United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - El Salvador, 30 January 1994, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa7cc.html [accessed 29 May 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 is a constitutional, multiparty democracy with an executive branch headed by a President, a unicameral National Assembly, and a separate but politically appointed judiciary. Alfredo Cristiani of the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) was inaugurated President for a 5-year term on June 1, 1989. On January 16, 1992, the Government and the Frente Farabundo Marti para la Liberacion Nacional (FMLN) signed peace accords ending 11 years of civil war and providing for the reintegration of government and FMLN ex-combatants into national life. The ensuing peace process suffered some serious delays. Both parties were at times slow to implement some requirements of the accords, most of which applied to the Government, but compliance with most key elements was achieved by year's end. The Truth Commission, mandated by the peace accords to investigate serious human rights violations in the past decade, reported its findings on March 15. It recommended removal from government and military posts of those identified as human rights violators, as well as reforms of the Salvadoran armed forces (ESAF) and the judiciary. On March 20, however, the National Assembly approved amnesty from criminal prosecution for all those implicated in the Truth Commission report. Among those freed were the ESAF officers convicted in the 1989 Jesuit murders and the FMLN ex-combatants who were being held for the 1991 killings of two U.S. servicemen. In October the U.N. Secretary General reported that while some action had been taken to implement Truth Commission recommendations, much remained to be done. The peace accords also established an Ad Hoc Commission to evaluate the human rights record, professional competence, and commitment to democracy of the ESAF officer corps. On June 30, the last of 103 officers identified by this commission as responsible for human rights violations were removed from active duty in the ESAF, and they were formally retired at the end of December. In July the U.N. Observer Mission in El Salvador (ONUSAL) declared the Government in compliance with the Ad Hoc commission recommendations. Although ONUSAL certified the complete demobilization of the FMLN on December 14, 1992, large undeclared FMLN arms caches were discovered in El Salvador and neighboring countries during 1993. On June 11, the U.N. Security Council called the maintenance of these caches the most serious violation to date of the peace accords. A new inventory was conducted, and destruction of arms caches was completed on August 18, after which ONUSAL declared the FMLN military structure completely dismantled. Substantial progress was made on electoral registration in preparation for the March 1994 general election. The ESAF includes the army, air force and navy. In February the ESAF completed its downsizing as required under the peace accords, reducing its manpower from 62,000 to 31,000, and dismantling the last of its five elite rapid reaction battalions. Human rights training is now conducted annually for all enlisted soldiers and is an integral part of the curriculum at all professional development schools for officers. In March the new National Civilian Police (PNC) began replacing the old National Police (PN) on a department-by- department schedule. At the end of the year, the new PNC was deployed in 7 of El Salvador's 14 departments, as well as in parts of the capital. In the fall, the National Assembly passed legislation integrating personnel of the Special Investigative Unit (SIU) and the Executive Anti-Narcotics Unit (UEA) into the PNC, although concerns over the qualifications of some UEA personnel caused ONUSAL to withhold its approval pending further review. The PN will be abolished once the PNC is fully deployed. PNC personnel received human rights training at the new U.S.-supported police academy. El Salvador has a mixed economy largely based upon agriculture and light manufacturing. The Government maintained its commitment to free market reforms, including privatizing additional banks and hotels. People are free to pursue economic interests, and private property is respected. The 1993 rate of real economic growth was 5 percent. Progress on human rights was uneven in 1993. The greatest number of human rights complaints filed with ONUSAL were accusations against members of the PN; a much smaller number were filed against the ESAF. Institutional improvements continued in areas mandated by the peace accords, such as the training and partial deployment of the PNC, expansion of the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman (PDDH), and the implementation of some judicial reforms. However, there remained an extremely high level of violence, particularly murder, assaults, and robberies, including crimes against children. The judicial system continued to be subject to political influence. The new amnesty law granted immunity to those who violated human rights during the years of civil strife. The number of murders, which had declined early in the year, started to climb in the summer. Allegations of politically motivated assassinations by death squads continued. ONUSAL and the SIU investigated murders that might have been politically motivated. While there were no confirmed cases of politically motivated killings, investigations of a number of cases continued at the end of the year. Concern was sufficient, however, that, on December 8, the Government, in conjunction with the United Nations, formed a Joint Group with a 6-month mandate to investigate illegal armed groups and their possible involvement with political violence during the 2-year period since the signing of the peace accords. There was widespread abuse of women and children.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
