U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1998 - El Salvador

El Salvador is a constitutional, multiparty democracy with an executive branch headed by a president and a unicameral legislature. Armando Calderon Sol of the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) was inaugurated President for a 5-year term in June 1994. In free and fair legislative elections in March 1997, the former guerrilla organization Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) won a third of the Legislative Assembly seats, leaving the ARENA party with a one-vote plurality. Seven other parties, representing a broad political spectrum, hold seats, including the conservative National Conciliation Party and the centrist Christian Democratic Party. The judiciary is constitutionally independent but suffers from inefficiency and corruption. Under the terms of the Peace Accords that ended the 12-year civil war in 1992, the Government has reduced the armed forces (including civilian employees) by over 70 percent; removed the internal security function from the military and placed it under civilian control; replaced the discredited National Police with a new Civilian National Police (PNC); and integrated the former guerrillas into political life. For the first time in the country's history, the President appointed a civilian as Minister of Defense. Although its internal policing mission has been eliminated, the military continues to provide support, on an emergency basis, for some PNC patrols in rural areas, a measure begun in 1995 to contain violence by well-armed, organized criminal bands. The level of professionalism of the PNC continued to improve, but the 5-year-old force remains understaffed, undertrained, and short on practical experience. Civilian authorities maintained effective control of the military and security forces. Some members of the police committed human rights abuses. The country has a market-based, mixed economy largely based on agriculture and manufacturing. Some 40 percent of the work force is in the agricultural sector; coffee and sugar are the principal export crops and major sources of foreign exchange. Employing 6.4 percent of the work force, the manufacturing sector is dominated by apparel manufacturing (mostly in export processing zones) and represents the main source of new jobs. The Government is committed to privatization and free market reforms. The economy is open, and private property is respected. The rate of real economic growth was about 4 percent, and per capita gross domestic product was estimated to be $2,024. About 48 percent of the population lives below the poverty level. The Government's human rights record improved somewhat; however, there were problems in some areas. There were two cases of extrajudicial killings by police. Police sometimes used excessive force, mistreated detainees, and arbitrarily arrested and detained persons. The PNC and the Attorney General's office sought to identify and to punish police who committed criminal acts or violated established procedures, although with mixed results. There was a reduction in the number of human rights complaints against the police in some categories compared with the previous year. Prison conditions remained poor; although overcrowding was reduced, it remained a problem. The judiciary's inefficiency continued to lead to a backlog of cases, which resulted in lengthy pretrial detention and delays in trials; however, the court system showed some improvement. Implementation of the new criminal and sentencing codes in April had a significant impact on the problems of violation of due process, prison overcrowding, overburdened court dockets, and trial delays. However, some criminals convicted of serious crimes were released on parole. By August, the courts cleared out 20,000 backlogged cases. The Supreme Court made further progress in increasing the professionalism of the judiciary, but disciplining or dismissing corrupt or incompetent judges remained a slow process. Impunity for the rich and powerful remained a problem. The office of the Ombudsman for the Defense of Human Rights (PDDH), established by the Constitution and the Peace Accords, was an independent and effective advocate for citizens' rights. However, its investigative capacity remained limited due to resource constraints. Discrimination against women, the disabled, and the indigenous remained problems. Violence against women and homosexuals and abuse of children were also problems. Union leaders charged that the dismissal of two groups of employees of the privatized state telephone company abridged freedom of association and the right to organize. Child labor is a problem, and some minors were forced into prostitution.


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

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political killings; however, there were two cases of suspected extrajudicial killings. On March 8, the handcuffed body of Carlos Ernesto Lobo, age 26, was discovered in a river near San Salvador. The apparent cause of death was drowning. On March 6, two PNC agents had arrested Lobo on suspicion of carrying stolen goods. The PNC agents claimed that Lobo escaped from custody, still handcuffed, and ran towards the area where his body later was found. The PNC told Lobo's father on March 7 that his son escaped. Both PNC agents involved were placed in custody for "negligence" in allowing Lobo to escape. At year's end, the PNC and Attorney General's office were investigating the death to determine whether to bring further charges against the two policemen. On September 6, Jose Antonio Villalta was shot and killed in Santa Tecla. Villalta's family charged that a PNC agent shot him in the back when Villalta attempted to intervene to stop a group of police who were reportedly beating two of his friends. The PNC opened an investigation, which was continuing at year's end. There was mixed progress in cases of extrajudicial killings from previous years. In 1997 a Santa Ana court, citing insufficient evidence, dropped charges against two PNC officers accused of the March 1996 extrajudicial killings of four gang members in Santa Ana. Witnesses reported that PNC agents apprehended the four persons for robbery and placed them in a police vehicle. Subsequently, the four were found murdered at a local farm. The Attorney General's office appealed the decision to a higher court, but the appeal was rejected. The case remained under investigation at year's end. In October 1996, a PNC agent shot and killed Francisco Manzanares during what the police said was surveillance of ongoing criminal activity during an investigation in an extortion case. Although not active in politics at the time of his death, Manzanares' past as an FMLN combatant and party member raised the issue of political killing. The judge handling the case stated that the killing could have been a premeditated act, and that the PNC had persecuted Manzanares prior to his murder. At year's end, the four police officers charged in the case (three as accomplices) were detained and the trial was in progress. On October 11, a jury unanimously found five PNC agents guilty of murder in the 1995 beating death of medical student Adriano Vilanova. The senior two agents each were sentenced to 25 years' imprisonment (the maximum penalty under the law) and the other three to 23 years' imprisonment each. Another two PNC agents charged with participation in the killing remained at large. An additional two agents accused in the case were exonerated in June. The defendants initially claimed that Vilanova died from a fall, but testimony from eyewitnesses who saw Vilanova in police custody, and independent investigations by the PDDH and a major San Salvador daily newspaper, pointed to involvement of members of the PNC. While the guilty verdicts cannot be appealed, at year's end, defense attorneys were seeking a mistrial, arguing that one member of the jury legally was not qualified to serve. The victim's parents expressed satisfaction with the guilty verdicts, but also alleged an attempted police coverup and called on the police and the Attorney General's office to identify and prosecute the "intellectual authors" of the crime. On October 14, the Attorney General confirmed that his office would continue to investigate the case, which remained open at year's end. In January the authorities arrested Jose Julio Ortiz Vides, a member of a criminal gang, for participating in the murder of Ramon Garcia Prieto in 1994. Jose Argueta Rivas, a former member of the National Police, was found guilty in 1996 of Garcia Prieto's murder, and sentenced to 30 years in prison. In 1997 the Garcia Prieto family charged before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) that the Government failed to investigate the crime properly to determine who ordered the killings. In August unknown assailants shot at the victim's parents, but members of the PNC special protection division (who were guarding the couple) foiled the attack. The Government had provided police protection to the family, at the request of the IACHR, since early in the year. The case remained active at year's end. There were no further developments in the cases of two FMLN activists murdered in Nejapa during the 1997 election campaign. No concrete evidence has surfaced that the killings were politically motivated. The cases remained open at year's end. In the 1993 murder of FMLN leader Darol Francisco Velis Castellanos, the Government extradited a former member of the National Police, Carlos Romero Alfaro, from the United States in 1996. In January the PNC arrested Jose Ismael Ortiz Diaz, who was already under detention for another crime, as an accomplice in the murder. In September the Supreme Court admonished the lower court that its handling of the case constituted a delay of justice and instructed the judge to issue a finding as quickly as possible. The case remained active at year's end. In July the authorities released on parole Jose Roberto Moreno Canjura, Luis Colindres Aleman, and Daniel Canales Ramirez, three of the five former national guardsmen convicted in 1984 for the 1980 murder of four American churchwomen, based on the newly implemented sentencing law. The presiding judge denied parole to the other two, Carlos Contreras Palacios and Francisco Contreras Recinos, on the grounds that they had failed to demonstrate good behavior during their incarceration, as required by the new law. They are to remain in prison to serve their 30-year terms, the maximum sentence under law. The families of the slain women and the Lawyers' Committee on Human Rights renewed charges that the killings were ordered by superior officers and that the Government had failed to investigate the murders to determine and punish the intellectual authors.

