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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - El Salvador

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1995
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - El Salvador, 30 January 1995, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa4328.html [accessed 25 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis 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 is a constitutional, multiparty democracy with an executive branch headed by a president, a unicameral national 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 on June 1. National and international observers judged the March presidential and legislative elections to be generally free, fair, and nonviolent. Competing for the first time in electoral politics, the Frente Farabundo Marti para la Liberacion Nacional (FMLN) emerged as the major opposition party. In November the U.N. Secretary General praised the new Government for its commitment to the 1992 Peace Accords, which ended a 12-year civil war, but noted delays in implementing some provisions, including demobilization of the National Police (PN), deployment of the National Civilian Police (PNC), judicial and electoral reform, land transfers, economic reinsertion programs, and implementation of Truth Commission reommendations. (The Peace Accords established a Truth Commission to investigate serious human rights violations during the previous decade.) Nevertheless, the U.N. Observer Mission in El Salvador (ONUSAL), which monitors and verifies implementation of agreements between the Government and the FMLN, concluded that both sides had complied with most key measures by the end of the year.

The El Salvador Armed Forces (ESAF), which include the army, air force, and navy, reduced its manpower well below the 31,000 troops authorized by the Peace Accords to approximately 22,000. In August the U.N. Secretary General reported indications that some ESAF members continued to carry out internal intelligence activities contrary to the new armed forces mandate set forth by the Constitution. By the end of the year, the new PNC had replaced the military-controlled PN throughout the nation.

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. Comprising the chief of ONUSAL's human rights division, the Human Rights Ombudsman, and two Salvadoran attorneys appointed by the President, the Joint Group reported its findings on July 28. It found that some groups and persons continued to resort to violence to obtain political results, including members of the military and police institutions, as well as judicial and municipal organs. The report concluded that the Government is committed to combating politically motivated violence. It also highlighted the growth of violent organized common crime in El Salvador. The Joint Group recommended creation of a special unit within the PNC to investigate political and organized crime, a verification role for the National Counsel for the Defense of Human Rights (PDDH--headed by the Human Rights Ombudsman) in suspected political kilings, and further reforms of the judicial system, the ESAF, and government intelligence gathering. The Government agreed to implement the Joint Group's recommendations. In August the PNC created a special unit within its criminal investigative division to focus on suspected political violence. In September the Supreme Court fired 10 low-level judges for incompetence, forced the resignations of high-level Supreme Court administrative personnel, and initiated investigations of additional judges' performance. The court fired three more judges in November.

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, including privatizing additional banks and hotels. People are free to pursue economic interests, and private property is respected. The 1994 rate of real economic growth was 5 percent.

The number of extrajudicial killings, torture, disappearances, and mistreatment of detainees declined significantly in 1994. Other forms of human rights abuses, including use of excessive force and impunity from prosecution, also declined. Delays in bringing detainees to trial and violence against women and children did not decline. Reflecting the PNC's nationwide deployment, the greatest number of human rights complaints filed with ONUSAL were accusations against its members; a much smaller number were filed against the ESAF. Victims attributed approximately 25 percent of such complaints to "unidentified" or "irregular groups."The level of violence in El Salvador remained high, particularly murder, assaults, and robberies, including crimes against women and children. Allegations of politically motivated assassinations, which had increased early in the year, declined by the latter half of the year. There were no confirmed cases of politically motivated killings, but investigations in a number of cases remain open. Some public figures reported death threats.

