August 2023 | Entire administrative region of Cabañas is sieged by the military
President Nayib Bukele’s government has imposed a military siege on the department of Cabañas, one of El Salvador’s 14 administrative regions. According to Bukele’s statements on social media, the objective of the operation, which involves 7,000 military and 1,000 police officers, is to prevent gang members from fleeing and to cut their supply lines. Even though the government has carried out similar operations in towns and cities since it first declared a state of emergency in March 2022, it is the first time this kind of operation is implemented in an entire administrative region, which has a population of around 150,000 people.
July 2023 | Organized Crime Law reform and decree harshen prosecution of organized crime
The Legislative Assembly approved reforms to the Organized Crime Law that will increase sentences for gang leaders and will temporarily enable mass trials of up to 900 defendants as part of the structure of a criminal enterprise, instead of being processed individually. Mass hearings and arraignments had already taken place and been criticised by UN and human rights experts as infringing due process rights, including presumption of innocence. El Salvador now has the world’s highest incarceration rate, and mass incarceration during the country’s state of emergency has led to a significant backlog in cases, which is how the government justifies the measure. To this day, nearly 72,000 people have been detained, accused of collaborating or participating in gangs.
May 2023 | CSO report details widespread use of torture in strategy against gangs
Local CSO Cristosal issued a report this month on the first year of El Salvador’s state of emergency to address violence from gangs. The report details the widespread use of torture against persons deprived of their liberty and documents the deaths of 153 people in custody, all of whom were held in pretrial detention. Numerous cases of suspicious deaths from immersive asphyxiation and strangulation are also detailed. The report documents physical evidence and interviews with detainees, and echoes previous criticism leveled by international non-governmental organizations such as Human Rights Watch against president Bukele’s strategy to counter gang violence.
March 2023 | El Salvador’s state of emergency has surpassed one year
El Salvador’s state of emergency, instated to counter gang violence, passed its one-year mark on 27 March, and was again renewed. During the past year, over 65,000 people have been detained, including children. Authorities have acknowledged that at least 5,000 detained persons had no connection to gangs and were released. Human rights organizations have expressed worry over the profiling of young men, widespread arbitrary arrests, lack of due process, as well as at least 90 deaths and ill-treatment in custody. In this context, over 2,000 persons deprived of their liberty have been transferred to a maximum-security prison, the Terrorism Confinement Center, that has also been criticized for falling short of international standards related to the treatment of detainees. While President Bukele’s security strategy has negatively impacted human rights, his approval ratings currently top 90 per cent.