The end of hostilities in El Salvador led to an immediate and significant reduction in extrajudicial killings, though there were a few unsubstantiated murder allegations directed against unspecified government forces and the FMLN. The Ministry of the Presidency's oversight of the PN and the progressive deployment of the PNC substantially increased government control over the public security forces; however, there was some resistance to civilian control among elements of the PN. Demilitarization of large numbers of ex-combatants, poor morale among the PN, the incomplete transition to the new PNC, and the large number of arms in circulation among the citizenry left the Government unable to prevent or control significant criminal activity by private armed individuals or groups, some of whose actions may have been politically motivated. On May 20, a confrontation developed between PN riot police and demonstrators representing the "war wounded," including former ESAF and FMLN combatants, in San Salvador. Five policemen fired shots in the direction of the crowd and one of the protesters, Santos Martinez Perez, an FMLN ex-combatant, was killed in the only fatal government-FMLN incident since the formal cease-fire period began in February 1992. The judge investigating the case ordered the policeman who fired the fatal shot detained on a charge of manslaughter, which the Attorney General's office sought to reduce to negligent homicide. Pending resolution of that issue, the PN refused to relinquish the accused to the judge in charge of the case, an example of PN resistance to civilian oversight. There were no confirmed cases of death squad killings in 1993, but some observers continued to ascribe certain suspicious deaths to death squads. ONUSAL stated that some of the criminal armed groups active in 1993 used methods similar to those of the 1980's death squads, but stopped short of declaring that death squads still existed. Death threats remained a method of intimidation. PNC Academy Director Mario Bolanos received numerous anonymous death threats and had a bomb placed outside his office, which may have been the work of rejected academy applicants. A group called "Angels of Death" was described by the press as administering "street justice" to delinquents. In September a group called the "Guardian Angels" threatened to assassinate judges and PN members who did not administer justice to criminals. Also in September, callers claiming to represent the National Lawyers Association and the Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez Brigade made death threats against Dr. Rene Madecadel Perla Jimenez, a professor at the University of El Salvador and a member of the new National Council of the Judiciary (see Section 1.e.). The Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez Brigade threatened the family of Jose Maria Mendez, a prominent lawyer, in October and November. Others threatened included Dr. Juan Mateu Llort, Director of the Institute of Forensic Medicine; Unity Movement political candidates in Usulutan; and several prominent businessmen accused of financing death squads. Unknown persons threw an incendiary device in October and a grenade in December at Christian Democratic Party leader Arturo Argumedo's home. On October 25, Francisco Velis Castellanos, a leader of the Central American Workers' Revolutionary Party (PRTC) faction of the FMLN, was killed in San Salvador as he was delivering his 2-year-old daughter to a day-care center. Velis was shot in the head, and the assailants escaped in a waiting vehicle. The audacity of the crime, committed on a crowded downtown street, and the clean getaway, prompted speculation of a political motivation. A high-profile investigation, led by the SIU which was assisted by observers from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Scotland Yard, and the Spanish Police, continued at year's end. On October 30, a leader of the Renewed Expression of the People (ERP) faction of the FMLN, Heleno Hernan Castro Guevara, was killed on a highway in San Vicente department. Two other FMLN members were killed on October 27 in Guazapa, San Salvador department. The four deaths in 5 days spawned a number of allegations of renewed death squad killings. Investigators concluded, however, that Castro was killed when an argument escalated following a car accident. The ERP concurred in this assessment. Police are looking for the murder suspect. On December 9, another FMLN/PRTC leader, Jose Mario Lopez, died from a gunshot wound in the leg in San Salvador. Eyewitnesses stated that he was shot by thugs when he attempted to stop a robbery. His bodyguard, however, who was also shot, later alleged that the assailants were really waiting for Lopez and that the attempted street robbery was a ruse. On December 10, Jose Guillermo Ventura, the brother of an FMLN local candidate, was killed when three gunmen attacked his brother's house. The SIU, ONUSAL, and the PDHH initiated investigations. On December 11, six Santa Ana area peasants who were walking to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting were attacked and murdered by three assailants. Within hours, the PN had arrested two ESAF members and a third person for the killings. The victims had no apparent political affiliations. Earlier in the year, on February 13, Juan Carlos Garcia Panameno and Manuel de Jesus Panameno Garcia were murdered in Usulutan department. The two young men were associated with the FMLN-linked Monsignor Oscar Romero Committee of Mothers and Relatives of Political Prisoners, Disappeared, and Assassinated of El Salvador (COMADRES). Reports of death threats against one of the victims and his relatives lent initial credibility to COMADRES' allegations of military death squad involvement. A thorough investigation by the SIU, aided by cooperation from the victims' relatives in COMADRES, concluded that the murders were connected with a common robbery and not politically motivated. ONUSAL agreed with the SIU conclusion. A suspect was apprehended. On February 21, Freddy Fernando Torres Portillo, an FMLN municipal leader, was found dead in San Salvador from a gunshot wound to the head. Torres had earlier reported death threats to ONUSAL and was the fourth member of a labor or leftwing organization murdered in an 8-day span. For these reasons, ONUSAL and the PDDH expressed initial concern over possible political motives in all four killings. Later evidence indicated, however, that the Torres murder may have been the result of a common crime. An ex-PN member who was an acquaintance of the victim was apprehended and questioned but released. On August 19, a pair of gunmen killed a logistical operative, Oscar Grimaldi, from the Popular Forces of Liberation (FPL) faction of the FMLN. He was the second FPL logistical operative murdered within 2 months, which prompted accusations of death squad responsibility for both the Grimaldi and earlier killings. Others suggested that elements inside the FMLN had reason to silence both men for their knowledge about the FPL arms caches discovered in Nicaragua. The SIU identified both suspects and issued arrest warrants, but the alleged triggerman, Salvador Guzman Perez, was killed the day after his arrest warrant was issued. The SIU is investigating the Guzman killing. The other suspect in the Grimaldi case was