b. Disappearance

There were no confirmed politically motivated disappearances. Most cases of disappearances have been kidnaping for profit, which affects all levels of society and has become a common occurrence throughout the country. During the year, the PDDH accepted for investigation 8 cases involving forced or involuntary disappearance, none of which involved allegations of political motivation. Rumors of political motivation surrounded the 1995 kidnaping of Andres Suster, the 15-year-old son of the former president of the state telephone company. In 1997 police arrested a number of persons in connection with the kidnaping. A principal suspect in the Suster and other kidnapings, who was associated with the disbanded Communist Party, fled the country in 1997. In December a judge ordered five suspects released from detention due to lack of evidence. The judge also dropped charges against four additional suspects and lifted arrest orders against six others. At year's end, three suspects remained in jail facing charges.

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

The Constitution prohibits such practices, but some members of the PNC continued to use excessive force and otherwise mistreat detainees. During the year, the PDDH accepted a total of 849 complaints (an average of 71 per month) of violation of the right of personal integrity (a category covering torture; inhuman or degrading treatment; mistreatment; disproportionate use of force; and improper treatment of detainees), compared with a total of 1,199 complaints (an average of 100 per month) in 1997. The PDDH reported that the vast majority of these complaints involved the PNC and were the direct result of minor to serious violations of arrest procedures. The year's monthly average represents a decrease of 29 percent compared with the previous year. The PDDH received a monthly average of 87 complaints in this category in the period from June 1997 to May 1998; 108 from June 1996 to May 1997; and 72 from June 1995 to May 1996. During this period, the PNC grew from 7,100 active members in June 1995 to a little over 17,000 by May 1998. From June 1997 to May 1998, the PDDH found human rights violations in an average of 9.5 percent of all the complaints it accepted for investigation (covering all categories of human rights). The PNC Inspector General's office (IG), an entity separate from the PNC, answers directly to the Minister of Public Security and is charged with overseeing police activities and investigating allegations of human rights abuse. The IG investigated 96 cases of violation of the right of personal integrity through June, compared with 73 cases in the same period in 1997. The PDDH received a large number of human rights complaints against the PNC, a monthly average of 142 for all categories of human rights violations from January through June, indicating continuing problems. The PDDH cited the PNC for an average of 190 cases per month during its most recent full reporting period, covering June 1997 to May 1998; and for 208 cases per month from June 1996 to May 1997. Through August the IG's investigations of complaints that it received (72 percent initiated by private citizens and 28 percent by individuals or offices within the PNC) found sufficient merit in an average of 15 cases a month to remit them to the PNC internal affairs offices for further investigation. Most of these complaints÷-12 per month÷-were in the "serious to very serious" category, compared with 8 per month in that category for 1997. The large number of complaints involving the PNC reflected several factors: The PNC's authority to use force in carrying out arrests; its inexperience; the difficulty of its work in the face of critical, often violent crime levels; and a continuing need for training in human rights, the use of force, and correct arrest procedures. The PNC internal affairs division units (which act on charges brought by the IG, the Attorney General's office, and other PNC offices) significantly increased their efforts to identify and punish improper or illegal police actions. Through August they handled a monthly average of 178 "grave" and "very grave" charges against police, 40 percent more than the 1997 monthly average of 127. Based on these complaints through August, the disciplinary tribunal of the PNC dismissed a monthly average of 36 PNC agents (compared with the 1997 rate of 13 per month) and sanctioned an additional monthly average of 99 agents (compared with 81 per month in 1997). As of August, the authorities held 25 police agents in jail on criminal charges. Working together to improve PNC human rights awareness, the PDDH and the National Public Security Academy expanded and refined the human rights content of the standard curriculum for the academy's police officer basic training program. In May the Disciplinary Tribunal of the PNC dismissed from the police force four PNC agents charged with inflicting burns on detainee Ambrosio Perez in 1997 in an effort to obtain information about an alleged hidden cache of arms. In June the Appeals Tribunal of the PNC upheld the decision to dismiss the agents. Prior to the decision of the Tribunal, the four agents had been suspended without pay, one for a year and the other three for three months. There were allegations from children's rights groups that street children suffer from police brutality; the PNC denied these charges (see Section 5). In October several persons reportedly were injured in a confrontation in San Salvador between police and approximately 1,000 former militia members demonstrating to demand government compensation for some 25,000 former militia members for their services before and during the civil war. (Rural militias assisted the armed forces in rural areas, but were not members of the armed forces and were not included in the settlement offered to most former combatants under the 1992 peace accords.) Informed that the group intended to seize the cathedral, police intercepted them as they marched through a park; some marchers resisted police and police then used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd. Police arrested eight persons but subsequently released them. On October 6, the PDDH issued a statement that criticized the police for overreacting to the demonstrators and the demonstrators for using women and children as human shields. On May 13, Leonardo Mena Marroquin, a communications advisor with the FMLN's electoral campaign committee, was wounded during an apparent attempt on his life. According to police reports, two gunmen stepped out of a parked car and opened fire on Mena as he left his mother's house. Mena fired back and, after a short exchange of gunfire, the assailants fled. Although the FMLN discounted a political motivation for the attack, the police continued to explore all possible motives. Prison conditions remained poor, although the Government improved medical care, provided better food, and reduced overcrowding somewhat. As a result of the implementation in April of the new sentencing and penal codes, which limit preventive detention to more serious crimes, the prison population fell 20 percent by the end of August. Nevertheless, prisons remained severely overcrowded, with the number of prisoners at 28 percent over the designed holding capacity of the penal system. As of September, there were 7,147 men held in 17 prisons with a combined capacity of 5,700 and 398 women in the 2 female prison facilities with a combined capacity of 180. In September the Government began construction of a new prison facility with capacity for 1,000 inmates. Gang violence, especially in the country's three largest and oldest penitentiaries, continued to plague the prison system, despite government efforts to separate different gangs. Prison authorities reported that during the year there were 10 deaths in the prison system due to violence, two of which resulted from attempted escapes and one of which occurred during a prison riot. The authorities also reported that 16 prisoners died as a result of illness. On June 23, approximately 1,000 prisoners in Apanteos prison rioted. Fighting between members of rival gangs initiated the disturbances. Three prison guards were overpowered and taken hostage when they attempted to restore order; they were released unharmed a few hours later. A group of inmates wielding hand-made weapons climbed onto the penitentiary's roof and demanded better treatment and speedier review of their cases. The uprising was resolved peacefully later the same day following negotiations with inmate representatives by the National Prison Director and representatives from the PDDH and the Attorney General's office. The Government agreed to increase visits by sentencing judges to enable more prisoners to be informed of the current status of their cases, to improve medical and dental care, to extend the time allowed for prisoners to receive food from family and friends, and to improve supervision of prison guards accused of mistreatment. The following day, the authorities disarmed the inmates and began to transfer 260 inmates, mostly gang members, to other prisons. The 1995 Juvenile Offenders Law requires that all juveniles under detention or sentencing be housed separately from adults in rehabilitation centers. Most criminal cases involving juveniles are brought to trial or conciliation within 3 months. There are separate facilities for female detainees and prisoners. The Government permits prison visits by independent human rights monitors, nongovernmental organizations (NGO's), and the media.