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Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2007 - El Salvador

Publisher International Federation for Human Rights
Author Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Publication Date 19 June 2008
Cite as International Federation for Human Rights, Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2007 - El Salvador, 19 June 2008, available at: [accessed 18 January 2018]
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.

Political context

Nearly sixteen years after the signature of the peace agreements that put an end to the armed conflict that raged in El Salvador from 1980 to 1991, the enforced disappearances, the arbitrary detentions, the acts of torture and other human rights violations committed during the civil war remain unpunished. El Salvador refuses in addition to ratify the Statute of the International Criminal Court. Investigations have been either inexistent or ineffective, and defenders demanding respect for the right to justice, to truth and to reparation for the victims receive threats. The Government further justifies the lack of investigation by the existence of the 1993 Amnesty Law, which, according to the authorities, is an integral part of the peace process, which made reconciliation possible among the Salvadorian population.

At the same time El Salvador continues to be marked by a very high level of violence, due in particular to the high rate of impunity and corruption, and the presence of gangs of young delinquents, the "maras", whose emergence is linked to the poverty and inequalities which are still blatant in this small Central American country. The situation has caused mass emigration, which admittedly led to the sending of "remesas" (sums of money the diaspora send to their families), but which has also weakened the family structure. In addition, broad social sectors remain on the fringe of the socio-economic improvements that have taken place. It would also appear that the "death squads" are back.

Furthermore, on October 29, 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that the International Labour Organisation Convention n° 87 on Trade Union Freedoms was unconstitutional, on the grounds that trade union freedom could not apply to civil servants.

Criminalisation of human rights activities, in particular through the application of the Special Law to Counter Acts of Terrorism

In this context, social protest movements are numerous, but the State's response has been repression, in particular through the application of the Special Law to Counter Acts of Terrorism against demonstrators and defenders of economic, social and cultural rights.

The Special Law to Counter Acts of Terrorism, passed in September 2006, provides for exceptionally severe prison sentences for, inter alia, "attacks on the security of the State" (Article 1), "attacks on the security of ports, maritime transport, inland waterways, lakes, civil aviation and airports" (Articles 17 to 20), and "attacks against civil servants", "insofar as the acts committed against them are aimed at the office or activity they perform" (Article 5). In addition, causing a disturbance in public services, in traffic on the main highways of the national territory, or in Government buildings is an aggravating circumstance (Article 34g). Such a broad qualification makes it possible to incriminate persons taking part in a peaceful march, in demonstrations or other activities considered as acts of dissidence, breaches of the peace and threats to national security.

It is in such a context that in 2007 several human rights defenders engaged, inter alia, in the fight against water privatisation carried out by rural communities, in pressing for improvements in health care, in the fight against corruption and for trade union freedoms, were subjected to acts of repression on the part of the authorities, with in particular violent interventions carried out systematically by the police during demonstrations. On July 2, 2007, members of the national civil police and of the Unit for the Maintenance of Law and Order (Unidad de Mantenimiento de Orden – UMO) used force to disperse a large demonstration organised in Suchitoto by the civil society of the Cuscatlán department, in the north of the country. This was on the occasion of the visit of President Elías Antonio Saca, in protest against the policy to privatise fundamental public services, including water. Several participants, including old persons and children, were beaten or injured by rubber bullets, and others had respiratory problems caused by tear gas. Fourteen members of Salvadorian civil society organisations, including Ms. Marta Lorena Araujo Martínez, Ms. Rosa María Centeno Valle, Ms. María Aydee Chicas Sorto and Ms. Sandra Isabel Guatemala, members of the Association of Rural Communities for the Development of El Salvador (Asociación de las Comunidades Rurales para el Desarrollo de El Salvador – CRIPDES), were arrested and accused of "acts of terrorism" and "illegal association". The 14 persons were released on bail at the end of July 2007, and all were acquitted in February 2008.

Furthermore, on September 4, 2007, Ms. Noemi Barrientos de Pérez, Ms. Elsa Yanira Paniagua, Ms. Miriam Ruth Castro Lemus, Ms. Ana Luz Ordóñez Castro, Ms. Ana Graciela de Carranza and Messrs. Nehemias Armando Cantaderio, Jorge Emilio Pérez and Manuel de Jesús Trejo Artero, leaders of the Union of Salvadorian Health Employees (Sindicato de Gremio de Trabajadores/as de Enfermería de El Salvador – SIGEESAL), were arrested after having organised, in August 2007, a peaceful demonstration in support of the strikes organised in the country's hospitals, notably the San Vicente hospital, in protest against the increasing insecurity and the privatisation of the health system nationwide, and against corruption in the hospital environment. The eight persons were released on September 9, 2007, but at the end of 2007 they were still charged with "breach of the peace", with aggravating circumstances. The preliminary hearing had been postponed to February 5, 2008, and on that date, they received sentences preventing them from leaving the country and from carrying out trade union activities for two years.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders is a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH).

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