apprehended, and the SIU concluded that the murder was not political. ONUSAL, however, still considered a political motive possible. On December 29, a group of four assailants killed Ruben Eduardo Vanegas Escobar and his grandparents in Ochupse, Santa Ana department. The killers came to his house and asked for him by name. Vanegas was a member of the ERP and a local FMLN leader. The nature of the attack and the fact that nothing was taken from the house led ONUSAL to investigate the crime as a possible political killing. Earlier in the year, on January 5, the badly beaten body of Supreme Court employee Adelmo Lemus was found in San Salvador. Lemus had worked for former Supreme Court president Francisco "Chachi" Guerrero, who was murdered in 1989. ONUSAL initiated an investigation to determine whether Lemus was killed in a common crime arising from an unresolved financial transaction or because he may have spoken to the Truth Commission about Guerrero's assassination. The case had not been resolved at year's end. There were several murders of persons with ties to the ARENA party that government investigators concluded were the result of common crime. These include the murders of Sebastian Araniva in San Miguel, Celestino Antonio Cerna Linares and Elisandro Eusebio Cerritos Duarte in Santa Ana department, and Melvin Alexis Garcia Urbina in Morazan department. PN agents Jose Luis Chicas and Jose Alfredo Bonilla Cruz and ESAF Lieutenant Jose Francisco Rodriguez Melendez were brutally murdered in San Salvador, but government investigators concluded that common crime was the motive. On December 10, PN agent Pedro Vasquez Ramos and his brother, Rudy Oswaldo Vasquez Ramos, were kidnaped in Cuscatlan department. Their bodies were later found in a ravine with hands and feet bound and shot in the head. Bodily bruises and broken bones suggested the possibility of torture. The PN, ONUSAL, and the PDDH initiated investigations. A previously unknown group, the Salvadoran Revolutionary Front (FRS), threatened retaliation for the May 20 war wounded shootings by the government riot police, and claimed responsibility for the murders of an ESAF captain and two PN policemen the following day. Most observers believe that the FRS simply claimed responsibility for the murders to enhance its credibility. The FRS issued sporadic threats throughout the remainder of the year, including those against U.S. military civic action deployment and against high-ranking ESAF officers, but none was carried out. On May 21, the day following the war wounded demonstration, ESAF Captain Juan Hernandez Mejia was killed on a highway near Guazapa by four armed men, dressed as members of the PN, who stopped his vehicle. When Hernandez called for help, two legitimate policemen who responded were also killed. Despite the FRS claim of responsibility for the murders, ONUSAL determined that the killings were the result of a highway robbery committed by a band of heavily armed renegade ex-FMLN and former ESAF members operating near Guazapa. There was some progress in resolving outstanding incidents of human rights abuse from earlier years. In January the report of an international forensic team investigating the 1981 El Mozote massacre confirmed that a mass murder had occurred. The team identified the skeletal remains of 143 people, including 136 children and adolescents, and found that at least 24 individual firearms had been used in the massacre. The evidence clearly showed that the ESAF was responsible. Three persons were arrested for the 1992 murder of Dr. Jose Mauricio Quintana Abrego, an ex-FMLN supporter who had become an ARENA party member. ONUSAL considered this a possible political crime. The Truth Commission, in its report issued March 15, identified the Government or its agents as responsible for extrajudicial killings in the cases of Monsignor Romero (1980), the Rio Sumpul massacre (1980), the leaders of the Revolutionary Democratic Front (1980), the American nuns (1980), the El Mozote massacre (1981), the Dutch journalists (1982), the San Sebastian massacre (1988), the Jesuit priests (1989), and 14 other cases that were examined in detail. The Commission charged the ESAF, National Guard, and other security forces of the Government with direct responsibility for the great majority of the 817 instances of alleged death squad kidnapings, disappearances, and killings it investigated that occurred from 1980 to 1991. The Truth Commission found the FMLN responsible for the assassinations of 11 mayors and numerous judges from 1985 to 1988. It also found the FMLN responsible for extrajudicial killings in the cases of the Zona Rosa massacre (1985), Anaya Sanabria (1987), Romero Garcia, also known as "Miguel Castellanos" (1989), Peccorini Lettona (1989), Garcia Alvarado (1989), Guerrero (1989), and the two U.S. servicemen killed in 1991 after their helicopter was downed by the FMLN. In the last case, on May 24 a judge ruled that the accused, Ferman Hernandez Arevalo and Severiano Fuentes Fuentes, were covered by the general amnesty law. The San Miguel appeals court upheld that decision, but both rulings were appealed to the Supreme Court on the grounds that the crimes were common crimes not covered by the amnesty law. The Truth Commission recommended that all persons named in its report as human rights violators be removed from their positions in the security forces or the Government and be barred from public office for 10 years. However, the National Commission for the Consolidation of Peace (COPAZ), composed of representatives from across the political spectrum, opposed the ban on public office as an unconstitutional deprivation of citizens' rights and as antithetical to national reconciliation, and requested the U.N. Secretary General not to support it. The Truth Commission sharply criticized the judicial system for complicity in covering up or ignoring human rights abuses and called for the resignation of all the Supreme Court magistrates, most notably the Supreme Court president, Mauricio Gutierrez Castro, for unprofessional conduct. The magistrates refused to resign before the June 1994 expiration of their current terms. The Truth Commission also recommended significant reforms of the ESAF and the judiciary. In September the United Nations expressed satisfaction with the Government's progress in complying with the reforms of the ESAF. Many of the key judicial reforms recommended by the Commission are in some stage of implementation. Others, however, conflict with the Constitution; amendments require approval by two successive National Assemblies. The President sent some of the recommended constitutional reforms without