigating crimes under international law and human rights violations and abuses during the armed conflict, obstacles to accessing military files from the years of the conflict, and the insufficiency of the reparation and historical memory process.

In September, human rights organizations and victims’ groups informed the IACHR that state programmes for victims’ reparations, created in 2013, had been disestablished as a result of an institutional reorganization implemented by the new government.

In December, the IACHR reiterated the need for the new national reconciliation law, which is expected to be approved next February, to fully comply with El Salvador’s international obligations with respect to transitional justice, and also to take into account the voices of the victims.

Police and security forces

In June, the Human Rights Institute of the Central American University “José Simeón Cañas” expressed concerns about the suitability of some of those newly appointed to senior positions in the Civil National PoliceIn addition, they reported that in the previous two years they had received information about six cases of human rights abuses, including cases of possible extrajudicial executions and torture, allegedly perpetrated by members of the police force. Also, in June, the government launched the Plan for Territorial Control designed to tackle organized crime. An important decrease in homicide rates was reported by the government and media outlets. However, the use of military forces in public security operations, prison conditions and the absence of substantial information about the government security plan were among the concerns reported by local NGOs.

In December, the IACHR noted that despite a previous ruling by the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court that established that the military should not participate in public security tasks in El Salvador, the current Plan for Territorial Control continues to involve such forces in public security operations, As a consequence, it recommended that El Salvador strengthen its police force in order to incrementally relieve the armed forces of public security duties, in line with international human rights standards. The IACHR also recommended that El Salvador publish the content of the Plan for Territorial Control, widely circulate information about public security policies and include spaces for civil society participation.

Women’s rights

Abortion continued to be prohibited in all circumstances and carried criminal penalties for women. Women from disadvantaged backgrounds were disproportionately affected. In August, Evelyn Beatriz Hernández Cruz, sentenced to 30 years’ imprisonment for aggravated homicide after suffering obstetric complications, was declared innocent after a retrial. However, in September the Salvadoran Public Prosecutor’s Office announced that it would lodge an appeal against her acquittal.[4]

In October, the IACHR presented before the Inter-American Court the case of Manuela, a woman convicted of homicide after having a miscarriage, who died of cancer in prison while serving her sentence.

Human rights defenders and journalists

Throughout the year, local NGOs denounced the lack of an official record of violations against human rights defenders and the Legislative Assembly’s failure to approve two proposed bills –  the Law for the recognition and comprehensive protection of human rights defenders and for the guarantee of the right to defend human rights and the Special law for the comprehensive protection of journalists and media and information workers. Both had been presented before the Assembly in 2018. Restrictions on press freedom and limitations on access of official information were reported by the Forum for the Protection of Journalists in August.

In December the IACHR recommended that state authorities avoid stigmatizing and discrediting journalists and human rights defenders and ensure that the declarations of public authorities are respectful of their work.

Migrants, refugees and internally displaced people

Many of those who left their local communities or the country were fleeing the effects of the control of territory by criminal gangs and the impact this had on their rights to life, physical integrity and freedom of movement in many parts of the country. In that context, in September the governments of El Salvador and the USA signed an Asylum Cooperative Agreement, also known as a "safe third country" agreement , provoking well-founded concerns about how a country with high levels of crime and violence would ensure the protection of people forced to seek asylum or international protection in El Salvador.

Following its in loco visit, the IACHR recommended that authorities reject measures, policies or agreements that would designate El Salvador as a safe third country and that they adopt comprehensive programs and specific measures aimed at guaranteeing the rights of internally displaced people.


[1] El Salvador: Memorandum to the President. Initial recommendation to the new government on human rights (24 June).

[2] El Salvador: After IACHR’s visit, the government must make major changes to guarantee human rights (News story, 5 December).

[3] El Salvador: Victims of armed conflict must not wait any longer for truth, justice and reparation (News story, 15 May).

[4] El Salvador: Prosecutors must stop criminalizing Evelyn Hernández (News story, 6 September).