United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - El Salvador, 30 January 1996, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa3318.html [accessed 20 April 2015]
This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
EL SALVADOR El Salvador is a constitutional, multiparty democracy with an executive branch headed by a president, a unicameral legislative assembly, and a separate, politically appointed judiciary. Armando Calderon Sol of the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) party was inaugurated President for a 5-year term in June 1994. In the Legislative Assembly, the ARENA party holds a plurality. Seven other parties (or parties in formation) also hold seats, including the ex-guerrilla organization Frente Farabundo Marti para la Liberacion Nacional (FMLN), and its offshoot, the Partido Democrata (PD). On April 31, the U.N. Secretary General declared the peace process based on the 1992 Peace Accords which ended a 12-year civil war irreversible. The U.N. Security Council ended the mandate of its observer mission (ONUSAL) and authorized the Secretary General to form a smaller U.N. mission. Progress, though slower than hoped in some areas, continued on implementation of the Peace Accords. The Government completed demobilization of the military-dominated National Police in December 1994, and deployed nearly half of the planned 20,000 officers of the new National Civilian Police (PNC) in its place. Land transfers, judicial reform, and electoral reform have all progressed although in each area there have been delays. The El Salvador Armed Forces (ESAF) continued to downsize and have approximately 18,000 of the 31,000 troop ceiling authorized by the Peace Accords. Although the military is no longer responsible for public security, the President ordered the ESAF to conduct joint patrols with the PNC in rural areas in response to concerns about rising crime. In practice, the military protects PNC officers in the execution of their duties. Complaints against the ESAF registered with the Human Rights Ombudsman's Office (PDDH) declined significantly, and none was verified. Some members of the PNC committed human rights abuses including excessive use of force, denial of due process, and improper detention. El Salvador has a mixed economy largely based upon agriculture and light manufacturing. The Calderon Sol Government maintained its predecessor's commitment to free market reforms. People are free to pursue economic interests, and private property is respected. The 1995 rate of real economic growth was 6.3 percent. In December 1993, the Government, in conjunction with the United Nations, formed the Joint Group for the Investigation of Illegal Armed Groups with Political Motivation in El Salvador. The Joint Group found that some groups and persons continued to resort to violence to obtain political results, but concluded that the Government is committed to combating politically motivated violence. It also highlighted the growth of violent organized crime in El Salvador. The level of criminal violence, particularly murder, assaults, kidnaping, robberies, and crimes against women and children, remained high. Allegations of politically motivated assassinations continue but are less frequent. There were no confirmed cases of politically motivated killings, but investigations in a number of cases remain open. Some public figures reported death threats. A particularly disturbing development has been the rise of vigilante groups which claim to be fighting crime and, in some cases, fighting corrupt public officials. Such groups have claimed responsibility for killing some 20 people whom they identified as gang members. At the Joint Group's recommendation, the Government created a special unit within the PNC to investigate political and organized crime in August 1994. This unit's operation was initially hampered by lack of technical and personnel resources. It scored a major success in July, however, arresting a number of alleged members of a notorious vigilante group, which included several members of the PNC. The PNC functioned without an Inspector General from April until October after the Vice Minister of Public Security dismissed the incumbent for poor performance. The absence of an Inspector General hurt PNC credibility, but the new one was widely regarded as a solid choice. The PDDH improved under a new Human Rights Ombudsman, elected in March, but has not yet demonstrated its investigative ability. The PDDH received a number of complaints against the PNC alleging excessive use of force, arbitrary arrest, and detention. Allegations of judicial misconduct were the second most common. Complaints against the ESAF ran far behind. Delays in bringing detainees to trial continued. Prison conditions remain poor. Discrimination against women, the disabled, and indigenous people, violence against women, and abuse of children are other human rights problems. Reports of sexual abuse and mistreatment of women continued to rise. Some 20 judges have been forced to resign since the judicial reform process began, and others were under investigation. While moving deliberately, the new Supreme Court seated in 1994 displayed relatively greater energy in judicial reform. Progress on the creation of the special courts and procedures for political and organized crime cases has been limited. Problems of corruption and incompetence in the judicial system remained. The Government moved to improve the legal basis for respect for human rights. In March the Legislative Assembly acted on a major Truth Commission (a body established by the 1992 Peace Accords) recommendation by voting unanimously to ratify two international human rights treaties (the International Pact of Civil and Political Rights and the Optional Protocol of the American Convention of Human Rights) and to recognize the compulsory jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Although it acted with some reservations, El Salvador has ratified four of the six international instruments recommended by the Truth Commission. In March the U.N. Human Rights Commission (UNHRC), citing the reduction in complaints of human rights violations, removed El Salvador from its list of countries subject to permanent monitoring and ended the role of the UNHRC Independent Expert. At the recommendation of the UNHRC, a delegation from the U.N. Human Rights Center in Geneva visited in June to begin the design of a technical assistance program for El Salvador.