endorsement to the National Assembly, which did not act on them in 1993. The 1993 amnesty law was passed by the National Assembly on March 20, only 5 days following release of the Truth Commission report. It granted amnesty to those convicted or accused of political and related common crimes during the conflict, including those named in the Truth Commission report, and effectively ended further investigation into most human rights abuses committed during the war years. The governing ARENA party and its allies, the National Conciliation Party (PCN) and the Authentic Christian Movement (MAC), pushed the amnesty law through the National Assembly in a 47 to 8 vote with 13 abstentions. Hasty passage of this law by the progovernment parties prompted heavy criticism from local human rights and opposition groups as well as from international organizations and foreign governments. The Ad Hoc Commission established to evaluate the human rights record, professional competence, and commitment to democracy of the ESAF officer corps presented its confidential findings, identifying 103 officers as responsible for human rights violations, to President Cristiani and U.N. Secretary General Boutros Ghali on September 22, 1992. The Government failed to meet the initial November 1992 deadline for implementing the commission's recommendations, but the last of the officers were removed from active duty on June 30, 1993, and all were officially separated by December 31. In July ONUSAL declared the Government in compliance with the Ad Hoc Commission's recommendations.
The Constitution forbids unacknowledged detention by the security forces or the military. There were some unconfirmed allegations of abductions by unspecified government forces, as well as by the FMLN, during 1993. A significant number of disappearances during the war years remained unresolved, and the new amnesty law meant that none of them was likely to be reopened. On May 22, Gregorio Mejia Espinosa, a minor official in one of the parties belonging to the Democratic Convergence coalition, was kidnaped as he went to catch a bus in San Salvador. The armed kidnapers bound him and covered his head, transported him to a secured room, and questioned him about his party's activities and about student unrest following the May 20 war wounded shootings. During the questioning, Mejia was burned numerous times on his chest, perhaps with a soldering device. He and another captive were then taken to an isolated area where one of the kidnapers held a pistol to Mejia's head. When the gun failed to discharge, Mejia made his escape down a nearby ravine in a heavy rain. Mejia had been threatened previously by a group called N-ESA (New Salvadoran Anti-Communist Army). Both ONUSAL and the PDDH considered this kidnaping to have a possible political motive. No suspects have been identified in the case.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Torture is prohibited by the Constitution, but abuse and mistreatment of detainees continued, even though confirmed reports of torture by the public security forces were fewer than in the past. From January to October, ONUSAL's human rights division confirmed six reports of torture, one by the ESAF, two by the PN, one by an ex-PN member of the PNC, one by Mariona prison guards, and the unknown perpetrators of the Mejia kidnaping case described above. Prison conditions remained bleak, with overcrowding the most significant problem. The largest prison, built 20 years ago to hold 800 prisoners, holds 2,200. At the beginning of the civil war in 1980, 3,000 prisoners were distributed in 30 penal centers; 14 facilities now hold 5,500 prisoners. Most cells are 15 by 20 feet, and some hold as many as 24 prisoners. Because of the overcrowding, 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. On November 17, 27 prisoners died in a riot at the San Francisco Gotera high-security prison. The most violent inmates in the national prison system are concentrated in this prison which, though built to house 160 inmates, actually holds over 300. The riot was reportedly the result of cell block rivalries and all the deaths were caused by actions of the prisoners, including a fire that was set during the riot. The security forces and the ESAF gained control of the situation in about 5 hours but were criticized for not acting faster. In January a penitentiary training school was established to provide 1 month of training to all prison guards and officers on an annual basis, and guards must now have a ninth-grade education. These steps and the introduction of a case-tracking system resulted in some improvement in the treatment of prisoners. Some training and work opportunities are available, Spartan health care is provided, and conjugal visits are allowed. The women's prison and the juvenile detention center are less crowded, and conditions are somewhat better.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
Arbitrary arrest and detention is prohibited by the Constitution, and its incidence declined, due largely to enactment of the 1992 Public Defender Law. ONUSAL received 275 complaints of arbitrary or unlawful detention by the security forces from January through October, a reduction from previous years. The PN frequently arrested people illegally without a warrant when police had only a suspicion of a crime. In September the President of the Supreme Court publicly suggested that, to control rising criminal activity, the police should enforce a previously unused "law of dangerous state," under which they may detain anyone who appeared dangerous, even though no crime had been committed. In the wake of this announcement, ONUSAL's police division received some complaints indicating that the law was being sporadically implemented. The police may hold a person for 72 hours before presenting him to court. The practice of obtaining forced confessions during this 72-hour period was reduced through enforcement of the Public Defender Law, which guarantees counsel to indigent defendants from the moment of detention. Public defenders are now regularly called by the police to provide representation to detained suspects. From March 1992 to February 1993, public defenders freed from incarceration approximately 50 percent of their clients. There is still a large backlog of detainees in the prison system, however, and approximately 88 percent of all inmates were awaiting trial or sentencing. The public defender's office tripled in size over the last 2 years, but there still was an inadequate number of public defenders. The courts have generally enforced a ruling that nighttime questioning without the presence of a public defender