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest, but there were cases of arbitrary arrests and detentions by the PNC. During the year, the PDDH accepted a total of 287 complaints (an average of 26 per month) for violations of personal liberty compared with a total of 724 complaints (an average of 60 per month) in 1997. This year's monthly average represents a 60 percent decrease of complaints compared with the previous year. The PDDH accepted a monthly average of 47 cases in this category for the period from June 1997 to May 1998; 62 from June 1996 to May 1997; and 75 from June 1995 to May 1996. PDDH statistics show moderate improvement in PNC respect for personal liberty. The courts generally enforced a ruling that interrogation without the presence of counsel amounts to coercion, and that any evidence so obtained is inadmissible. As a result, police authorities generally delayed questioning until a public defender arrived. Substantially increased salaries and improved supervision contributed to a growing pool of public defenders, greatly increased their ability to represent indigent detainees properly, and improved the protection of human rights. In November prosecutors charged three PNC investigators with evidence tampering in the 1997 murder case of news reader Lorena Savaria (see section 2.a.). In February the police had arrested eight suspects in the murder (including three police officers) who reportedly were members of a gang responsible for kidnapings, murders, and extortion. However, in September a judge released the suspects and dropped all charges against them when a key witness retracted her testimony against them, alleging that she had been pressured by three investigating officers to give that testimony. The authorities indicted two of three officers; the third remained at large. By law, the police may hold a person for 72 hours before delivering the suspect to court, after which time the judge may order detention for an additional 72 hours to determine if an investigation is warranted. Because of a lack of holding cells, such detainees often are sent to the already overcrowded prisons where they may be mixed with violent criminals. The law allows 120 days to investigate serious crimes and 45 days for lesser offenses, before a judge must bring the accused to trial or dismiss the case. In past years, most cases were not completed within the legally prescribed time frames. It is still too early to measure the full impact on this situation of the fundamental legal reforms contained in the new criminal procedures and sentencing codes. The 1997 Penitentiary Code permits release on bail for detainees who are unlikely to flee or whose release would not impede the investigation of the case. Because it may take several years for a case to come to trial, some prisoners have been incarcerated longer than the maximum legal sentence for their crimes. Any detainee may request a review (habeas corpus) by the Supreme Court. At the beginning of September, 5,506 inmates in the prison system were awaiting trial, an improvement over the situation at the end of 1997 when 6,167 inmates were awaiting trial. As of April, new court cases are handled under the new criminal and sentencing codes, which are designed to reduce the court caseload by sending cases to the prosecutor's office first and only allowing cases with merit to enter the court system. From May through September, the courts accepted a daily average of 20 cases, compared with an average of 278 cases per day in 1997. In addition, of those cases accepted since the implementation of the new law, about 10 percent were resolved through conciliation and abbreviated court procedures. The new system also is designed to improve court efficiency by removing the time-consuming investigative responsibilities from the judge and placing them with the police and the prosecutor's office. The number of pre-April backlogged cases was reduced steadily through the efforts of the Supreme Court's case review center, which reviews, reopens, and recommends actions on old cases. Through August the center helped to resolve an average of 1,767 cases a month, and since its inception in 1996, has eliminated over 75,000 backlogged cases. The Constitution prohibits forced exile, and it is not practiced.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the Government respects this provision in practice. However, the judiciary suffers from inefficiency and corruption. The court structure has four levels: Justices of the peace, trial courts, appellate courts, and the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court selects justices of the peace, trial judges, and appellate judges from a list of nominees proposed by the National Judicial Council. (The Council is an independent body provided for in the Constitution to nominate, train, and evaluate judges.) All lower court judges serve until they voluntarily resign or are dismissed for cause. The Legislative Assembly elects, by a two-thirds majority, 5 of the 15 Supreme Court justices and 5 of the 15 alternate justices every 3 years from a list provided by the National Judicial Council and the National Association of Lawyers. A justice serves for 9 years and may be reelected. Judges, not juries, decide most cases. A jury verdict cannot be appealed. However, the defendant may appeal the sentence to the Supreme Court for reduction. A jury verdict may be overturned by a mistrial determination resulting from serious problems with jury panel selection or errors in trial procedures. The Government implemented wide-ranging reforms of the criminal justice system, specifically the Criminal Procedures Code (enacted in 1996) and the Penal and Penitentiary (Sentencing) Codes (enacted in 1997 and designed to speed up the trial process and reduce the number of detainees). Separate court systems for family matters and juvenile offenders were established in 1996 and stress conciliation as an alternative to adjudication. The 1995 Juvenile Legal Code required minors under the age of 18 to be tried only in juvenile courts, included greater provisions for due process, raised the age of majority from 16 to 18 years, limited sentences for minors to a maximum of 7 years, and introduced alternatives to incarceration. 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. While these rights are not always respected fully in practice, compliance with these provisions improved, in part due to increased judicial training programs and to evaluations and monitoring of judges conducted by the Judicial National Council and the Supreme Court. The Constitution and law require the Government to provide legal counsel to the indigent. While this requirement has not always been implemented in practice, the Government made considerable progress during the year toward ensuring provision of legal coverage to indigents. The Public Defender's office was strengthened significantly, with the addition of new attorneys and with a salary increase for public defenders. At year's end, the Public Defenders' office had 279 attorneys compared with 113 in 1997, an increase of 147 percent. The new Penitentiary (Sentencing) Code implemented in April stresses criminal rehabilitation and prevention of future crimes and stipulates the provision of humane conditions in prisons as well as the separation of violent offenders and pretrial detainees. It also establishes a new institution, the Criminal Sentencing Court, with responsibility for executing and monitoring the sentences imposed by the trial courts. Previously, the same judge that investigated, judged, and sentenced the accused was also responsible for the imposition, monitoring, and suspension of the sentence. The new code also provides for alternatives to imprisonment for nonviolent offenders, designed to reduce prison overcrowding. By the end of September, 150 prisoners received paroles under the new code, which has more liberal requirements than its predecessor. There are still problems of corruption and incompetence in the judicial system, but the Supreme Court stepped up its efforts to discipline judges. While the court system steadily improved, the process remains deliberative and slow. Pay and benefits for judges, prosecutors, and public defenders increased, and are sufficient to attract well-qualified individuals. However, despite significant investment in physical infrastructure, working conditions remain barely adequate, contributing to inefficiency. Training programs improved, but focused on overcoming inadequate university education rather than judicial procedure and advanced professional development. While representing a marked improvement in procedures, the new criminal and sentencing codes entail a massive reeducation effort for the judicial sector. Impunity for those who are politically, economically, or institutionally well-connected continued, although there was some progress in addressing this historic problem. The continued systemic weaknesses in the criminal justice system contribute to this impunity. Such impunity might take the form of a reluctance on the part of authorities to pursue aggressively and to conclusion allegations involving acts of violence or other major crimes. There is a clear perception among the public that those who are well connected, especially the rich and powerful, often have impunity with respect to the country's civil and criminal laws. Public suspicion that special groups receive special treatment under the law clearly diminishes confidence in the justice system, although during the year, the Government investigated prominent citizens involved in suspected criminal activity, including current and former government officials, political leaders (across the political spectrum), diplomats, and businesspeople. However, there were no convictions, nor did the authorities make serious progress in prosecuting these individuals. The authorities also had little success in addressing general criminal impunity. The implementation of the judicial reforms created confusion and uncertainty among police, prosecutors, public defenders, and the courts. Inadequate police coverage (due to limited resources and lack of sufficient personnel) and intimidation (especially by gangs) of victims and witnesses made it difficult to identify, arrest, and prosecute criminals, diminishing public confidence in the justice system. There were no reports of political prisoners.