The Government acted to improve the institutional context for human rights. In April the Legislative Assembly approved constitutional amendments on judicial reform that addressed a number of recommendations by the Truth Commission. The former Supreme Court Justices ignored a Truth Commission recommendation that they resign due to complicity in the coverup of human rights abuses and served to the end of their terms in June. In July the National Assembly elected a new, reform-minded Supreme Court. In September the Government appointed a PNC inspector general to investigate allegations of human rights abuses committed by PNC agents. There were reforms in other areas mandated by the Peace Accords, such as PNC training and deployment, PN demobilization, PDDH expansion, and judicial reform.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

ONUSAL did not confirm any reports of political killings in 1994, although it continued to investigate some murders for possible political motivation. These include: two unknown armed men shot and killed Simon de Jesus Cartagena Pineda, a member of the Renewed Expression of the People (ERP) faction of the FMLN and a local municipal council candidate, and his stepdaughter on January 11. On January 19, unknown assailants killed Javier Roberto Perdomo, a Panamanian technician with the Inter-American Institute of Agricultural Science, as he drove with his family in the countryside. On February 7, three masked armed men shot and killed Ismael Bernardino Sion, a member of the Popular Liberation Front (FPL) faction of the FMLN, in his home. On March 9, an unknown assailant shot and killed Jorge Bill Martinez Zaldana, a former technician of Radio Venceremos and a FMLN guerrilla, on a bus as he was returning to his home.

Other cases pending ONUSAL determination included the murder of Heriberto Galicia Sanchez, a former alternate Assembly candidate of the National Revolutionary Movement (MNR) party; the killing of Jose Isaias Calzada Mejia, an FMLN member who had worked as a voting table representative in the April presidential run-off; Luis Valdivieso Granados, a PN agent and a former ESAF soldier, found dead with his hands tied to a tree trunk. Assailants shot and killed Elba Irene Magana de Romero, sister of ARENA Assembly Deputy Carlos Guillermo Magana. In November three unknown assailants shot FPL member David Faustino Merino Ramirez and wounded two other FPL members in a restaurant in San Salvador.

The number of extrajudicial killings by government forces confirmed by ONUSAL declined significantly from 1993 to 1994. By October ONUSAL confirmed five extrajudicial killings by government officials, including an ESAF member based in Morazan department who killed a fleeing bicycle thief (ONUSAL termed it an arbitrary execution) and a PN agent who killed one youth and seriously injured another in Santa Ana department. The PN agent responsible for the latter killing resigned the following day. ONUSAL confirmed three other reports of extrajudicial killings, including a PNC agent who fired into a house in San Salvador while attempting to break up a domestic dispute, killing an elderly man, a PNC agent who shot a man without provocation while he was driving in San Vicente, and off-duty PNC agents who shot and killed a man on a bicycle in San Miguel.

The Government made progress toward resolving some human rights cases. ONUSAL and the Government concluded that several murders of persons with ties to the ARENA party were the result of common crime. Police arrested a person alleged to have ties to the FMLN for the highly publicized attacks on Elmer Cruz Pineda, bodyguard of FMLN leader and Assembly Deputy Nidia Diaz (Maria Valladares). On the other hand, circumstances surrounding the attacks against Ruben Oswaldo Escalante, an ARENA candidate for the San Marcos municipal council, and PNC director Rodrigo Avila remain unclear.

There were no confirmed cases of death squad killings in 1994. In its July 28 report, the Joint Group found that civil war-era death squads were no longer active. However, death threats directed against individuals and groups across the political spectrum remained a method of intimidation. In April Mario Valiente, the ARENA mayor of San Salvador, reportedly received two death threats. In May the Salvadoran Revolutionary Front (FRS) issued a communique denouncing the leaders of the National Resistance (RN) and ERP factions of the FMLN as traitors and sentencing them to death. In June the "Domingo Monterrosa Command" issued death threats against members of the Joint Group, the Human Rights Ombudsman, Archbishop Arturo Rivera Damas, and Jesuit priests. The group made no additional threats, and no evidence of its existence or activities appeared. In October a district court judge in Usulutan and prosecutors in the Attorney General's office in San Miguel reportedly received death threats. Reports of death hreats, which had increased up through the inauguration of the new President in June, declined in the latter half of the year.