is considered coercion and any evidence so obtained is inadmissible. Questioning now is routinely delayed until morning and the arrival of the public defender. When the detainee is delivered to the court, the judge may order detention for an additional 72 hours to determine if the evidence warrants holding the accused for further investigation. The judge is then allowed 120 days to investigate serious crimes, or 45 days for lesser offenses, before bringing the accused to trial or dismissing the case. In practice, these time limits were rarely observed, but a new law to become effective in 1994 would impose fines against lower court judges who fail to comply with time restrictions as a result of negligence. Although the law permits release pending trial for crimes in which the maximum penalty does not exceed 3 years, many common crimes (against property, homicide, murder, manslaughter, and rape) carry penalties in excess of 3 years, thereby precluding release pending trial. Because defendants are imprisoned from the moment they are apprehended, and the judicial process can take several years, some have been incarcerated longer than the maximum possible sentence. Any detained person may request a review (habeas corpus) by the Supreme Court, but the request must be in writing, and the petitioner has neither access to the court nor any guarantee that the petition will be reviewed. The overwhelming majority of such requests are denied. Salvadoran law does not allow compulsory exile.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The judiciary is only nominally independent and has been severely weakened by political pressures. People who are well-connected politically, economically, or institutionally, generally enjoy immunity from prosecution. Political affiliation and personal ties, rather than professional capabilities, appear to have been the traditional criteria used to appoint and reappoint judges. The court structure is divided into four levels: justices of the peace, courts of the first instance, courts of the second instance (appeals courts), and the Supreme Court. Civilian courts exercise jurisdiction over military personnel who commit common (nonmilitary) crimes. Jury verdicts can be neither overruled by a judge nor 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; be present in court; the opportunity to confront witnesses; and compensation for damages due to judicial error. Most of these rights, however, are frequently ignored in practice. Some progress was made in addressing problems in the judiciary, improving the administrative functions of the courts, updating the legal codes, and improving the overall professionalism of the system. The 11 members of the National Council of the Judiciary (NCJ), the newly independent body that screens and nominates judicial candidates, are now appointed by the National Assembly rather than by the Supreme Court. Four are selected from a list of nominations made by the Supreme Court. In August the NCJ began screening and nominating judicial candidates, as well as evaluating sitting judges. The NCJ also has responsibility for the judicial training school, formerly under the Supreme Court. Nevertheless, there was still a troublesome overconcentration of administrative power in the Supreme Court, which controls the licensing of all attorneys, disciplinary action against attorneys and judges, and the removal of judges. Two reforms were enacted that should eliminate significant delays and grant greater autonomy to the lower courts. One repealed the requirement that all lower court decisions concerning offenses with a potential sentence of more than 3 years (80 percent of all cases) be approved by a higher level court. The other provided that the judge responsible for investigating whether there is sufficient evidence to bring the accused to trial will no longer be the same judge who presides over the trial. 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, forced entry without a warrant was frequently used to carry out arrests and investigations. Wiretapping of telephone communications by the Government, private persons, and political parties is illegal but commonly occurred.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
Freedom of the press is provided for by the Constitution, and respected in practice. There was only one reported incident of violence directed at the press in 1993, a significant improvement over previous years. On November 1, 30 FMLN members staged a half-hour demonstration outside the conservative Diario de Hoy newspaper, protesting an editorial that suggested the murders of FMLN leaders were the product of internal purges. The demonstrators burned tires and an effigy of the paper's owner. During the year, the FRS threatened some radio and television stations with retaliation if they did not broadcast its communiques, but despite the refusal of some stations to comply, the threats were not carried out. El Salvador has 5 daily newspapers, 8 television stations, approximately 150 radio stations, and 3 cable television systems. The Government operates one television station and one radio station; the FMLN was allocated a VHF television frequency in September. Both the Catholic Church and the ESAF have radio stations; the FMLN operates two broadband and several shortwave radio stations. Print and broadcast journalists from across a wide political spectrum regularly criticize the Government and report opposition views, although reporting by the predominantly conservative media tends to support the Government. The Government did not use direct or indirect means to control the media. However, most media owners are highly successful businessmen, and the reported news often reflects market pressures and advertisers' interests. Academic freedom is provided for by the Constitution and is respected in practice. University autonomy prohibits law enforcement officials from entering public campuses, and this also was respected in 1993.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
Any association not formed for criminal purposes is legal and permitted. Numerous political, professional, religious, labor, and social organizations, including those allied with the FMLN, operate without legal restriction. Organizations in general encounter bureaucratic delays when applying for legal recognition, but this did not appear directed at any one group. Since the signing of the peace accords, FMLN members and others on the left held or freely participated in open forums and political rallies throughout the country. Contentious political issues were regularly the subject of seminars, conferences, and media discussions.