Respect for Human Rights
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killings
There were no confirmed cases of political killings, although there were murders with possible political overtones. Political violence has declined rapidly over the last few years; common crime has risen just as rapidly. The result is that most of the extrajudicial killings were due to vigilantism, rather than to political motivations. The most notorious vigilante organization, the so-called Sombra Negra (Black Shadow) group, surfaced in San Miguel in December 1994 when it murdered three reputed gang members. The Sombra Negra claimed credit for killings of alleged gang members during the early part of the year. In May unidentified persons claiming to speak for Sombra Negra threatened allegedly corrupt judges, and "copycat" threats appeared, supposedly from new groups. The existence of other groups was never proven, and those threats were never carried out. In July the PNC's Organized Crime Division arrested 16 alleged members of the group, including 4 members of the PNC. Of those arrested, nine, including two PNC officers, were bound over for trial; the investigation continues. Immediately after the arrests, the PDDH published the results of an investigation into the December 1994 Sombra Negra killings. The investigation castigated Sombra Negra for usurping the role of the State and noted that there was still no definitive proof of PNC involvement. It also called for an exhaustive internal investigation into the possibility that the vigilantes might have ties to the police. The PDDH report quoted an anonymous source as saying that Sombra Negra enjoyed logistic and moral support from some public officials in the Department of San Miguel. The PDDH declined to name the officials. Approximately 20 people have been killed by vigilante groups or in circumstances suggestive of their mode of operation. Although there were no confirmed cases of political killings, in some cases political motivation cannot be ruled out. In February six unidentified attackers murdered the ARENA mayor of the town of Osicala, Jose Natividad Majano Garcia. In March Joel de Jesus Melgar, the president of a local cooperative and an FMLN member, was kidnaped and murdered. His family speculated that the motive was a land dispute involving the cooperative. In April FMLN and municipal council member Jaime Coto was shot and killed; the killing may have been related to land disputes. In July unknown assailants shot and killed Guadalupe Villalta, a member of a street vendors union. The killing came after confrontations that occurred when San Salvador municipal police tried to clear vendors from a street the police claimed the vendors were obstructing. In September the Criminal Investigative Division detained 19 PNC agents for possible involvement in the murder of Adriano Vilanova, the suspect in a fatal hit and run accident. In November Castulo Rodriguez Caballero, the ARENA mayor of a rural town was murdered. Also in November, shots were fired at the car of Legislative Assembly Vice President and PD leader, Ana Guadalupe Martinez, seriously wounding the driver, a PNC officer. In December FMLN leader Ramon Boanerges was shot and killed in his truck while driving outside the capital city. These cases remain under investigation. There were no new developments in the investigations of the 1994 killings of: Simon de Jesus Cartagena Pineda and his stepdaughter, Javier Roberto Perdomo, Ismael Bernardino Sion, Bill Martinez Zaldana, Heriberto Galicia Sanchez, Jose Isaias Calzada Mejia, Luis Valdivieso Granados, Elba Irene Magana de Romero, and David Faustino Merino Ramirez. Nor were there any developments in the investigation of the shootings that occurred at a bus cooperative protest near San Miguel. The prosecution of those responsible for the 1991 murders of Lieutenant Colonel David Pickett and Private First Class Ernest Dawson came to a close. Pickett and Dawson were in a U.S. army helicopter that was shot down by FMLN combatants in 1991. A third crew member, Chief Warrant Officer Daniel Scott, was killed in the crash, but Pickett and Dawson survived only to be murdered by their FMLN captors. Despite El Salvador's apparent obligations under international law, the Supreme Court ruled in August that the killers were protected by the 1993 law which granted a general amnesty for all political crimes committed during the war. There was progress in the investigation of the 1993 shooting of FMLN leader Francisco Velis Castellanos. The authorities identified a former PNC detective, Carlos Romero Alfaro, as a principal suspect, and issued an order for his arrest. Due to what PNC investigations called negligence, Romero Alfaro escaped arrest and fled to the United States where he was apprehended in September. In early 1996, a magistrate judge ordered his extradition, but it has not yet taken place.