f. Arbitrary Interference With Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The Constitution requires the police to have the resident's consent, a warrant, or a reasonable belief that a crime is under way or is about to be committed, before entering a private dwelling. Government authorities generally respected these rights in practice.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of the press, and the Government respects this right in practice. There are 4 daily newspapers, 10 television stations, approximately 150 licensed radio stations, and 2 major cable television systems. Print and broadcast journalists from all major media outlets regularly and freely criticize the Government and report opposition views. Opposition figures are interviewed routinely on television and radio. According to major media associations, the Government did not use direct or indirect means to control the media. There were no instances of censorship of books, other publications, films, or plays. A provision in the new Criminal Code allows judges to close court proceedings if public exposure could prejudice the case. The media and the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) charged that the provision abridged press freedom, and that courts were using this authority in cases that did not merit the exclusion of the press. Several legislative deputies argued that the misuse of the provision could lead to impunity and corruption by limiting the "watchdog" role of the media. In August 1997, Lorena Saravia, a news reader employed by a commercial radio station, was shot and killed. In 1997 the IAPA listed this case among examples of violence directed against the media. There still is no concrete evidence linking the murder directly to Saravia's profession and the motives for the murder remained unclear. The case remained under investigation at year's end. In September a captain in the presidential bodyguard was videotaped striking a television reporter who was covering an ad hoc presidential interview. The President apologized the following day and instituted an investigation, which resulted in the dismissal of the guard captain. A former investigative reporter for a major San Salvador newspaper claimed that the newspaper fired her after she reported on police involvement in the 1995 beating death of medical student Adriano Vilanova (see Section 1.a.). She also reported receiving threats on her life that led her to flee the country. The Constitution provides for academic freedom. The Government respects this right in practice, although it was criticized for efforts in 1998 and 1997 to implement minimum standards for operating universities.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for peaceful assembly for any lawful purpose, and the Government respects this right in practice. There is no requirement for permits to hold public meetings, and public demonstrations are common. Demonstrators clashed with police in San Salvador in October (see Section 1.c.). The Constitution provides for freedom of association, and the Government respects this right in practice. In 1997 the Government implemented a 1996 law that charges the Ministry of Interior with registering, regulating, and overseeing the finances of NGO's and non-Catholic religious groups in the country. The law specifically exempts unions, cooperatives, and the Catholic Church, and the Interior Minister stated that it would not affect other churches. Leaders within the NGO community expressed continuing concerns that the law would be used by the Ministry to control certain organizations. Several small, domestic human rights NGO's have reported that they have not been able to register. The law requires the Ministry to respond to applications within 15 days; if the Ministry fails to do so, the law dictates that the NGO receives automatic registration. At year's end, the Supreme Court was considering a constitutional challenge to the NGO registration law brought by a group of NGO's.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respects this right in practice.

