1,383 persons deprived of their liberty have died in the last 10 years in El Salvador

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By LatAm Reports Editor

In the last decade, 1,383 detainees (PDL) have died in State custody and many of them have died with reports of violence. According to official records of the Directorate-General for Criminal Centres (DGCP), from 2013 to 2018 at least 121 died of violent causes, while organizations report that, in the context of the emergency regime, 60% of the deceased showed signs of torture and beatings.

According to DGCP data, from January 2013 to February 2021, a total of 850 detainees lost their lives, either due to illness or clashes between criminal groups. There were even 185 cases where the cause of death was not determined.

For example, in the penal center of Ciudad Barrios in 2016 it was one of the most violent years and recorded 36 deaths, of which five were due to aggression. The causes of these violent deaths were inner neck cuts, choking by strangulation, fractures in the skull and excessive drug use. In addition, six of the deaths did not identify the causes. The total number of homicides recorded in 2016, according to DGCP, was 26.

The prison situation is systematic of human rights violations, as there are situations of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, torture and death. This year’s balance sheet is negative.
Abraham Ábrego, director of strategic litigation Cristosal

People who lived experiences of deaths of detainees, such as Don Antonio, told his testimony. He spent 21 years in penal centres and admits he saw “a lot of people die. Many for beatings, for quarrels among the same prisoners who sought power inside the penal center. Also others who died from diseases, which is very common.”He added that the entry of weapons and short-puncture objects was common.

Another former prisoner, Juan Carlos, from the west of the country, said: “It is common to see death. We were overcrowded in a cell and a partner started convulsing. We hadn’t eaten very well and beat us, when we called the custodians, they let him die.”

Diseases are the most common causes of deaths, with tuberculosis being the most reported, followed by pulmonary edema, kidney disease, cardiac arrest, HIV, septic shock, anemia and severe malnutrition.

The Foundation for the Study of the Application of Law (FESPAD) shared a report on deaths in penal centers from January 2018 to February 2021, registering a total of 332. In that period, the prison of Ciudad Barrios is the one that reported the most dead with 47. It is worth mentioning that according to the report, the DGCP only reported ten deaths from Covid-19 or suspicion.

Is it common to see death. We were overcrowded in a cell and a partner started convulsing. We hadn’t eaten very well and beat us up, when we called the custodians, they let him die.
Juan Carlos, exprivated of freedom

This media sought the DGCP version through its communications unit about the report of deaths within prisons, but until the closure of this note there was no response.

During the regime

Since 2021, the prison authorities have placed under reservation any information related to the deaths and state of health of those deprived of their liberty, so there is no record of those who lost their lives in that year. In 2022, with the arrival of the emergency regime, the measure is maintained, but human rights organizations have reported the deaths.

The RAMFICA PRESS published, with DGCP data, that deaths from non-violent causes in Salvadoran prisons quadrupled with the implementation of the emergency regime that, until the closure of 2022, left 406 dead.

According to prison system data, cases in 2022 increased significantly compared to 2019, when 108 detainees were deprived of their lives for non-violent reasons (disease or accidents). In 2019 the monthly average was nine deaths, which in 2022 rose to 34.

As for the deceased persons reported without a particular cause, it constitutes a violation of the State ' s duty to conduct the necessary investigations to determine the reason for the death.
Fespad, Human Rights Report on Deprived of Liberty

Humanitarian Legal Relief (SJH) has documented 127 deaths in the country’s prisons in 2023 alone.

According to the director of strategic litigation of Cristosal, Abraham Ábrego, human rights violations in penal institutions have been “something systematic” and as an organization 208 people who have died in prisons since the implementation of the emergency regime have been reported.

“The prison situation is systematic of human rights violations as there are situations of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, torture and death,” he said.

“Christosal reported to this date (from March 27, 2022 to December 15, 2023) 208 people who have died in State custody, either because they had health problems or medical mistreatment or violence within the prison. This is serious if you consider that it is more than double the people who were killed on the March 2022 weekend that generated the emergency regime,” he added.

The Movement of Victims of the Regime (Movir) reported the last death of a prisoner on 23 December when Jorge Alberto Vázquez, originally from Panchimalco, died when he was transferred to Zacamil Hospital, from the penal center known as Mariona. According to the report provided by the Institute of Legal Medicine (IML), the cause of death was pulmonary edema. While José Manuel López, 72, died in early December.

This article has been translated from the original which first appeared in La Prensa Grifica