On November 14, a bus cooperative blocked a highway around San Miguel to protest competition from illegal buses. After negotiations broke down, PNC officials and army officers gave the protesters 5 minutes to clear the road. In the ensuing confusion, shots were fired and an army sergeant and 2 civilians died, and about 20 others were wounded. It is unclear who initiated the shooting or who fired the fatal shots. The PNC investigation continues.

b. Disappearance

The Constitution forbids unacknowledged detention by the police or the military. ONUSAL investigated several allegations of disappearances, but all were unfounded.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The Constitution prohibits torture. In December the Legislative Assembly ratified the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, subject to reservations.

The number of confirmed reports of torture by security forces declined in 1994, as did the number of reported incidents of mistreatment of detainees and uses of excessive force. From January to September, ONUSAL confirmed three reports of torture, two by the PNC and one by the PN. In July five PNC agents arrived at the house of Carlos and Miguel Grande Menjivar. The police beat the two, took them to an unidentified place, blindfolded them, and interrogated them about the location of an alleged arms cache. They placed plastic bags over their heads, burned Miguel's thorax with cigarettes, and repeatedly hit both. ONUSAL reported that the PNC has yet to respond to PDDH inquiries, nor has it taken disciplinary action against the agents. ONUSAL counted a significant decrease in reported incidents of mistreatment, from 120 reports during April-December 1993, to 74 reports during January-September 1994. The number of reported incidents of use of excessive force declined slightly, from 45 during April-December1993 to 39 during January-June 1994.

Prison conditions remained bleak, with overcrowding the most significant problem. The largest prison, built 20 years ago to hold 800 prisoners, holds approximately 2,800. 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. Approximately 40 prisoners died at the hands of other prisoners in riots, including 9 in February at the Santa Ana central penitentiary and 12 in August at the maximum security prison in San Salvador. To try to stem prison violence, the Ministry of Justice hired 500 additional security guards in September.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention or compulsory exile. ONUSAL reported a significant reduction in the number of arbitrary or unlawful detentions by security forces, from 185 complaints from April-December 1993, to 94 complaints from January-September 1994. Salvadoran courts generally enforced a ruling that questioning without the presence of a public defender is considered coercion, and any evidence so obtained is inadmissible; thus police authorities generally delayed questioning until a public defender arrived. From January to August, public defenders freed from incarceration approximately 50 percent of their clients. However, because of low salaries and insufficient supervision, the public defenders were able to handle only a limited number of cases.

By law, the police may hold a person for 72 hours before delivering him to court, after which time the judge may order detention for an additional 72 hours to determine if an investigation is warranted. 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 common 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 overwhelming majority of such requests are denied. Approximately 80 percent of all inmates are awaiting trial or sentencing.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The court structure is divided into 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 common (nonmilitary) crimes. Judges, not juries, rule on most crimes; however, a judge cannot overrule a jury verdict nor can it be appealed to a higher court. Sentences, however, may be appealed up to the Supreme Court. 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. However, the authorities frequently ignored many of these rights in practice.

Judicial reform made some headway in 1994. In April the Legislative Assembly approved two constitutional amendments consistent with Truth Commission recommendations to remove the Supreme Court's authority to discipline lawyers and allow lower courts to hear habeas corpus appeals. The Assembly voted to create a new council to discipline lawyers; the Supreme Court will retain the power to license them. Under the Constitution, the new Assembly must also approve the amendments for them to become law.

In July justices of the old Supreme Court left office when their term expired, after ignoring a Truth Commission recommendation that the court resign due to its complicity in covering up human rights abuses. The Assembly elected a new Supreme Court which, in its first month, acted on its stated commitment to judicial reform by firing 10 low-level judges and forcing the resignations of high-level Supreme Court administrative personnel. As recommended by the Truth Commission, the National Council of the Judiciary (NCJ)--an independent body that screens and nominates judicial candidates--evaluated judges for judicial aptitude, efficiency, discretion, and impartiality. It also created a judicial school--administered by the NCJ--to train judges, lawyers, and administrative personnel in ethics, administration, and judicial reform.