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The Constitution prohibits such practices, but complaints against the PNC for lack of due process and use of excessive force continued. The PNC was the subject of more complaints of human rights violations than any other government institution. This reflects nationwide reaction to their arrest authority, to their use of force, and possibly, to their inexperience. Out of a total of 4,696 complaints filed, the PDDH received 1,844 allegations against the PNC. The majority were for improper detention and denial of due process. The PDDH resolved a total of 172 cases during the year. The most consistent criticism of the PNC from human rights advocates focused on the use of force to confront demonstrations by labor unions and groups of ex-civil war combatants demanding compensation. Occasionally these confrontations became violent. At times, the violence was initiated by the demonstrators who resorted to swinging clubs and throwing rocks; however, the PNC antiriot units were too quick to resort to tear gas and rubber bullets. A young demonstrator died in November after the PNC unilaterally decided to terminate PDDH-led negotiations and to storm a government building seized by protesters who were holding hostages. A PNC officer, Tomas Antonio Coronado Valles, fired a rubber bullet at close range at protester Rene Antonio Pineda, wounding him mortally. The officer has been charged with murder. The incident led to an agreement between the PDDH and the PNC to develop programs aimed at training security forces to confront such situations in a more humane way. PNC handling of subsequent, similar situations was much improved. Prison conditions remained bleak, with overcrowding the most significant problem. The largest prison, designed for 800 prisoners, holds approximately 2,400. Most cells are 15 by 20 feet, and some hold as many as 24 prisoners. Some prisoners must sleep on the floor or "buy" a bed when one becomes available. Prisoners are fed, but most find it necessary to supplement their rations with help from family. The prisons are violent, with guards exercising little control. Killings among prisoners are common. Following prison riots in 1994, the Ministry of Justice hired 500 additional guards. Although conditions have not improved otherwise, no riots occurred in 1995.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention or compulsory exile. The number of complaints of arbitrary arrest and detention continues to decline. Complaints that PNC officers violated due process rights of detainees continued. The courts generally enforced a ruling that interrogation without the presence of a public defender amounts to coercion, and any evidence so obtained is inadmissible; thus police authorities generally delayed questioning until a public defender arrived. However, since low salaries and insufficient supervision limit the number of cases that public defenders handle, they are not always available when the police call. By law, the police may hold a person for 72 hours before delivering the suspect to court, after which time the judge may order detention for an additional 72 hours to determine if an investigation is warranted. Because of a lack of holding cells, such detainees are often sent to the prisons where they may be mixed with violent criminals. The law allows 120 days to investigate serious crimes, and 45 days for lesser offenses, before a judge must bring the accused to trial or dismiss the case. In practice, the authorities rarely observed these time limits. Although the law permits release pending trial for crimes in which the maximum penalty does not exceed 3 years, many crimes (homicide, murder, manslaughter, rape, and crimes against property) carry penalties in excess of 3 years, thereby precluding release pending trial. Because it may take several years for a case to come to trial, some prisoners were incarcerated longer than the maximum legal sentence for their crimes. Any detainee may request a review (habeas corpus) by the Supreme Court, but the court denies the overwhelming majority of such requests. Approximately 80 percent of all inmates are awaiting trial or sentencing.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary and the Government respects this provision in practice. The court structure has four levels: justices of the peace, first instance (district) courts, second instance (appellate) courts, and the Supreme Court. Civilian courts exercise jurisdiction over military personnel who commit nonmilitary crimes. Judges, not juries, rule on most cases; however, a judge cannot overrule a jury verdict nor can the defendant appeal it to a higher court. Defendants may appeal their sentences, however, up to the Supreme Court. Two new court systems (family and juvenile offenders) began to function on the basis of revised legislation which introduced oral trials and new rights for the parties. Both systems stressed conciliation as an alternative to adjudication. A new Juvenile Code provided for due process in criminal cases, raised the age of majority from 16 to 18 years, limited sentences to a maximum