El Salvador is a constitutional multiparty republic. Municipal and legislative elections held in 2015 were generally free and fair, although results were delayed due to slow transmission, tabulation, and vote count dissemination. Free and fair presidential elections took place in 2014.
Civilian authorities failed at times to maintain effective control over security forces.
The most significant human rights issues included alleged unlawful killings of suspected gang members and others by security forces; forced disappearances by military personnel, which the government prosecuted; torture by security forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; lack of government respect for judicial impartiality and independence; widespread government corruption; gang-member violence against women and girls as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex individuals; and children engaged in the worst forms of child labor.
Impunity persisted despite government steps to dismiss and prosecute some officials in the security forces, the executive branch, and the justice system who committed abuses.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were reports alleging that members of the armed forces have been involved in unlawful disappearances. In July 2016 the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court and the criminal court in the municipality of Armenia, in the department of Sonsonate, ruled there was sufficient evidence to proceed with the case in which three men went missing after six soldiers arrested them in 2014 in Armenia. In November 2016, the trial chamber acquitted the defendants due to a lack of evidence that the accused forced or restrained the victims. Immediately after the acquittal, the PDDH began an investigation into the acquittal. On January 16, following an appeal by the NGOs Legal Studies Foundation and the Salvadoran Association for Human Rights, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court held that the Armenia case amounted to forced disappearance, and the PNC’s Central Investigations Division took ownership of the case. On April 20, following pressure from civil society, the Attorney General’s Office reopened the case against the six soldiers. On May 15, the Sonsonate trial court convicted five soldiers of forced disappearance and sentenced them to eight years’ imprisonment. Defense attorneys for the convicted soldiers filed an appeal with the Appellate Court for the Western District. On August 15, the Supreme Court ordered the military to provide its report on the civilian deaths to the Attorney General’s Office, but as of October 30, it had not been sent.
On September 27, President Sanchez Ceren launched the National Commission for the Search of Adults Disappeared in the Context of the Armed Conflict to find persons who were disappeared during the civil war and reunite them with their families or return their remains. The commission is to be headed by three commissioners and housed in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Two of the commissioners are to be appointed by civil society and one by the president. The commission’s budget will not fall under the budget of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and it has not been earmarked from another part of the national budget. The ministry estimated that for its first year, the commission requires a budget of $250,000, which the commissioners will be responsible for raising.
As of August 30, the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Association for the Search for Missing Children (Pro-Busqueda) received 10 new complaints regarding children who disappeared during the 1980-92 civil war. Pro-Busqueda also reported that it was investigating 979 open cases, had solved 435 cases, and determined that, in 17 percent of solved cases, the child had died. According to Pro-Busqueda, between 20,000 to 30,000 children were adopted during the civil war, many of whom were forcibly disappeared.
As of August, according to the Office of the Inspector General of the Ministry of Public Security and Justice, one complaint of forced disappearance was filed against the PNC. As of September 7, the attorney general had opened investigations into 12 instances of forced disappearance during the 1980-92 civil war.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government generally respected these rights, although in many areas the government could not provide freedom of movement due to criminal gang activity.
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. The government, however, could not facilitate services in many of the gang-controlled neighborhoods most in need.
In-country Movement: The major gangs controlled their own territory. Gang members did not allow persons living in another gang’s controlled area to enter their territory, even when travelling via public transportation. Gangs forced persons to present identification cards (containing their addresses) to determine their residence. If gang members discovered that a person lived in a rival gang’s territory, that person risked being killed, beaten, or not allowed to enter the territory. Bus companies paid extortion fees to operate within gang territories, often paying numerous fees for the different areas in which they operated. The extortion costs were passed on to paying customers.
INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)
There were no official government figures on IDPs. A December 2016 IUDOP poll reported that 5 percent of citizens had changed their place of residence due to crime, with 66 percent changing their place of residence once, 31 percent from two to four times, and 3.2 percent five or more times. According to the poll, 40.3 percent stated they might migrate to another country in the following year. The percentage of persons expressing a desire to migrate abroad was the highest in 10 years. The poll also reported that 17.2 percent of individuals had a family member forced to migrate to another country due to threats or to some violent event in 2016. UNHCR estimated there were 280,000 internally displaced persons. UNHCR reported the causes of internal displacement included abuse, extortion, discrimination, and threats.
The NGO International Rescue Committee estimated that the number of IDPs totaled approximately 324,000, or 5.2 percent of the country’s population. On April 4, however, a UNHCR representative reported that due to violence and insecurity, statistics for IDPs may not be reliable.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, including an established system for providing protection to refugees. As of August 25, the government had not granted refugee status to anyone. As of August, four petitions had been submitted, with one resulting in denial and three still under consideration.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively. The NGO Social Initiative for Democracy stated that officials, particularly in the judicial system, often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.