c. Freedom of Religion
Freedom of religion is guaranteed by the Constitution and is respected. Roman Catholicism is the official religion and practiced by approximately 75 percent of the population, but other faiths, mostly evangelical Protestantism, have grown rapidly in popularity. These groups practice without hindrance.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
The Constitution establishes the right of free movement. Article 97 states that foreigners may not involve themselves in the internal political affairs of the country, and the Government reserves the right to deny entry to, or deport, foreigners believed to violate that section of the law. Freedom of movement throughout the country is permitted by the Government. There are no restrictions on citizens changing their residence or workplace. A major effort by the Government to issue or replace citizen documentation in the 115 municipalities affected by the armed conflict continued in 1993. The Government has provisions for granting asylum and refugee status. Since the end of the regional conflicts in Central America, the number of refugees in El Salvador has declined to very few. 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
The Salvadoran people exercise the right to change their government peacefully through regularly scheduled elections. Past elections have been judged free and fair, notwithstanding the climate of fear and violence perpetrated by both government and rebel forces during the civil war. The President and Vice President are elected every 5 years. Legislative and municipal elections are held every 3 years. Elections for all national and local offices will be held in March 1994, and ONUSAL has been invited to certify them. It established an electoral division in June to oversee the electoral process. Various other nongovernmental organizations (NGO's) are also expected to observe the elections. The President is constitutionally barred from reelection to a second consecutive term. Voting is by secret ballot, and there is universal suffrage. The last 11 mayors elected in 1991, whom the FMLN had prevented from assuming their offices in the former conflict areas, returned to their municipalities by February, and local governmental functions in these areas began to return to normal. The field of political parties continued to expand in 1993. The FMLN, inscribed as a political party in December 1992, announced its political candidates and began campaigning for the 1994 general elections. The Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) approved the Unity Movement and the Free People's Party as new political parties, bringing to 10 the total number of duly registered parties. The TSE organized a massive campaign to reach the 750,000 eligible voters without voter cards by November, focusing on the underrepresented, primarily youth and women; the latter totaled 60 percent of citizens without voter cards, according to the TSE. To encourage registration further, the National Assembly passed a law in September making the voter registration card a required document for identification purposes as of March 1, 1994. The registration drive, completed November 20, was successful, though applications were still being processed at the end of the year. It is estimated that at least 85 percent of eligible voters will be able to vote in the March election. The number of women in politics is small but growing. A Vice President of the National Assembly is a woman, as are 7 other Assembly Deputies, out of 84. Three Cabinet Ministers are female, as are 33 of 262 mayors.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
A number of nongovernmental human rights organizations, including the Catholic Church's Tutela Legal and the Human Rights Commission (CDHES), operated actively without government interference. Frequently echoing FMLN positions, the CDHES focuses primarily on alleged abuses by the Government. The CDHES also 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 focuses on allegations of government abuses, follows cases, and publishes periodic reports. Numerous other church, labor, and 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 first Human Rights Ombudsman was elected by the National Assembly in 1992. As the only human rights organization specifically established by the Constitution, the Ombudsman's Office (PDDH) is charged with receiving allegations of human rights abuses committed by government officials, investigating them and, if warranted, lodging official complaints against specific officials. The PDDH supplanted the Human Rights Commission (CDH) as the officially mandated human rights monitoring organization. The United Nations Observer Mission (ONUSAL) is mandated 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 also reports directly to the U.N. Secretary General. In its July report, ONUSAL found that the overall human rights situation continued to improve, but noted continued human rights abuses and a serious problem with common crime. Its October report noted concern over a serious regression in the human rights situation, most notably the increase in extrajudicial killings of political leaders and the generally rising crime rate. On the positive side, ONUSAL praised the continuing progress in implementing institutional changes to protect human rights, and the absence of any verifiable cases of disappearances in 1993. The PDDH began investigating reports of human rights abuses in July 1992. As of June 1993, the PDDH had received over 2,000 reports, and it opened regional offices in Santa Ana, San Miguel, and San Vicente. The number of reports received monthly jumped to 300 in July and over 400 in August. The PDDH budget for 1994, approximately $2.5 million, is double 1993's budget but still inadequate to duplicate ONUSAL's human rights monitoring operation when it terminates its mission in 1994. ONUSAL has praised the progress made by the PDDH since its inception, but some human rights groups have expressed concerns about the PDDH's capabilities. The PDDH should gain both experience and stature in 1994 through the involvement of its director as part of the Joint Group established on December 8 to investigate possible political violence since the peace accords. The PDDH lodged public complaints of human rights abuses against various government agencies, most frequently the PN and the judiciary, and in numerous cases made specific recommendations for improvements in procedures and even for indemnification of victims. Some of the PDDH's complaints and recommendations were ignored. The PDDH publicly criticized the chief of the PN Fifth Command in San Miguel for refusing to cooperate with judicial investigations of human rights abuses. The PDDH said, however, that a number of institutions did act on its recommendations in a satisfactory manner. The Executive Anti-Narcotics Unit, for example, agreed to obtain judicial search warrants prior to entry. The PN antiriot unit agreed not to use war weapons to control demonstrations. Other institutions, including the San Salvador municipal police and the ESAF 2nd infantry brigade, took corrective actions following violations of administrative due process.