of 7 years, and introduced alternatives to incarceration. The hasty passage of these laws led to numerous problems in implementation, largely a result of the continuing weaknesses of the institutions involved and their difficulties in assuming often radically changed roles. Under the Constitution, defendants have the right to a presumption of innocence, protection from self-incrimination, legal counsel, freedom from coercion, and compensation for damages due to judicial error. They also have the right to be present in court and to confront witnesses. While compliance with these provisions is still far from satisfactory, it improved, in large part due to the judicial school's training programs and the evaluation activities conducted by the National Council of the Judiciary (CNJ--an independent body provided for in the Constitution to nominate, train, and evaluate judges) and the Supreme Court. The Assembly elected a new slate of justices to the Supreme Court in 1994. These justices continued their mandate to identify and dismiss inept or corrupt judges. Since the program began, the Court has forced about 20 lower level judges to resign and is investigating several more. Judges who felt threatened by the CNJ were critical of the process of evaluations it conducted. With a partial change of membership of the CNJ, and an entirely new Court, a cooperative relationship continued to develop. Despite some progress, problems of corruption and incompetence in the judicial system remained. Although judicial salaries are now high enough to attract qualified judges, this is still not the case for prosecutors or defense lawyers. Training programs are insufficient to compensate for inadequate university training, low pay, and poor supervision. While the new laws emphasizing rights represent a marked improvement, they also add to the confusion by requiring new levels of coordination, comprehension, and thoughtful application on the part of court personnel. Impunity, especially of the politically, economically, or institutionally well-connected, continues to be a problem. ONUSAL's 1994 comment that the judicial system's deficient institutions contribute to this impunity as well as to the increase in common and organized crime remains valid. There were no reports of political prisoners.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
According to the Constitution, the police must have the resident's consent, a warrant, or a reasonable belief that a crime is being or is about to be committed, before entering a private dwelling. Government authorities generally respected these rights. Wiretapping of telephone communications by the Government, private persons, and political parties is illegal but occurs.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The Constitution provides for freedom of the press, and the Government respects this right in practice. El Salvador has 5 daily newspapers, 10 television stations, approximately 100 licensed radio stations, and 2 major cable television systems. Print and broadcast journalists regularly criticize the Government and report opposition views. According to major media associations, the Government did not use direct or indirect means to control the media. In December at the request of the Salvadoran Association of Radio Broadcasters, the National Telecommunications Association (ANTEL) closed 11 low-power, unlicensed radio stations operating in small rural communities. The unlicensed stations charged that they were victims of a government attempt to restrict free speech. ANTEL countered that the stations' illicit signals interefered with legitimate use of the radio spectrum. Negotiations continued. Some media outlets accused the Government of favoritism in the apportionment of its advertising but they did not produce any firm evidence to substantiate their complaints. Vigilante organizations threatened reporters and media outlets, but did not carry out any of their threats. The Constitution provides for academic freedom, and the Government respects this right in practice.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Constitution provides for peaceful assembly and association for any lawful purpose and the Government respects this right in practice. There is no requirement for permits to hold public meetings. The Supreme Court declared in June that a 1994 decree by the mayor of San Salvador prohibiting public demonstrations in the capital during business hours was unconstitutional. Throughout the year, ex-combatants demanding compensation and public workers wanting higher pay demonstrated publicly in San Salvador. Confrontations between these groups and the PNC led to accusations by the PDDH, the FMLN, and the demonstrators of police brutality. The demonstrators regularly broke the law; they blocked major thoroughfares, trespassed, and violated regulations prohibiting demonstrators from wearing masks and carrying weapons. The PNC responded with tear gas, rubber pellets, and batons--in the view of some, prematurely resorting to force. In a November 23 incident, a PNC officer killed a protester with a rubber bullet fired at close range.