Corruption: Autonomous government institutions initiated several investigations into corruption. As of August 23, the Probity Section of the Supreme Court was investigating 517 current and former public officials for evidence of illicit enrichment and submitted 15 cases to the Attorney General’s Office for possible criminal indictment. The increase from 72 investigations initiated in 2016 was due in part to a staffing surge. As of August 30, the Attorney General’s Office reported that investigations were in progress in 130 cases related to corruption, with 11 convictions during the year.
As of August 23, the Ethics Tribunal reported that it had received 375 complaints against 476 public officials. The tribunal sanctioned 33 public officials and forwarded six cases to the attorney general.
On June 27, Attorney General Douglas Melendez confirmed that he was conducting an investigation into FMLN leader and Vice Minister for Investment and Funding for Development Jose Luis Merino. Merino’s position as vice minister granted him immunity from prosecution.
On April 19, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs appointed Sigfrido Reyes as an ambassador, at the recommendation of the president, while he retained his position as president of the export promotion agency (PROESA). Reyes was under investigation for illicit enrichment, and the ambassadorial appointment provided Reyes, a senior FMLN politician, with legal immunity.
On June 6, the Attorney General’s Office began an asset forfeiture process against nine properties (valued at $627,000) of late former president Francisco Flores.
On February 4, the attorney general indicted 17 individuals in the corruption case against former president Antonio Saca (2004-09). A court froze additional assets belonging to suspects in the Saca case, including 50 properties and 60 vehicles. On August 21, the attorney general further charged Saca with bribery.
On November 28, former president Mauricio Funes and his son, Diego Funes Canas, were found guilty of illicit enrichment. Funes was ordered to pay restitution and was found ineligible to hold public office for a 10-year period. Funes and his children were granted political asylum in Nicaragua in September 2016.
On January 13, the First Criminal Chamber of El Salvador revoked bail for former attorney general Luis Martinez, businessman Enrique Rais, and five other suspects facing trial on corruption-related charges including fraud and bribery. On October 4, Luis Martinez was indicted on additional charges of coverup and procedural fraud. Police received an order to recapture Enrique Rais and five associates, all of whom disappeared after a court hearing on January 9.
Financial Disclosure: The illicit enrichment law requires appointed and elected officials to declare their assets to the Probity Section of the Supreme Court. The declarations are not available to the public unless requested by petition, and the law establishes fines for noncompliance that range from $11 to $571. Citizens groups petitioned the Probity Section to disclose 18 assets statements of public officers. The Probity Section had not complied due to a lack of response from banks. The full Supreme Court gave the Probity Section until August 29 to submit the requested information; as of November, the Probity Section had not submitted the information and repeated extension requests had been granted. In May 2016 the Supreme Court established three criteria for selecting investigable cases: the age of the case (i.e., proximity to the statute of limitations), the relevance of the position, and the seriousness and notoriety of the alleged illicit enrichment.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, and the criminal code’s definition of rape may apply to spousal rape, at the judge’s discretion. The law requires the Attorney General’s Office to prosecute rape cases whether or not the victim presses charges, and the law does not permit the victim to withdraw the criminal charge. The penalty for rape is generally imprisonment for six to 10 years. Laws against rape were not effectively enforced.
The law prohibits domestic violence and generally provides for sentences ranging from one to three years in prison, although some forms of domestic violence carry higher penalties. The law also permits restraining orders against offenders. Laws against domestic violence remained poorly enforced, and violence against women, including domestic violence, remained a widespread and serious problem.
As of October the Office of the Inspector General reported five cases of alleged rape by police officers and six cases of sexual assault.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment and provides imprisonment of up to five years if the victim is an adult and up to eight years if the victim is a minor. Courts may impose fines in addition to a prison term in cases where the perpetrator maintains a position of trust or authority over the victim. The law also mandates that employers take measures against sexual harassment, violence against women, and other workplace harassment. The law requires employers to create and implement preventive programs to address violence against women, sexual abuse, and other psychosocial risks. The government, however, did not enforce sexual harassment laws effectively.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: .
Discrimination: The constitution grants women and men the same legal rights, but women did not enjoy equal treatment. The law establishes sentences of one to three years in prison for public officials who deny a person’s civil rights based on gender and six months to two years for employers who discriminate against women in the workplace, but employees generally did not report such violations due to fear of employer reprisals.
While the law prohibits discrimination based on gender, women suffered from cultural, economic, and societal discrimination. The law requires equal pay for equal work, but according to the 2016 World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report, the average wage paid to women for comparable work was 54 percent, down from 60 percent in 2015, of the compensation paid to men.
Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship by birth within the country and from their parents. The law requires parents to register a child within 15 days of birth or pay a $2.85 fine. Failure to register resulted in denial of school enrollment.