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

The Constitution provides for these rights, and the Government respects them in practice. The law does not include specific provisions for granting refugee or asylee status in accordance with the provisions of the 1951 U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol; however, the Government has signed and ratified both instruments. The Government cooperates with the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees. The issue of the provision of first asylum did not arise in 1998 and has not arisen in recent years. There were no reports of the forced return of persons to a country where they feared persecution.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

The Constitution provides citizens with the right to change their government peacefully, and citizens exercise this right in practice through periodic, free, and fair elections held on the basis of universal suffrage. The president and vice president are elected every 5 years. The Constitution bars the president from election to consecutive terms. Voting is by secret ballot. Ten political parties and thousands of candidates, representing the full political spectrum, campaigned freely in the 1997 elections for the national Legislative Assembly and all 262 municipal governments. The Government did not restrict opposition participation. Observers found that the vote was without major flaws and proceeded peacefully with fair access to polls for all. The FMLN÷-the principal opposition party--and its allies won nearly a third of the assembly seats and many of the largest municipalities (including San Salvador, in which an FMLN coalition candidate was elected mayor). The governing ARENA party lost its legislative working majority and important mayoral races. The next two largest opposition legislative parties won significant blocs of seats. There are no laws or overt practices that prevent women or minorities from voting or participating in the political and governmental systems, although both are underrepresented in political offices. Women represented 50.6 percent of the registered voters in the 1997 election, and party campaigns and slates reflected strong attention to this vote. Voters elected 14 women to the 84-seat legislature (representing about 17 percent of the total seats), an increase from the previous Assembly's 9. However, women held fewer positions (2 of 11) on the Assembly's governing board than in the previous legislature. One cabinet minister was a woman. The FMLN chose Maria Marta Valladares (known during the war as Nidia Diaz) as its vice presidential candidate for the 1999 election. Women served on the Supreme Court, as head of the Social Security Institute, and in a substantial number of viceministerial and subministerial positions.

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. Numerous local NGO's operated freely as did various international human rights groups, including migration and other humanitarian and technical assistance groups. International and domestic NGO's were required to register with the Government under the terms of the 1996 NGO registration law (see Section 2.b.). The principal human rights investigative and monitoring body is the Ombudsman for the Defense of Human Rights, elected by the Assembly for a 4-year term. The Peace Accords specifically created the PDDH, which was formally established by a constitutional amendment that defined its role. Although the 1998 budget gave the PDDH a modest increase in funds, its investigative capacity remained limited due to resource constraints. The PDDH has been spread increasingly thin as the organization sought to expand its scope of attention, extend its presence throughout the country, and meet increased public demand. The Assembly's election of a new ombudsman, begun in March, proved to be a drawn-out and politically charged process. Several candidates were unable to secure the constitutionally required two-thirds majority vote, until judge Eduardo Antonio Penate Polanco did so on June 30. However, after the vote and during the 30-day confirmation stage, the FMLN, the Social Christian Unity Party, and many in the NGO community questioned Penate's selection, citing a lack of experience in the human rights field, reports of poor performance as a judge, and charges that defendants in his court were not afforded the right to a speedy trial. The Supreme Court found no substance in these allegations, and the Assembly found no grounds to annul the election. The Assembly confirmed Penate on July 30. Penate's first months in office were difficult, with controversy over his administration and continuing charges from NGO's that he is unqualified.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The Constitution states that all persons are equal before the law and prohibits discrimination based on nationality, race, sex, or religion. In practice, discrimination against women, the disabled, and indigenous people occurs in salaries, in hiring, and in access to credit and education. Violence against homosexuals was a problem. Between April and July, six transvestite prostitutes were murdered and at least three other transvestite prostitutes were shot in the San Salvador metropolitan area. NGO's, the PDDH, and the Catholic Church raised concerns that this might be part of a "social cleansing" campaign against this group in particular and the gay community in general. Both the PNC and the Attorney General's office conducted investigations, which continued at year's end. There was no corroborating evidence that the murders represented an organized campaign against the gay community.


Violence against women, including domestic violence, is a widespread and serious problem. Once a taboo social subject, increasingly it is being recognized publicly and has become a topic for national debate. Government institutions such as the PDDH, the Attorney General's office, the Supreme Court, and the PNC coordinated efforts with NGO's and other organizations to combat violence against women through education, government efforts to increase enforcement of the law, and NGO support programs for victims. The National Secretariat for the Family maintains a hot line for victims to report domestic abuse. Statistics from the Salvadoran Institute for the Development of Women (ISDEMU) show a growing trend of reported domestic violence cases (principally against women) over the past few years; in 1998, however, the monthly average of cases received from January through November was slightly below the monthly average for calendar year 1997. ISDEMU received 3,327 cases of domestic violence from January through November of 1998; 3,845 cases in 1997; 2,172 cases in 1996; and 1,753 cases in 1995. The Institute of Legal Medicine, using different criteria, recorded a major increase. In 1997 it reported 791 cases of intrafamily violence directed against women over the age of 15, an average of 66 cases per month. From January through November, it received 1047 cases, an average of 95 cases per month. Incidents of domestic violence and rape continued to be underreported for several reasons: Societal and cultural pressures against the victim; a fear of reprisal; poor handling of victims by the authorities; fear of publicity; and the belief that cases are unlikely to be resolved. The PDDH noted that hundreds of domestic abuse victims who underwent psychotherapy refused to report their cases formally. ISDEMU received 290 cases of "sexual aggression" from January through November of 1998 compared with 479 cases in 1997; 299 cases in 1996; and 258 cases in 1995. The Institute of Legal Medicine, using different criteria, recorded a moderate reduction in sexual crime. From January through November, it reported 226 cases of sexual crime against women over the age of 15, an average of 28 cases a month. In 1997 it reported 402 cases, a monthly average of 34. Under the new Criminal Procedures Code (implemented in April), victim testimony is admissible evidence. The former law did not allow victims to testify, and since the rape victim is often the only witness, this resulted in little chance for conviction in rape cases. In 1996 the Assembly repealed an old law that exonerated a rapist if he offered to marry the victim and she accepted. The Constitution grants women and men the same legal rights, but women suffer discrimination. The 1994 Family Legal Code amended laws that discriminated against women, especially affecting the large number of women in common-law marriages. The law also established special courts to resolve family disputes. Several NGO's are engaged in promoting women's rights and have conducted several rights awareness campaigns. Women suffered from cultural and societal discrimination resulting in significantly reduced economic opportunities. Priority generally is given to male children for schooling, to men for available jobs and promotions, and to sons for inheritances. Of the economically active female population, 65 percent worked in the informal economy. Women are not accorded equal respect or stature in traditional male-dominated areas such as agriculture, business, government and politics. While there is no definitive evidence available, it is widely believed that women often were paid less than men for equal work. The one sector in which there is an exception to this practice is in the export processing zones and in-bond assembly plants, the largest source of new jobs, where women made up 90 percent of the work force (see Section 6.b.). However, even in this sector, men hold the great majority of management jobs. Training for women generally was confined to low-wage occupational areas where women already hold most positions, such as teaching, nursing, home industries, and small businesses.