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 are granted the same legal rights as men under the Constitution, but suffer discrimination in practice. To improve the situation of women and children, the National Assembly passed a new Family Code in October. The new Code updates some laws that discriminated against women and children, most notably those living in informal unions. Spousal rights are granted to those who can prove that they lived together as a couple for at least 3 years, a status similar to common law marriage, significant because a large percentage of couples never officially marry. Women also suffer from economic discrimination and do not have equal access to credit and land ownership. Wages paid to professional women remain lower than those paid to men in the same profession, and women in nonprofessional jobs are generally also paid less than similarly qualified men. Sixty-five percent of the economically active female population work in the informal economy. Training geared to females tends to focus on areas where they are already employed and on generally low-income occupations: teaching, nursing, home industries, or small businesses. Violence against women, including domestic violence, is widespread. The Isidro Menendez Judicial Center received 564 reports of sexual violence against women in 1992, and it estimates that only 5 percent of total cases were reported. Hospitals reported a monthly average of 56 rapes in the capital city of San Salvador from January to September, while the police received only three reports per month in the same period. To increase reporting of rapes, victims have been encouraged, through a regular newspaper campaign by the Attorney General's office, to come forward and press charges immediately after the assault has occurred. Since 1991 a public prosecutor has been 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. There are over 100 women's organizations to assist low-income women, and women's issues have been raised in the 1994 election campaign. Major concerns for women's rights groups are equal rights, unemployment, access to credit and skills training, illiteracy, health services, family planning, child care, and violence against women.
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 1994 government budget for the Institute for the Protection of Children is $4.6 million, a 57-percent increase over 1993. Given the magnitude of children's health and welfare problems, the increased spending levels are still insufficient. In the context of total resources available to the Government, however, expenditures are substantial. In addition, $41 million in Salvadoran debt payments over the next 20 years will be placed in an account to fund child survival and environmental programs. The new Family Code updates laws dealing with children, gives equal rights to children born out of wedlock, and tightens adoption procedures. Sexual abuse of children is another problem receiving growing attention. The San Salvador children's hospital treated between four and five cases per day of sexually abused children in 1993. Child malnutrition and the large numbers of orphans are also significant problems.
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 approximately 30,000 were killed by government forces 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 Salvadoran National Indigenous Association (ANIS), headquartered in Sonsonate, promotes indigenous culture and language. The civil and political rights of indigenous people and their ability to participate in decisions affecting their lands, traditions, and allocation of natural resources are protected and respected by the Government to the same extent as other Salvadorans of comparable socioeconomic status.
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.