c. Freedom of Religion
The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respects this right in practice.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
The Constitution provides for these rights, and the Government respects them in practice. The Government has provisions for granting asylum and refugee status. The Government cooperates with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organization for Migration in assisting refugees. There were no reports of forced expulsions.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
Citizens exercise the right to change their government peacefully through regularly scheduled elections. The President and Vice President are elected every 5 years; legislative and municipal elections are held every 3 years. The Constitution bars the President from election to consecutive terms. Voting is by secret ballot, and there is universal suffrage. The number of women active in politics is relatively small. In the 1994 elections, Salvadorans elected nine women to the Legislative Assembly, a slight increase from the number in the previous Assembly. The President and 1 of the 4 vice presidents of the Assembly are women, as are 2 of the 15 Supreme Court justices. One cabinet minister is a woman, as are 31 of the 262 mayors. In March a woman was elected to serve as the Government's Human Rights Ombudsman.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
The Government demonstrated a willingness to discuss human rights issues and problems with international, local, and nongovernmental organizations (NGO's). A number of local nongovernmental human rights organizations, including the Human Rights Commission of El Salvador (CDHES), focus primarily on alleged abuses by the Government. The CDHES follows cases through the investigation and trial stages, provides free legal assistance, and publishes monthly reports. Numerous other NGO's, as well as church, labor, and university groups, have human rights offices that operate without restriction. In addition, various international human rights groups visit and operate freely, including migration and other humanitarian and technical assistance groups. The U.N. Mission to El Salvador, downsized in April, continues to monitor implementation of the Peace Accords. It turned over its human rights monitoring function to the PDDH. As the only human rights organization specifically established by the Constitution, the PDDH receives and investigates allegations of human rights abuses committed by government officials and, if warranted, lodges complaints against specific officials. The PDDH still suffers from administrative confusion and a lack of well-trained personnel that hamper its investigatory capacity. The new Ombudsman demonstrated a willingness to speak out on public issues.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status
The Constitution states that all people are equal before the law, and prohibits discrimination based on nationality, race, sex, or religion. In practice discrimination against women and the disabled occurs in salaries, in hiring, and in access to credit and to education.
Violence against women, including domestic violence, is widespread. Although the Institute of Legal Medicine recorded a decrease in reports of domestic violence against women, from 312 reports during the July-December 1994 period, to 235 during the January-June 1995 period, it is still a serious concern. The Center for Women, a leading women's group, reported that out of the 571 women who requested legal advice on the most common women's problems such as housing, alimony, sexual abuse, and child custody in the first 6 months of 1995, 451 said they had been mistreated by their spouse. The Attorney General's office received on average 10 cases a day of family violence, women being the main victims. In general, women are reluctant to report spousal abuse. The PDDH says that in 1994 hundreds of domestic abuse victims who underwent psychotherapy refused to report their cases formally. Major government institutions such as the PDDH, the Attorney General's office, the Supreme Court, and the PNC coordinated efforts to combat family violence via "The Program of Family Relations Improvement." The National Secretariat for the Family has a much-publicized hotline for victims to report domestic abuse. The hotline received 1,934 calls during its first 3 months. Of these calls, 43.5 percent were reports of physical abuse. Reports of sexual abuse of women continued to rise. In 1994, the latest year-long period for which statistics are available, the Institute for Legal Medicine received 684 reports of sexual abuse of women, compared with 598 reports in 1993. The Attorney General's office reported 591 cases of mistreatment of women in the first 6 months of 1995, compared to 445 in the last 6 months of 1994. A main concern for women is that due to the lack of witnesses, only 10 percent of rape cases result in convictions. NGO's pushed for new criminal legislation to strengthen the evidentiary value given to rape victims' testimony. There are eight main NGO's actively coordinating efforts to promote women's rights. Media articles made women more aware of these NGO's and the services they offered, and encouraged women to report abuse and look for legal advice. The Constitution grants women the same legal rights as men but they suffer discrimination in practice. A new Family Code went into effect in 1994 which amended some laws that discriminated against women, most notably the large number living in common law marriages. The new law also established courts to resolve family disputes. El Salvador ratified the Inter-American Convention to Prevent, Sanction, and Eradicate Violence Against Women. Women suffer from economic discrimination and do not have equal access to credit and land ownership. Women are paid less than men, and over 25 percent of working women earn less than the minimum wage. Of the economically active female population, 65 percent work in the informal economy. Training for women is generally confined to low-wage occupational areas where women already hold most positions, such as teaching, nursing, home industries, or small businesses.