Despite these reforms, some judges continued to be only nominally independent, appointed or reappointed through political affiliation and personal ties rather than for professional capabilities. ONUSAL criticized the Assembly for failing to enact reforms recommended by the Truth Commission and passed by the former Assembly, such as reducing the Supreme Court's power, amending the NCJ law to guarantee the Council greater independence from the Supreme Court, and modernizing the criminal justice system as well as for not ratifying some international human rights conventions. Some politically, economically, or institutionally well-connected Salvadorans continued to enjoy effective immunity from prosecution. ONUSAL said the judicial system's deficient institutions contributed to this impunity and to the increase in organized crime in 1994.

All available evidence indicates that the Government holds no 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. In practice, however, the authorities used forced entry to carry out arrests and investigations. 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 this provision is respected in practice. There was one reported incident of a government attempt to limit freedom of speech. The Government on May 3 ordered the expulsion of Angel Maria Martinez Mendizabal, a Spanish priest, for a sermon which allegedly violated Articles 82 and 97 of the Constitution, prohibiting members of the clergy and foreigners from engaging in partisan political activity. The Supreme Court provisionally suspended the expulsion on May 5 pending consideration of an appeal filed by Martinez and the PDDH, and took no action on the appeal by the end of the year.

El Salvador has 5 daily newspapers, 8 television stations, approximately 150 radio stations, and 3 cable television systems. Print and broadcast journalists regularly criticize the Government and report opposition views. The Government did not use direct or indirect means to control the media. 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. The Government respects this right in practice. Organizations do not require permits to hold public meetings. In May, however, the mayor of San Salvador issued a decree prohibiting public demonstrations in the capital during business hours. Some organizations held peaceful demonstrations in defiance of the mayor's decree. The mayor's office imposed fines, which the organizations refused to pay.

c. Freedom of Religion

Freedom of religion is guaranteed by the Constitution and is respected. Roman Catholicism is the official religion, but other faiths practice without hindrance.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

The Constitution guarantees citizens the right to travel freely domestically and abroad. There are no restrictions on citizens changing their residence or workplace. The Government has provisions for granting asylum and refugee status. The Government imposes no control on emigration and cooperates with international organizations that arrange Salvadoran emigration to other countries.

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. There were elections in March for all national and local offices, including the Presidency, the 84-seat Legislative Assembly, and all municipal councils. The Nationalist Republican Alliance party garnered 68 percent of the vote in the second round of the presidential election and 39 seats in the Assembly. Competing for the first time in electoral politics, the FMLN emerged as the major opposition party, capturing 32 percent of the vote in the presidential election and 21 Assembly seats. ONUSAL, local, and international observers, including a U.S. presidential delegation, judged the March 20 and April 24 (presidential second round) elections to be geneally free, fair, and nonviolent, despite first-round administrative irregularities.

Prior to the election, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) undertook a successful registration campaign aimed at the traditionally underrepresented, primarily youth and women. By election day, the TSE had registered 75 to 80 percent of eligible voters, although only approximately 47 percent exercised that right.

The number of women in politics is small. In the March 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 14 Supreme Court justices. One Cabinet minister is female, as are 31 of the 262 mayors.

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 nongovernmental human rights organizations, including the Catholic Church's Tutela Legal and the Human Rights Commission (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. Tutela Legal, the human rights office of the archdiocese of San Salvador, also follows cases and publishes periodic reports. Numerous other church, labor, university groups, and NGO's have human rights offices that operate without legal restriction. In addition, various international human rights groups visit or operate without government restrictions.

The Joint Group, comprised of the chief of ONUSAL's human rights division, the Human Rights Ombudsman, and two Salvadoran attorneys appointed by the President, reported in July. It also provided the state prosecutor on a confidential basis information concerning specific acts of violence. The Joint Group criticized some agents of the state, political parties, and NGO's for insufficient collaboration during its investigative period, but did not accuse any group of deliberately blocking the investigation.

