A strong rebuke for El Salvador on human rights
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, had tough words for El Salvador in his concluding statement this week, highlighting many areas where the country falls short of international human rights standards. Here is a selection of his comments.
On extra-judicial killings:
There are also alarming reports of extrajudicial killings and the return of death squads. No matter how serious the human rights violations committed by violent gangs, all perpetrators of violence need to be held fully accountable for their actions through judicial mechanisms. Victims on all sides deserve justice.
On prison conditions:
The Extraordinary Security Measures... have placed thousands of people in prolonged and isolated detention under truly inhumane conditions, and with prolonged suspension of family visits. The vulnerability of these inmates is highlighted by an outbreak of tuberculosis, affecting more than a thousand inmates, with several hundred also said to be suffering from malnutrition. I called on the President to end the extraordinary measures and grant international independent organisations, including my Office, access to these detention centres.
On internal displacement:
I heard how the high levels of violence have seriously affected people’s lives, and I noted how such violence is increasing forced displacement within El Salvador and migration. To fully address this growing problem, the Government needs to recognise that it is happening.
On violence against women:
El Salvador has the awful distinction of having the highest rate of gender-based killings of women and girls in Central America – a region where femicide is already regrettably high, as is impunity for these crimes.
On the country's extreme abortion law:
I am appalled that as a result of El Salvador’s absolute prohibition on abortion, women are being punished for apparent miscarriages and other obstetric emergencies, accused and convicted of having induced termination of pregnancy.
On Thursday morning, I visited the Ilopango detention centre for women on the outskirts of San Salvador and had the privilege to speak to women who were convicted of “aggravated homicide” in connection with obstetric emergencies and as a result are serving 30 years in prison. I have rarely been as moved as I was by their stories and the cruelty they have endured. It only seems to be women from poor and humble backgrounds who are jailed, a telling feature of the injustice suffered.On impunity for human rights abuses during the civil war:
I call upon El Salvador to launch a moratorium on the application of article 133 of the Penal Code, and review all cases where women have been detained for abortion-related offences, with the aim of ensuring compliance with due process and fair trial standards. Should it be found their cases were not compliant, I appeal for the immediate release of these women. To establish compliance, my Office has proposed that such a review could be established by presidential decree and be carried out by an expert executive committee composed of national and international members. I asked the Government to act on this proposal and indicated the readiness of my Office to assist. This is in line with the recommendations by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.
But despite the valiant efforts of civil society and victims’ groups, only three out of more than 100 criminal complaints brought over the years have so far been reopened. Left uninvestigated and unpunished, the crimes of the past fuel patterns of violence that poison the present and can undermine the future of a society. The past and the present are a continuum, I was told in my meeting with NGOs. The victims of the past are suffering still.On attacks on human rights advocates and journalists:
I was struck by the dedication and courage of human rights defenders and journalists in El Salvador, who face threats, intimidation and smear campaigns. I urge the authorities to investigate these attacks and to establish effective means of ensuring their protection.On LGBTI violence:
Similar action is needed to tackle the high rate of impunity for hate crimes against LGBTI persons, especially transgender women. As one civil society representative said: “There is no public policy for us, just institutional violence.”