Section 6 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
The 1983 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. Full realization of the freedom of association called for in the Constitution has been impeded by numerous and sometimes conflicting laws governing labor relations; the current Labor Code prohibits partisan political activity by unions. This prohibition is routinely ignored; eight labor leaders currently serve in the National Assembly, and labor continued to play an important role in partisan 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), government, and the private sector. During 1993, labor, the private sector, and the Government moved haltingly toward producing a revised Labor Code. In August the forum sectors signed a tripartite agreement on approval of certain International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions, granting legal status to labor unions and associations and establishing a framework to govern labor relations. ILO technical experts informally assisted the parties to review international labor conventions, and the forum submitted 11 to the Assembly for ratification. The ILO also reviewed and made recommendations for reforming the existing Labor Code and other labor legislation, including the Organic Law for the Ministry of Labor. The ILO recommended 49 changes to the Labor Code. Although the socioeconomic forum discussed these recommendations through early December, it was unable to agree on a draft to submit to the Assembly. The Government then submitted its own version of the ILO recommendations to the Assembly, based on what it believed to be fair compromises between positions held by labor and business in the forum talks. The ILO reviewed the Government's version and reported that there were no significant changes from its original recommendations. The legislation is scheduled to be debated and voted on in early 1994. Most importantly, the proposed changes would streamline the process required to form a union; extend union rights to agricultural, independent, and small-business workers; and extend the right to strike to union federations (at the present time only unions, not union federations, have the right to call a strike). The Government has not sought ratification of ILO conventions on freedom of association because this would require changes in the Constitution. 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. Unions are not under pressure to affiliate with the Government or other political forces; nevertheless, many labor organizations have close ties to various political groups. Labor alliances change frequently, but the Intergremial, an umbrella organization including most major labor organizations, continued to enjoy the prominence it gained with the 1991 presentation of a draft labor code and labor's participation in the forum. 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, have carried out strikes that, while technically illegal, were treated as legitimate. Even in sectors where the right to strike exists, strikes are sometimes technically illegal as labor and management often ignore the onerous and time-consuming legal requirements to settle labor disputes. Public sector strikes, though illegal, are frequent and are generally settled through negotiations between public employee associations and the Government. Mandatory arbitration of public sector disputes is provided for under the Labor Code. Proposed changes to the Labor Code would give the right to form unions and strike to all private sector workers and streamline legal requirements. In August members of the public health workers' union began a strike to demand a salary increase, a designated hospital for their use and that of their family members, and improved hospital conditions. Pointing to the public sector status of the union's members, the Government refused to meet the strikers' demands and fired a number of them. After nearly a month, the Government and most of the organizations backing the strike reached a compromise agreement; the Government agreed to reinstate fired workers, drop legal proceedings against them, and consider a salary raise. There were credible reports, however, that the Government failed to reinstate all fired workers to their previously held positions and pay, that some striking employees lost their seniority, and that legal proceedings continued against some of the union officials. Antiunion actions before a union is legally registered are prohibited; however, in practice, there are 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. Under the February "Agreement on Principles and Commitments," signed by government, labor, and private sector representatives, the Government agreed to review previously denied applications for legal status among both private sector unions and agricultural and public sector associations. The Minister of Labor, whom labor had accused in 1992 of conspiring with management to frustrate union registration by informing management of potential legal challenges to a registration application, was replaced in 1993. The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) alleged in 1993 that signing the peace accords had not succeeded in checking the abuse of trade union rights, citing reports from its affiliate, FENASTRAS, of the killing of 20 trade unionists in 1992, many by death squads; other instances of death threats against trade union leaders and instances of abductions; continued denial by the Government of the registration of a union at the ADOC shoe factory; and other incidents involving antiunion discrimination and the firing of workers for trade union activities. In a report released in November, however, an ILO direct contact mission stated that no persons were being detained for trade union activities, that there had been no further searches of trade union premises, and that violence against trade unionists had declined substantially in the previous year.
b. The Right To Organize and Bargain Collectively
The right of collective bargaining is granted in both the Constitution and the existing Labor Code, but public sector employees are not covered in either. The Labor Code grants this right only to employees in the private sector and in autonomous agencies of the Government, such as utilities and the port authority. However, both private sector unions (by law) and public sector employee associations (in practice) use the mechanism of collective bargaining extensively. Labor Code protection for agricultural workers, now inadequate, would be expanded by proposed Labor Code reforms. The Ministry of Labor is responsible for overseeing the implementation of collective bargaining agreements and acting as conciliator in labor disputes in the private sector and autonomous government institutions. In practice, government 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 of Labor 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 another 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. This provision is generally observed in practice, but in some cases those attempting to form unions have been fired before receiving union credentials. Employers are required to rehire employees fired for any type of union activity, though this requirement is sometimes not enforced. There are four functioning export processing zones (EPZ's) and two more under construction. 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 and in some cases have fired workers attempting to organize. The ICFTU's allegation that "all attempts to form trade unions in free trade zones have led to the dismissal of the workers concerned," is too broad, but the point that unionization efforts encounter strong resistance in the EPZ's is valid.
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. The ILO Committee of Experts continued to criticize provisions in the Penal Code which allow the imposition of penalties involving compulsory labor against companies for activities related to the expression of political opinion.
d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children
The Constitution prohibits the employment of children under the age of 14. Exceptions may be made 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 a problem in the industrial sector. The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing child labor laws.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
In January the Government passed legislation raising the minimum wages for commercial, industrial, service, and agroindustrial employees; over the course of the year the Government increased the minimum wage on two occasions by a total of 22 percent. The new rate for industrial and service workers was about $3.50 (31 colones) per day; agricultural workers must be paid about $2.35 (20 colones) in wages, including a food allowance, per day. Despite these increases, minimum wages are 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. Accurate statistics are not available for the large informal 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. 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 severe cutbacks in human resources to carry out certification and inspection duties, which severely limited its effectiveness.