ONUSAL's mandate is to verify and monitor implementation of agreements between the Government and the FMLN, to investigate alleged human rights violations, and to conduct educational and public awareness campaigns promoting human rights. It makes recommendations to the Government and the FMLN, and reports directly to the U.N. Secretary General. ONUSAL noted in November a significant reduction in reports of human rights abuses in 1994 compared to 1993, including arbitrary killings, death threats, and mistreatment, and confirmed no politically motivated killings. It noted improvements in the judicial system, the PNC, and the PDDH, concluding that the process of promoting and protecting human rights is advancing. However, it emphasized the need to complete judicial, police, and penal reforms, and criticized the Legislative Assembly for dragging its feet on judicial reform.

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 official complaints against specific officials. In 1994 the PDDH received 4,284 reports of human rights violations, a significant increase from the 2,071 reports received in 1993. This upswing reflects, to a large degree, the PDDH's wider presence in the country. The PDDH opened 8 regional offices in 1994, giving it 12 offices covering 12 of the country's 14 departments.

The PDDH will take over the ONUSAL human rights monitoring function in 1995. In its November report to the Secretary General, ONUSAL commended the PDDH for progress in verifying human rights violations, strengthening institutional capacity, and promoting human rights education, but noted inadequacies in PDDH personnel, equipment, and financial resources.

The PDDH lodged complaints of human rights abuses against various government agencies, most frequently the PNC and the judiciary. In numerous cases, the PDDH made specific recommendations for improvements in procedures and for indemnification of victims. The PDDH criticized publicly the penal system's director general for failing to resolve the underlying problems prompting the prison riots, and called on the authorities to take steps to avoid future outbreaks of prison violence. Although some of its recommendations were ignored, the PDDH said that some institutions did act on its recommendations in a satisfactory manner. The PDDH commended the Legislative Assembly for initiating a review of the Penal Code.

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.

Women

Women are granted the same legal rights as men under the Constitution, but suffer discrimination in practice. To improve their situation, the Legislative Assembly enacted a new Family Code in October 1993 which amends some laws that discriminated against women, most notably the large number living in common law marriages. The new law also establishes courts to resolve family disputes.

Women suffer from economic discrimination and do not have equal access to credit and land ownership. Wages and salaries for women remain lower than those paid to men. Of the economically active female population, 65 percent works in the informal economy. Training for females is generally confined to low-wage occupational areas where women already hold most positions, such as teaching, nursing, home industries, or small businesses.

Violence against women, including domestic violence, is widespread and apparently rising. The Institute of Legal Medicine reported an increase in domestic violence against women, from 378 reports during the July-December 1993 period, to 496 during the January-June 1994 period. Reports of sexual abuse against women also continued to rise. In 1993, the latest year-long period for which statistics are available, the Institute for Legal Medicine received 598 reports of sexual abuse, compared with 564 reports in 1992.

From January to July 1994, hospitals in the capital city of San Salvador received, on average, 65 reports of rape per month, an increase over the 56 reports per month received in 1993. The PNC received only four reports of rapes per month during the first 6 months of 1994. To increase reporting of rapes, a regular newspaper campaign by the Attorney General's office has encouraged victims to press charges immediately after the assault has occurred. A public prosecutor is on duty 24 hours a day at the San Salvador children's hospital to assist rape victims and their families in taking legal action. Nevertheless, prosecution of rape cases is difficult because of pervasive cultural attitudes.

Children

The Government recognizes its responsibility for children's rights and welfare, though this 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, an autonomous entity, is responsible for protecting and promoting children's rights. The Legislative Assembly passed in June a juvenile offenders law extending the age of a minor from 16 to 18 years old. Scheduled to go into effect in March 1995, the law guarantees minors due process, establishes additional treatment facilities for offenders, and reduces the sentences for minor crimes.

The Government works closely with state institutions and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) to promote protection and general awareness of children's rights. Despite these efforts, children continued to fall victim to physical and sexual abuse, abandonment, exploitation, and neglect. From January to August 1994, the PDDH for the protection of children received 75 reports per month of abuses against children. The number of children treated for physical abuse in the largest public hospital in San Salvador rose significantly from 92 cases in 1992 to 525 in 1993. Abused continued at this rate for the first 6 months of 1994 when the hospital attended to 272 abused children. The Institute of Legal Medicine recorded a reduction in reports of sexual abuse of children from 580 reports in 1992 to 432 in 1993. From January to May 1994, the Institute received 121 reports of sexual abuse of children.