The Government focus on children's rights and welfare was concentrated more toward reducing poverty and promoting family stability through economic growth than in direct expenditure on children's programs. Considerable publicity and the personal campaign of the First Lady focused attention on this problem. The law requires education through the ninth grade. Although there was progress in increasing the availability and quality of schooling throughout the country, rural areas still fell short of providing a ninth grade education to all potential students. A 1997 study by the Business Foundation for Educational Development indicated that 17 percent of urban children and 34 percent of rural youth were not attending classes. The Government worked closely through state institutions and with the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) to promote protection and general awareness of children's rights. However, children continued to fall victim to physical and sexual abuse, abandonment, exploitation, and neglect. The Salvadoran Institute for the Protection of Children (ISPM), an autonomous entity, is responsible for protecting and promoting children's rights. The ISPM estimated that it averaged 2,600 to 2,700 children in its shelters, some abandoned and others victims of mistreatment. During the year, it received 1304 cases of physical mistreatment, 251 of negligence, and 122 of abandonment. Using different criteria, the ISDEMU reported a significant increase in child abuse. ISDEMU recorded 5,933 cases of "abuse of a minor" for January through November; 4,334 cases for 1997; 596 cases for 1996; and 449 cases for 1995. The significant increase between 1996 and 1997 reflects increased reporting, partly the result of educational efforts by the Government and NGO's. A 1997 study by the NGO network Procipotes estimated that 1,000 children (up to age 16) were living on their own in the streets, 42 percent of whom were under the age of 5. Substance abuse (glue and paint sniffing) was an endemic problem among urban street children. In September the Assembly passed a law regulating the sale of glue and other substances used as street drugs, prohibiting their sale to minors. There are allegations from children's rights advocates that street children suffer from police brutality. The PNC denies these charges and has incorporated PDDH human rights training for police units that deal with juveniles. The PDDH also has called for the creation of drug treatment centers for minors. The Institute of Legal Medicine recorded a small increase in reports of sexual abuse of children under 15 years of age, with 308 cases for January through July, an average of 44 per month. This compared with 494 cases for 1997 (17.2 percent with male victims and 82.8 percent female victims), an average of 41 per month. The ISPM reported that it received 98 cases of sexual abuse in 1998, an average of 8 per month. According to the PDDH, over 85 percent of all abuse occurs in schools and at home, and only a small percentage of these cases were reported to the authorities. The PDDH estimated that 270,000 minors work, mostly as street vendors (see Section 6.d.). Besides losing their opportunity for an education, these children often fell victim to sexual abuse and were exploited as prostitutes. The PDDH, NGO's, and the media have conducted for 2 years a publicity and investigative campaign to highlight the plight of children. A November study on child prostitution by the Commission on the Family, the Woman and the Child of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights concluded that child prostitution in the country was promoted by poverty, lack of a strong nuclear family, discrimination against women, and organized crime. A separate NGO study in November on the same issue indicated that at least 44 percent of the estimated 1,300 prostitutes in 3 major red light districts of San Salvador were between the ages of 13 and 18. The NGO report pointed to poverty and familial problems as the two major factors pushing children and adolescents into prostitution. Infant malnutrition continued to be a problem. A 1998 World Food Program study found that 12 percent of children under 5 years of age suffered from grave malnutrition, with an additional 38 percent experiencing less severe malnutrition. The Ministry of Health listed malnutrition as one of the 10 principal causes of infant mortality in the country. The Government has a national plan for infants designed to increase access to potable water, iodized salt, and vitamins, and to encourage breast feeding, but all of these remain problem areas, especially among the rural poor.