Government concern for children's rights and welfare is reflected more in its efforts to reduce poverty and promote family stability through economic growth than in direct expenditure on children. The Salvadoran Institute for the Protection of Children (SIPC), an autonomous entity, is responsible for protecting and promoting children's rights. A new Juvenile Offender's Code went into effect in March, increasing the age of majority from 16 to 18 years. The law guarantees minors due process, establishes additional treatment facilities for offenders, and reduces sentences for crimes by minors. The Government works closely through state institutions and with the United Nations Children's Fund to promote protection and general awareness of children's rights. Children continued to fall victim to physical and sexual abuse, abandonment, exploitation, and neglect, however. The Institute of Legal Medicine recorded an increase in reports of sexual abuse of children under 14 years of age, from 172 reports in the first 6 months of 1994, to 203 between July and December 1994, and 192 for the January to June 1995 period. The Attorney General's office registered an increase in offenses against children, nearly one half of which were sexual abuse cases. According to the PDDH, over 85 percent of all abuse occurs in schools and at home, with only a small percentage being reported. Out of the 1,857 children attended at San Salvador's largest children's hospital between 1989 and 1993, nearly one quarter were treated for sexual abuse carried out by family members or friends of the family. In order to promote and protect the rights of children in the community, the Assistant Human Rights Ombudsman for the Protection of Minors began to organize municipal authorities, community members, education centers, and other institutions to monitor and combat abuse against children and to educate the community on children's rights. Child abandonment and labor exploitation increased. The SIPC reports that in 1994 abandonment was the second most common problem seen among children; from January to April 1995 it was the leading problem. The Attorney General's office runs a program for San Salvador's rising number of street children but lack of funds hampers the program. The murders of 7 street children caused alarm and a call for tighter protection of the approximately 1,200 minors living in the streets of San Salvador. Relief from the child abandonment problem through adoption is limited by the 1994 Family Code which favors domestic adoptions over foreign ones. Infant malnutrition is also of increasing concern; Ministry of Health figures for the first half of the year indicate that 50 percent of infants under the age of five are undernourished. Government primary nutrition programs exist but lack financial resources.
People With Disabilities
Except for the war wounded, who have secured both government and international funding for rehabilitation and retraining programs, the Government has no program to combat discrimination against the disabled, nor are there any laws mandating provision of access for people with disabilities. The Government does not enforce a decree passed in 1984 stating that one out of every 500 employees must be a person with disabilities. Access to basic education is limited due to lack of facilities and appropriate transportation. There is no provision of state services. Only a few of the Government's community based health promoters have been trained to treat the disabled, and they rarely provide such service, tending rather to focus on life-threatening conditions and preventive care for mothers and children. It is estimated that between 7 and 10 percent of the population is afflicted by some form of disability. There are few organizations dedicated to protecting and promoting the rights of people with disabilities. Foreign funds for badly needed rehabilitation services channeled through the Telethon Foundation Pro-Rehabilitation, a local private voluntary organization, help address numerous rehabilitation issues and provide alternatives for the education and rehabilitation of the disabled population. A semiautonomous institute, the Salvadoran Rehabilitation Institute for the Disabled (ISRI), also provides assistance to the disabled. ISRI offers medical treatment and counseling, special education programs, and professional training courses. Founded in 1957, ISRI has 10 centers throughout the country and receives assistance from the Government and national and international private and nongovernmental organizations. The residents of a home for the blind went on a brief hunger strike in September protesting conditions at the home. Widely reported in the press, it appears to be the first time that people with disabilities banded together for this sort of protest. They succeeded in removing the director of the home and prompted the Government to create a special commission made up of representatives of the PDDH, the Legislative Assembly, and the home's residents, to address their complaints.