Child abandonment and labor exploitation are growing problems. UNICEF reported that there were approximately 200,000 displaced children in 1994, and approximately 270,000 children work up to 12 hours per day. Child malnutrition and the large numbers of orphans are also significant problems.

Indigenous People

El Salvador is an ethnically homogeneous country, though a small segment of the population claims to have descended solely from indigenous peoples. The last census of Indians in El Salvador showed 80,000 in 1930, or 5.6 percent of the population. In 1932 government forces killed approximately 30,000 following an abortive 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, and their ability to participate in decisions affecting their lands, culture, traditions, or the allocation of natural resources is limited.

The indigenous population generally is believed to be the poorest group in the country. In a 1994 study, the PDDH found that 90 percent of the 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 limited skilled jobs. Indigenous people generally earn less than other laborers in farm and other agricultural work, and 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.

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. There are few organizations dedicated to protecting and promoting the rights of people with disabilities. A semiautonomous institute, the Salvadoran Rehabilitation Institute for the Disabled (ISRI), is the primary organization providing assistance to approximately 12,000 disabled persons annually. 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.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The Constitution prohibits the Government from using nationality, race, sex, creed, or political philosophy 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 recent Labor Code amendments (sponsored by the International Labor Organization--ILO) may bring about improvements, once they are fully implemented. The current Labor Code prohibits partisan political activity by unions, but this prohibition is routinely ignored, and labor continues to play an important role in political activities. In the 1992 peace accords, the Government committed itself to seek consensus on revised labor legislation through a socioeconomic forum with equal representation from labor (including groups aligned with the FMLN), the Government, and the private sector. The Assembly passed such legislation in April, which streamlines the process required to form a union, extends union rights to agricultural, independent, and small-business workers, and extends the right to strike to union federations.

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. Labor alliances continued to change frequently, with no one group able to claim a leading role. The current Labor Code forbids foreigners from holding leadership positions in unions, but unions freely affiliate with international labor organizations.

Only private sector nonagricultural workers have the right to form unions and strike; employees of nine autonomous public agencies may form unions but not strike. Nevertheless, workers from other sectors, including the public sector, frequently have carried out strikes that, 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 June and July, the Government issued a warning that public workers would not be paid for days on strike, and threatened to use the police to open public buildings forced shut by strikers. The Government docked the pay of striking members of a teachers' union, but in September announced an agreement, including an almost 30-percent pay raise, with the same teachers' union. Labor disputes, and some strikes, continued in other public sectors, includig public health and the judiciary.

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. With ILO assistance, the Labor Ministry put together a restructuring plan in mid-1994. It is too early to tell if full implementation of the changes to the Labor Code and the restructuring of the Ministry will improve union registration.

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 duties 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 of bias against labor. Corruption continues to be a serious problem affecting labor 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 do not enforce this requirement. In many cases, employers convince fired employees to take a cash payment in lieu of returning to work.

There are six functioning 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 and, in some cases, physically abusing their workers. Government actions against violations have been ineffective, in part because of an inefficient legal system and in part because of fear of losing the factories to other countries.

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 13 percent. The new rate for industrial and service workers was about $4 (35 colones) per day; agroindustrial employees must be paid about $3 (26 colones) in wages, including a food allowance, per day. Despite these increases, minimum wages were generally inadequate to meet the Ministry of Economy's standard of basic necessity. 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. Premium pay is mandated 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 workplaces, and prohibit the employment of persons under 18 years of age and all women in occupations considered hazardous. Nevertheless, Salvadoran health and safety regulations are outdated, and inadequate enforcement remains a problem. Workers can remove themselves from dangerous work situations without jeopardizing their employment if they 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 cutbacks in resources to carry out certification and inspection duties, which curb its effectiveness.

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