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. There are no laws mandating provision of access to public or private buildings for the disabled. The Government has not enforced the 1984 law requiring employers with over 50 workers (private companies, state-owned enterprises, and government offices) to have "persons with physical limitations" represent a minimum of 2 percent of their work force. Access by the disabled to basic education was limited due to lack of facilities and appropriate transportation. There was no provision of state services for the physically disabled. Only a few of the Government's community-based health promoters have been trained to treat the disabled, and they rarely provided such service, tending rather to focus on life-threatening conditions and preventive care for mothers and children. The Ministry of Health estimated that some form of disability afflicts 10 percent of the population. In 1997 the National Council of Disabled People estimated that there were 500,000 persons with disabilities, of whom 12,500 had disabilities directly attributable to the civil war. Other factors contributing to the large number of disabled persons were lack of prenatal care, misuse of pesticides in food production, malnutrition, auto accidents, and criminal violence. There were few organizations dedicated to protecting and promoting the rights of the disabled. Foreign funds for badly needed rehabilitation services channeled through the Telethon Foundation Pro-Rehabilitation, a local private voluntary organization, helped address numerous rehabilitation issues and provided alternatives for the education and rehabilitation of the disabled population. A semiautonomous institute, the Salvadoran Rehabilitation Institute for the Disabled (ISRI), also provided assistance to the disabled. The ISRI offered medical treatment, counseling, special education programs, and professional training courses. Founded in 1957, the ISRI has 10 centers throughout the country and received assistance from the Government and national and international private and nongovernmental organizations. Indigenous People El Salvador is an ethnically homogeneous country, although a very small segment of the population still claims indigenous status. The Constitution makes no specific provisions for the rights of indigenous people. Early in the century, facing active repression, most indigenous people adopted local customs and successfully assimilated into the general population, from which they are generally indistinguishable. There are a few very small communities whose members still wear traditional dress and maintain traditional customs to a recognizable degree without repression or interference. These small indigenous groups exist in the poorest parts of the rural countryside where employment opportunities are few and domestic violence is a problem. Indigenous people reportedly earned less than other agricultural laborers, and indigenous women in particular had little access to educational and work opportunities. As with the poor rural sector in general, access to land was a growing problem confronting indigenous people. Few possessed titles to land, and bank loans and other forms of credit were extremely limited. There are some small, active indigenous associations. The largest and best known is the National Association of Indigenous Salvadorans (ANIS). In July a long-running internal political fight and land dispute caused a major split in ANIS. One faction held a direct election that replaced long-time leader Adrian Esquino Lisco, who was accused of corruption and lying. Esquino refused to step down, claiming that his leadership position was perpetual. In September the authorities arrested Esquino on civil charges of illegally occupying ANIS property after his removal as leader and brought a criminal charge of fraud against him regarding his administration of ANIS. In November Esquino was exonerated of the criminal charge of fraud. In the last few years, Esquino had charged that the Government was targeting the indigenous community, and especially its leaders, with legal harassment and threats. There has been little evidence to support these allegations, and the new ANIS leadership does not endorse them.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The Constitution prohibits the Government from using nationality, race, sex, creed, or political philosophy as a means to prevent workers or employers from organizing themselves into unions or associations. In practice, the Government generally has respected this right. However, the Government, as an employer as well as the enforcer of the right of association, failed to provide protection or remedy for a number of labor leaders fired in the process of privatizing the state-owned telephone company. At the end of 1997, the Government began the privatization of the state-owned telephone company Antel. Antel was replaced by CTE, a fully state-owned private sector company, which was to act as a legal vehicle for the sale of the telephone company. Labor leaders representing employees of the privatized telephone company charged that the Government, then the sole owner of CTE, fired 72 labor leaders to prevent unionization of the company, and that the Ministry of Labor stalled subsequent efforts to unionize in order to allow CTE to be auctioned off union-free. The final sale took place in July, culminating the privatization process. The initial union application, presented on January 2, the first workday after the creation of CTE, was not received by the Ministry of Labor until January 5, as the Government was officially on holiday. In February the Labor Ministry denied union recognition, stating that several of the applicants were not employees of CTE, being part of the group of 72 labor leaders fired on January 2 for failure to show up for work (they had focused instead full-time on union business). The fired employees took the action to the Labor Court, which ruled that the four labor organizations involved had lost their legal status as well as job protection for their labor leaders when Antel was dissolved. The court determined that the firings were legal and that the law stipulated that only current, active employees may form unions. The same group of employees made subsequent union applications in March and May, both of which were denied based principally on the Labor Ministry's interpretation of an unclear section of the Labor Code that requires organizers to wait 6 months before reapplying for union status after a denial. The union asserted that different names allowed for a new, immediate application; the Labor Ministry argued that the entire group had to wait 6 months. The Government successfully sold CTE to a foreign firm, and in October the foreign-owned CTE fired 61 employees. Those fired included at least 36 whose names had appeared on the union applications submitted earlier in the year, and CTE labor leaders claimed that an additional 19 were known union sympathizers or supporters. Union leaders maintained that CTE fired these workers solely because of their efforts to organize, and that this was a continuation of the earlier campaign to destroy independent unionism in the company. CTE denied the charges, justifying the action as downsizing redundant employees, and the Labor Ministry maintained that the action was consistent with the law. Subsequently, the union leaders filed formal complaints with CTE, the Ministry of Labor, and the PDDH charging that the worker dismissals violated freedom of association and the right to form a labor union. Military personnel, police, and government workers may not form unions (but are allowed professional and employee organizations) and may not strike. The 1994 Labor Code streamlined the process required to form a union in the private sector, extending union rights to agricultural, independent, and small-business workers, and extending the right to strike to union federations. The Labor Code prohibits partisan political activity by unions. The unions routinely ignored this prohibition, but the Government took no punitive action against them. There is a small organized labor sector with approximately 150 active unions, public employee associations, and peasant organizations, representing over 300,000 citizens, approximately 20 percent of the total work force. By law, only private sector workers have the right to form unions and strike; some employees of autonomous public agencies may form unions if they do not deal with essential services. Public employees may form employee organizations, but are prohibited from striking. In fact, some of the most powerful labor groups are public employee associations. These public sector labor groups take on the same responsibilities as unions--including calling technically illegal strikes and collective bargaining. The Government negotiated with public employee associations and generally treated strikes as legitimate, although the Labor Code provides for mandatory arbitration of public sector disputes. However, during a series of strikes by the union of social security doctors from January through May, labor courts on three occasions found that the strikes violated the legal bar against work stoppages by government workers in essential services. Just prior to a settlement with the union in May, the Government fired some doctors and threatened to fire all who participated in the most recent illegal strike. However, as part of the settlement, the Government rehired the fired doctors. The law prohibits antiunion actions before a union is legally registered and provides specific job protection to workers whose names appear on a union application. The Labor Code forbids foreigners from holding positions in unions. Unions and other labor organizations freely affiliated with international labor organizations.

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 to certain categories of workers in autonomous government agencies, such as utilities (which were undergoing privatization) and the port authority. However, both private sector unions (by law) and public sector employee associations (in practice) used collective bargaining. The Ministry of Labor oversees implementation of collective bargaining agreements and acts as a conciliator in labor disputes in the private sector and in autonomous government institutions. In practice, ministers and the heads of autonomous government institutions often negotiate with labor organizations directly, relying on the Labor Ministry only for such functions as officially certifying unions. The Ministry often seeks to conciliate labor disputes through informal channels rather than attempt to enforce regulations strictly, which has led to charges that the Ministry is biased against labor. Corruption continued to affect labor inspectors and courts, but improvements in training and an increase in pay in 1997 for Ministry of Labor employees have begun to address this problem. 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 may not be fired, suspended for disciplinary reasons, removed, or demoted except for legal cause. Employers generally observed this provision in practice, but credible reports continued of employers using illegal pressure, including dismissal of labor activists, to discourage organizing. For example, union leaders charged that the privatized telephone company CTE fired a number of labor leaders to prevent unionization (see Section 6.a.) The law requires employers to rehire employees fired for any type of union activity, and the Labor Ministry has increased efforts to enforce this requirement. In many cases, employees chose to take a cash payment in lieu of returning to work. There are six export processing zones (EPZ's) and several in-bond plants operating outside of these zones. The Labor Code applies in the EPZ's; there are no special EPZ labor regulations. During the last few years, most EPZ companies and a large portion of the in-bond plants have accepted the provisions of voluntary codes of conduct from their parent corporations or foreign purchasers. These codes included worker rights protection clauses. In 1997 the apparel industry association announced implementation of an industrywide code of conduct with worker rights protection. The great majority of companies in the EPZ's provided much better salaries and working conditions than those offered elsewhere in the private sector (see Section 6.e.). However, there were credible reports that some factories dismissed union organizers, and only one EPZ company was unionized, with two active plant unions. In November the PDDH released a detailed analysis of the maquila sector (covering both EPZ and non-EPZ in-bond plants) that indicated that 20.8 percent of the sector's workers "trusted" unions while 55.3 percent "did not trust" unions. Credible accusations persisted that some factories abused their workers and that some women were not hired because they were pregnant. According to the PDDH report on maquilas, 37.7 percent of the workers surveyed stated that they had been mistreated, 37.7 percent had been threatened, 3.2 percent had been hit in some fashion, 3.5 percent had been sexually harassed by bosses, and 3 percent had been sexually harassed by other workers. Although the Labor Ministry improved its efforts to increase inspection and follow up on such complaints, it still had insufficient resources to cover all the EPZ's, much less the much larger national private sector. Although under 1996 legislation, the Government authorized the Ministry of Economy to withdraw free zone privileges from companies that violated labor regulations, there have been no instances in which this has been threatened publicly. There is also a tripartite (government, business, and labor) commission, established in 1996, to help resolve conflicts in EPZ and other bonded companies.