Education: Education is free, universal, compulsory through the ninth grade, and nominally free through high school. Rural areas, however, frequently did not provide required education to all eligible students due to a lack of resources and because rural parents often withdrew their children from school by the sixth grade, requiring them to work.
Child Abuse: Child abuse remained a serious and widespread problem. For additional information, see Appendix C.
Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18. On August 17, legislators approved a ban on child marriage to prevent child abusers from using legal technicalities to avoid imprisonment.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: Child sex trafficking is prohibited by law. On March 29, the Legislative Assembly approved a reform to the penal code to increase prison sentences for convicted traffickers from four to eight years, to six to 10 years.
The minimum age for consensual sex is 18. The law classifies statutory rape as sexual relations with anyone under the age of 18 and includes penalties of four to 13 years’ imprisonment for violations.
The law prohibits paying anyone under the age of 18 for sexual services. The law prohibits participating in, facilitating, or purchasing materials containing child pornography and provides for prison sentences of up to 16 years for violations. Despite these provisions, sexual exploitation of children remained a problem.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.
The Jewish community totaled approximately 150 persons. There were no known reports of anti-Semitic acts.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The National Council for Comprehensive Attention to Persons with Disability (CONAIPD), composed of representatives from multiple government entities, is the governmental agency responsible for protecting disability rights, but lacks enforcement power. According to CONAIPD, the government did not allocate sufficient resources to enforce prohibitions against discrimination effectively, particularly in education, employment, and transportation. The government did not effectively enforce legal requirements for access to buildings, information, and communications for persons with disabilities. Few access ramps or provisions for the mobility of persons with disabilities existed.
According to CONAIPD, there is no mechanism to verify compliance with the law requiring businesses and nongovernment agencies to hire one person with disabilities for every 25 hires. CONAIPD reported employers frequently fired persons who acquired disabilities and would not consider persons with disabilities for work for which they qualified. Further, some academic institutions would not accept children with disabilities due to a lack of facilities and resources. No formal system existed for filing a discrimination complaint involving a disability with the government. The Ministry of Labor’s General Directorate for Labor Inspection imposed 403 fines on businesses between 2014 and 2017 for violations of the labor law that requires the hiring of persons with disabilities.
According to the 2007 census, the most recent for which this data was available, 0.4 percent of citizens identified as indigenous. A 2014 constitutional amendment recognizes the rights of indigenous people, but no laws provide indigenous people rights to share in revenue from exploitation of natural resources on historically indigenous lands. The government did not demarcate any lands as belonging to indigenous communities. Because few possessed title to land, opportunities for bank loans and other forms of credit remained extremely limited.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The law prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. On November 13, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal announced new guidelines to protect LGBTI persons from discrimination at election polls. Under the guidelines, individuals cannot be denied the right to vote because the photo on their identification card does not match their physical appearance or gender expression.
On August 30, the attorney general filed charges against eight Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang members for the aggravated homicides of three transgender persons. The in-depth police investigation by a specialized unit produced credible evidence that the victims had been involved in gang-related extortion activities. On February 18, two of the victims arrived at a party in San Luis Talpa, La Paz Department, when perpetrators fired shots from a vehicle. Authorities reported that the gangs killed a third transgender victim on February 21 in Cuyultitan, in La Paz, in retaliation for her participation in the killings of the first two victims. In March the PNC assigned its High Visibility Crimes Unit to investigate the homicides of the three transgender women, and the Secretary for Social Inclusion met with activists to hear their concerns about LGBTI hate crimes. While the crimes themselves were later determined to be gang related, the government and the PDDH issued statements against hate crimes in response to concerns expressed immediately after the crimes by the LGBTI community.
A March 21 hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights focused on anti-LGBTI violence and hate crimes. One NGO told commissioners that at least 600 persons had experienced hate crimes based on their sexual orientation or gender identity since 2004. As of August 31, the PDDH had received six complaints for crimes against LGBTI persons.
NGOs reported that public officials, including police, engaged in violence and discrimination against LGBTI persons. Members of the LGBTI community stated that PNC and Attorney General’s Office personnel ridiculed them when they applied for identification cards or reported cases of violence against LGBTI persons. The NGO Association for Communication and Training of Transgender Women with HIV in El Salvador (COMCAVIS Trans) reported that, as of September, a total of 28 LGBTI persons were attacked or killed because of their sexual orientation.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
Although the law prohibits discrimination on the basis of HIV/AIDS status, Entre Amigos, an LGBTI nongovernmental organization, reported that discrimination due to HIV was widespread. As of August 31, the PDDH reported one case of discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS. The Ministry of Labor reported one case of discrimination against an HIV-positive employee based on the illness in 2016.