Human rights violations undermining Democracy in El Salvador: HRW

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By LatAm Reports Editor

The report was presented this morning in New York City and includes the human rights situation in about 100 countries worldwide.

Widespread human rights violations in the emergency regime, the systematic undermining of democratic counterweights by President Nayib Bukele and the Cyan bench, the lack of transparency and the obstruction of oversight of public spending are some of the signals to the Salvadoran State in the global report presented this morning by Human Right Watch (HRW).

The presentation was made during a press conference in New York City, United States, with the participation of HRW world representatives.

“In El Salvador, where President Nayib Bukele is using the security narrative to justify the mass detention of people, mostly low-income people, Tirana Hassan, executive director of the international organization, said during the presentation of the global situation.

The document indicates that since the entry into force of the emergency regime, homicides and extortion have decreased significantly, but the authorities have committed widespread human rights violations, including mass arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, ill-treatment in prison and violations of due process.

The state of emergency, which suspends three constitutional rights for all citizens and residents of the country, was approved on March 27, 2022 following a massacre perpetrated by the gang, following the breakdown of the alleged truce with President Bukele’s government. Legislators have extended this “exceptional” measure 21 times.

The international body stresses that during the regime many of the arrests have been carried out on the basis of the physical appearance or place of residence of persons or anonymous calls.

National and international human rights organizations have documented that hundreds of people who were not related to abusive gang operations have been arrested. Detainees include trade union, environmental and community leaders, as well as human rights defenders, HRW says.

One of the newly known cases of community leaders captured is Benjamin Amaya, father of investigative journalist Carolina Amaya.

Benjamin, a 63-year-old war veteran and farmer, was captured along with four more peasants, just months after being threatened by a solar energy company to leave a state land on the Argentine farm, which they used to grow corn, beans, vegetables and some fruits.

On the day of the capture, the authorities pointed out to the peasants to be part of a gang structure that delinquiaes in the municipality of Opico, in the department of La Libertad, but a specialized judge definitively dismissed them for the crime of illicit groups because they were not part of any gang structure.

However, they continue to be prosecuted for crimes of limited movement and aggravated scam against three victims under protection, i.e. their identity is unknown.

“The emergency regime has been an abusive measure of mass incarceration that has led El Salvador to the brink of a police state causing very serious human rights violations. Bukele’s security policy is tailor-made for a leader more concerned with consolidating his power than about creating the conditions necessary to effectively and lastingly combat violence in the country,” said Juan Pappier, deputy director for the Americas at Human Rights Watch.

According to official figures provided through social networks, from 27 March 2022 to 31 December 2023 75,163 persons have been captured as gang members and collaborators, including more than 1,600 minors, of whom some 7,000 have been released for lack of evidence or to continue the judicial process under alternative measures to the prison.

However, none of these figures can be corroborated because the government has imposed a total reservation on all disaggregated statistical data on the emergency and security regime in the country, even though they are regulated as public information in the Access Public Information Act (LAIP).

The lack of public access to homicide and other crime statistics, together with complaints of manipulation of the figures, severely limit the possibility of verifying the accuracy of government reports and estimating the true extent of the decrease in violence, highlights the HRW document.

Gang negotiations and release of the Crook.

Based on the publications of the digital newspaper El Faro, HRW’s report includes the alleged negotiations of Nayib Bukele’s government with the gangs for electoral purposes.

The government offered prison privileges to gang members who were imprisoned and employment opportunities to those who were at large in exchange for a reduction in the murder and electoral support rate during the elections of 2021, he emphasizes.

The international body also mentions in its global report the release of the high-ranking leader of the MS-13 Elmer Canales, known as the “Crook.”

The U.S. Department of Justice revealed that Canales Rivera alias Crook for his release from prison in El Salvador was escorted by high-level Salvadoran officials, housed in a luxury apartment and armed with a firearm.

On November 9, 2023, Canales-Rivera was arrested by members of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the United States Sheriff’s Service (USMS), arriving at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston. Texas, after being located in Mexico.

This day the leader of MS-13 will face his first hearing in a court in the Eastern District of New York for terrorism crimes related to his direction of the mara criminal activities in the United States, El Salvador, Mexico and elsewhere over the past two decades and if found guilty he could be sentenced to life imprisonment.

Democratic Socquering

On the other hand, HRW’s report notes that President Nayib Bukele and his allies in the Legislative Assembly have systematically undermined the system of democratic brakes and counterweights.

First, they indicate Bukele’s registration as a presidential candidate in the 2024 elections, even though the Constitution prohibits immediate re-election.

A 2021 ruling of the new Constitutional Chamber determined that the Constitution allowed immediate presidential re-election, departing from repeated interpretations that had been made in the past.

However, the international body questions the current judicial independence in the country, recalling that in May 2021, the two-thirds majority of Bukele’s party in the Legislative Assembly dismissed and summarily replaced the Attorney General and the five judges of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court.

It also indicates that the current Assembly appointed new judges of the Court and in September of the same year enacted laws that allowed the Supreme Court and the Attorney General to dismiss judges and prosecutors over 60 years of age and extended their power to transfer judges and prosecutors to new positions.

These laws contradict international human rights standards on judicial independence and have been used to remove or transfer independent judges or prosecutors, the document adds.

It has been a year of strengthening of different types of authoritarianism from the whole Bukele process of eroding the rule of law, co-opting the different branches of public power, reinterpreting the Constitution in order to be re-elected to more diffuse phenomena such as that of Peru and Guatemala, said Juanita Goebertus, director of the Division of the Americas, on the advancement of Latin American authoritarianism.

This article has been translated from the original which first appeared in El Salvador