El Salvador is an ethnically homogeneous country, although a small segment of the population claims to have descended solely from indigenous people. The last census of Indians showed 80,000 in 1930, or 5.6 percent of the population. In 1932 government forces killed approximately 30,000 mostly indigenous people following an uprising. In the face of such repression, most remaining indigenous people adopted local customs and successfully assimilated into the general population. There remain a few very small communities of indigenous people who still wear traditional dress, speak their native language, and maintain traditional customs without repression or interference. The Constitution makes no specific provisions for the rights of indigenous people. The indigenous population is believed to be the poorest group in the country. In a 1994 study, the PDDH found that 90 percent of indigenous people lived in conditions of extreme poverty, with average monthly incomes one-half the legal minimum wage. Employment opportunities outside the informal economy are few, and a high illiteracy rate precludes indigenous people from competing for skilled jobs. Indigenous people generally earn less than other agricultural laborers, and indigenous women in particular have little access to educational and work opportunities since they head most of the households. Access to land is a growing problem confronting indigenous people. Few possess titles to land, and access to bank loans and other forms of credit is extremely limited. Domestic violence is widespread within indigenous communities. The Salvadoran National Indigenous Association sponsored the first meeting of the indigenous population in August. Leaders of the event called for respect for indigenous rights, as well as for constitutional recognition of their existence. The National Council for Art and Culture opened an indigenous department, which works together with 11 indigenous organizations to promote and support customs and traditional festivals.
Section 6 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
The Constitution prohibits the Government from using nationality, race, sex, creed, or political philosophy as a means to prevent workers or employers from organizing themselves into unions or associations. Numerous and sometimes conflicting laws governing labor relations impede full realization of the freedom of association, although Labor Code amendments developed by the International Labor Organization (ILO) and approved in 1994 brought about some improvements. The Labor Code prohibits partisan political activity by unions, but this prohibition is routinely ignored. In the 1992 Peace Accords, the Government committed itself to seek consensus on revised labor legislation through the Socioeconomic Forum with equal representation from labor (including groups aligned with the FMLN), the Government, and the private sector. The Assembly passed legislation in 1994 streamlining the process required to form a union, extending union rights to agricultural, independent, and small-business workers, and extending the right to strike to union federations. The legislation also established a tripartite National Labor Council to replace the Socioeconomic Forum. There are approximately 150 active unions, public employee associations, and peasant organizations, which represent over 300,000 Salvadorans, approximately 20 percent of the total work force. The Labor Code forbids foreigners from holding leadership positions in unions, but unions freely affiliate with international labor organizations. Only private sector workers have the right to form unions and strike; employees of nine autonomous public agencies may form unions but not strike. Nevertheless, many workers including those in the public sector form employee associations that frequently carried out strikes which, while technically illegal, were treated as legitimate. Negotiations between public employee associations and the Government generally settle public sector strikes, although the Labor Code provides for mandatory arbitration of public sector disputes. After a series of public sector strikes in mid-1994, the Government threatened to use the police to open public buildings which strikers forced shut. Beginning early in 1995, the Government began to expel strikers from public buildings, an action which led to accusations of government oppression. In several cases, the police used tear gas and rubber bullets against workers. In the majority of cases, however, the strikers violated laws and initiated the violence. In several street disturbances, strikers armed with clubs and rocks attacked the police. Public workers' unions claim that the Government failed to bargain in good faith. The law prohibits antiunion actions before a union is legally registered. However, under the previous Labor Code, there were credible charges that the Government impeded union registration through exacting reviews of union documentation and strict interpretation of the Constitution, Labor Code, and union statutes. ILO-drafted changes have streamlined the process and it is now difficult for management to use bureaucratic inertia to impede the formation of a union.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