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, and the Government generally enforces this provision. There were credible complaints of forced overtime in the maquila sector. While not dealing directly with the issue, the PDDH report on the maquila sector indicated that 7.8 percent of workers in its survey sample were not paid legally required extra pay for working beyond the normal 44 hour work week, a strong indication of forced overtime. The survey also found that 50.2 percent of maquila workers did not work any overtime and 28.7 percent averaged 5 hours or less overtime a week (roughly 10 percent of regular time). Although not specifically prohibited by law, forced and bonded labor by children are covered by the general prohibition, and there were no reports of its use in the formal sector. However, there was strong evidence that minors have been forced into prostitution (see Section 5).

d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for Employment

The Constitution prohibits the employment of children under the age of 14. Minors, age 14 or older, may receive special Labor Ministry permission to work, but only where such employment is absolutely indispensable to the sustenance of the minor and his or her family. This is most often the case with children of peasant families who traditionally work during planting and harvesting seasons. Those legal workers under the age of 18 have special additional rules governing conditions of work (see Section 6.e.). Orphans and children from poor families frequently work for their own or family survival as street vendors and general laborers in small businesses, mostly in the informal sector. Children in these circumstances often do not complete compulsory schooling through the ninth grade (up to the age of 14) as the law requires. In November, a joint report of the ISPM and UNICEF, based on nationwide data collected in 1996, indicated that of the 1.8 million children between 5 and 17 years of age, roughly 6.6 percent, or 118,800, worked without attending school, and 36,200 of these were under the age of 14. An additional 5.8 percent, or 104,400, worked but also attended school. Of these, 55,300 were under the age of 14. The primary reason for working for over 45 percent of each group was familial economic survival. However, the average income for child workers was less than half of the minimum wage and represented 18.7 percent of average family income. The second most important reason for working for 10 percent of the non-student child workers and nearly 34 percent of the child workers attending school was to learn a trade. Child labor is not found in the industrial sector and has disappeared in the EPZ's. The PDDH report on the maquila industry as a whole (both EPZ and non-EPZ companies) found no workers under the age of 17 and only one-half of one percent who were 17 (a legal working age, with some restrictions). The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing child labor laws and made an effort to do so. However, scarce resources and the difficulty of monitoring the large informal sector limited its effectiveness outside the urban formal sector. In 1997 the Government helped establish the National Committee for the Eradication of Child Labor (CNETI). The CNETI is a coordinating body with government, NGO, and private sector (labor and business) representatives that works to combat child labor. During the year, it began coordinating some educational programs and projects in this area. The Labor Code does not specifically prohibit forced and bonded labor of children, but they are covered by its general prohibition; there were reports that minors were forced into prostitution.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage is set by a tripartite (government, labor, business) committee. Effective May 1, the minimum daily wage was $4.81 (42.00 colones) for commercial, industrial, and service employees; $3.66 (31.20 colones) plus food allowance for coffee plantation workers; $2.61 (22.80 colones) plus food allowance for sugar and cotton plantation workers; and $2.47 (21.60 colones) plus food allowance for all other agroindustrial workers. By law, a full-time minimum wage employee is paid a full 7 days (56 hours) for the 44-hour normal workweek and receives an average of 1 month's wage a year in required bonuses plus 2 weeks of paid vacation. There were continuing allegations that the maquila sector underpaid workers. The PDDH report on maquilas found that 42.3 percent of the maquila workers surveyed received the minimum wage, 25.1 percent earned an amount moderately above the minimum wage, and 10 percent earned significantly more than the minimum wage. Of the 23.3 percent of the workers earning less than the minimum wage, many were apprentices or workers in training, and under the law were not guaranteed the minimum wage. The minimum wage with benefits does not provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family. 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 youths between 14 and 18 years of age and 8 hours for adults, and it mandates premium pay for longer hours. The Labor Code sets a maximum normal workweek of 36 hours for youths and 44 hours for adults. It requires bonus pay for overtime and limits the workweek to no more than 6 days for all workers. 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. These laws prohibit the employment of persons under 18 years of age, and of all women, in occupations considered hazardous. Nevertheless, health and safety regulations are outdated, and enforcement, while improved, is inadequate. The Ministry of Labor attempts to enforce the applicable regulations and has devoted resources to improving the professional training of its staff and inspectors. Increasingly, its investigations lead to fines or other findings favoring workers. The Ministry has restricted powers and only limited, but growing, resources to enforce compliance. The maquila sector continues to be subject to charges that it maintains "sweatshop" conditions in its factories. The PDDH study found that 70 to 80 percent of the workers surveyed were satisfied with bathrooms, drinking water, and eating facilities but that only 53 percent were satisfied with the ventilation, i.e., they indicated problems with dust and heat. Despite overall good grades for the sector, the report still found that some 20 to 25 percent of workers had inadequate or no bathrooms, drinking water, or eating facilities and 47 percent were dissatisfied with ventilation. The serious problems with working conditions that exist were concentrated in smaller, non-EPZ plants. In general, the larger plants (which employ the majority of maquila workers) have adequate to excellent working conditions. Some of the largest companies have dust control, air conditioning, on-plant medical facilities, and enforced safety regimes. Workers can remove themselves from dangerous work situations without jeopardizing their employment only in situations where they can present a medical certificate issued by a doctor or the social security institute indicating that their health is at risk while using certain equipment or substances.

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