The Constitution and the Labor Code provide for collective bargaining rights, but only to employees in the private sector and in autonomous government agencies, such as utilities and the port authority. However, both private sector unions (by law) and public sector employee associations (in practice) use collective bargaining extensively. The Ministry of Labor oversees implementation of collective bargaining agreements and acts as conciliator in labor disputes in the private sector and autonomous government institutions. In practice, ministers and the heads of autonomous government institutions often negotiate with labor organizations directly, relying on the Labor Ministry only for such functions as officially certifying unions. The Ministry often seeks to conciliate labor disputes through informal channels rather than attempting strictly to enforce regulations, leading to charges that the Ministry is biased against labor. Corruption continues to be a serious problem affecting labor inspectors and courts. The Constitution prohibits discrimination against unions. It provides that union officials at the time of their election, throughout their term, and for 1 year following their term shall not be fired, suspended for disciplinary reasons, removed, or demoted except for legal cause. Employers generally observed this provision in practice, but in some cases fired those attempting to form unions before receiving their union credentials. Even under the revised Code, there were credible reports of government inaction following dismissal of legally recognized union representatives. The law requires employers to rehire employees fired for any type of union activity, although the authorities sometimes failed to enforce this requirement. In many cases, employers convince fired employees to take a cash payment in lieu of returning to work. There are nine export processing zones (EPZ's). Labor regulations in these zones are identical to those throughout the country. Companies operating in the EPZ's, while providing higher salaries and benefits than companies outside the EPZ's, strongly discourage organizing. There were credible reports of some foreign-owned factories dismissing union organizers. In addition, unions accused some companies of physically abusing their workers. While labor inspectors and courts have been ineffective in investigating and reacting to such complaints, the Government has formed interagency committees (consisting of representatives of the Labor Ministry, Economic Ministry, and the PDDH) to investigate alleged violations.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The Constitution prohibits forced or compulsory labor, except in the case of calamity and other instances specified by law. This provision is followed in practice.
d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children
The Constitution prohibits the employment of children under the age of 14. It provides for exceptions only where such employment is absolutely indispensable to the sustenance of the minor and his family, most often the case with children of peasant families who traditionally work with their families during planting and harvesting seasons. Children also frequently work as vendors and general laborers in small businesses, especially in the informal sector. Parents of children in circumstances such as these often do not allow their children to complete schooling through the ninth grade as the law requires, since the labor which the children perform is considered vital to the family. Child labor is not found in the industrial sector. The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing child labor laws.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
In July the Government raised the minimum wages for commercial, industrial, service, and agroindustrial employees by 10 percent. The new rate was about $4.40 (38.50 colones) per day for industrial and service workers; and about $3.30 (28.60 colones) in wages, including a food allowance, per day for agroindustrial employees. (Full-time employees who are paid minimum wage receive pay for 30 days a month.) Despite these increases, minimum wages did not keep up with the Ministry of Economy's estimate of the increase in the cost of living. An estimated 40 percent of the population lives below the poverty level. The Labor Ministry is responsible for enforcing minimum wage laws and does so effectively in the formal sector. The law limits the workday to 6 hours for minors between 14 and 18 years of age and 8 hours for adults, and mandates premium pay for longer hours. The Labor Code sets a maximum normal workweek of 44 hours, requiring overtime pay for additional work and limiting the workweek to no more than 6 days. The Constitution and the Labor Code require employers, including the Government, to take steps to ensure that employees are not placed at risk in their work places, and prohibit the employment of persons under 18 years of age and all women in occupations considered hazardous. Nevertheless, health and safety regulations are outdated, and inadequate enforcement remains a problem. Workers can remove themselves from dangerous work situations without jeopardizing their employment only in situations where they can present a medical certificate issued by a doctor or the Social Security Institute indicating that their health is at risk while using certain equipment or substances. The Ministry of Labor attempts to enforce the applicable regulations and conducts investigations which sometimes lead to fines or other findings favoring workers. The Ministry has very limited powers to enforce compliance, however, and has suffered resource cutbacks which curb its effectiveness.