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El Salvador

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

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

Although the constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, there were numerous complaints that the PNC and military forces arbitrarily arrested and detained persons. As of July 31, the PDDH received 31 complaints of arbitrary detention, a decrease from 86 complaints received in the same period in 2017. NGOs reported that the PNC arbitrarily arrested and detained groups of persons on suspicion of gang affiliation. According to these NGOs, the accused were ostracized by their communities upon their return.

The law provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed this provision.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The PNC, overseen by the Ministry of Justice and Public Security, is responsible for maintaining public security, and the Ministry of Defense is responsible for maintaining national security. Although the constitution separates public security and military functions, it allows the president to use the armed forces “in exceptional circumstances” to maintain internal peace and public security “when all other measures have been exhausted.” The military is responsible for securing international borders and conducting joint patrols with the PNC. In 2016 President Sanchez Ceren renewed the decree authorizing military involvement in police duties, a presidential order in place since 1996.

The military’s “Zeus Command” comprised 3,100 soldiers in 10 task forces to support police in providing security. These soldiers were to operate only in support of the PNC and were not authorized to arrest or detain. Three hundred and twenty soldiers in the Volcano Task Force, launched in September 2017 as a temporary expansion of the military’s presence in San Salvador, continued to support the city’s police and installed checkpoints throughout the city and conducted random searches of public buses.

There were reports of impunity for security force involvement in crime and human rights abuses during the year. The PDDH is authorized to investigate (but not prosecute) human rights abuses and refers all cases involving human rights abuses to the Attorney General’s Office. Reports of abuse and police misconduct were most often from residents of the metropolitan area of San Salvador and mostly from men and young persons.

The Police Inspector General reported it received 831 complaints against police and dismissed 155 police officers due to misconduct and took disciplinary action against 555 police officers as of October 23.

On August 2, Deputy Police Director of Specialized Operative Areas Mauricio Arriaza stated that 10 police officers of the Specialized Police Tactical Unit (UTEP) were dismissed due to human rights abuses. UTEP was created on February 14 to replace the Specialized Reaction Force of El Salvador, the Special Operation Group, and the GRP. The GRP was disbanded in February following the disappearance of female GRP member Carla Ayala. As of November 5, the Ministry of Defense had not responded to requests to report the number of soldiers removed from its ranks due to alleged ties to gangs.

As of October 26, authorities reported alleged gang members had killed 22 police officers, three soldiers, and three prison guards.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The constitution requires a written warrant of arrest except in cases where an individual is caught in the act of committing a crime. Authorities apprehended persons with warrants based on evidence and issued by a judge. Police generally informed detainees promptly of charges against them.

The law permits release on bail for detainees who are unlikely to flee or whose release would not impede the investigation of the case. The bail system functioned adequately in most cases. The courts generally enforced a ruling that interrogation without the presence of counsel is coercive and that evidence obtained in such a manner is inadmissible. As a result, PNC authorities typically delayed questioning until a public defender or an attorney arrived. The constitution permits the PNC to hold suspects for 72 hours before presenting them to court. The law allows up to six months for investigation of serious crimes before requiring either a trial or dismissal of the case which may be extended by an appeals court. Many cases continued beyond the legally prescribed period.

Arbitrary Arrest: As of October 23, the PDDH reported 31 complaints of arbitrary detention or illegal detention, compared with 86 from January to August 2017.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was a significant problem. As of October, 30 percent of the general prison population was in pretrial detention. Some persons remained in pretrial detention longer than the maximum legal sentences for their alleged crimes. In such circumstances detainees may request a Supreme Court review of their continued detention.

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 guarantee freedom of movement due to criminal gang activity. As of July 31, the PDDH received two complaints of restrictions from freedom of movement, one against the PNC and the other against a court in Jiquilisco. Both cases involved subjects being detained without charge. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and some assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern, although this was often difficult in gang-controlled neighborhoods.

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 government-issued 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 customers.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

On July 13, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court ruled that the government violated the constitution by not recognizing forced displacement or providing sufficient aid to IDPs. The ruling followed several lawsuits brought by victims, including members of the PNC. The court ordered the Legislative Assembly to pass legislation addressing internal displacement and officially recognize internal displacement. The court also called on the government to retake control of gang territories, develop protection protocols for victims, and uphold international standards for protecting victims.

As of July the PDDH reported 69 complaints of forced displacement from January to May. Nearly all of the complaints were from gang-controlled territories, with 51 cases from San Salvador. As of October the government acknowledged that 1.1 percent of the general population was internally displaced. UNHCR estimated there were 280,000 IDPs. UNHCR reported the causes of internal displacement included abuse, extortion, discrimination, and threats.

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 July 31, four petitions had been submitted, with three resulting in denial and one still under consideration.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials. While the Supreme Court investigated corruption in the executive and judicial branches, referring cases to the Attorney General’s Office for possible criminal indictment, impunity remained endemic, with courts issuing inconsistent rulings and failing to address secret discretionary accounts within the government, for example in CAPRES.

Corruption: On September 12, a judge sentenced former president Antonio Saca to 10 years in prison. He originally faced up to 30 years in prison before seeking a plea deal. As part of his plea agreement, Saca detailed how he used a network of public officials and advisers to launder money into his ARENA political party, banks, media outlets, publicity companies, fronts, and other activities. Saca testified that weak institutions such as the Court of Accounts were ineffectual in conducting audits, with transparency mechanisms failing to detect fraud. While Saca’s defense offered to return $15 million, the court found him fully liable and ordered him to repay $260 million and surrender his bank accounts and six companies managing 86 radio stations to the asset forfeiture program.

The attorney general investigated corruption pertaining to a discretionary fund within CAPRES in existence for more than 25 years and used by six presidents since 1989. It was originally created to provide resources for the national intelligence budget and CAPRES. The funds, totaling more than one billion dollars since its inception, had never been audited by the Court of Accounts. Both former presidents Saca and Funes were accused of embezzling more than $650 million from public funds. President Sanchez Ceren’s discretionary account was reportedly $147 million, while former presidents Saca and Funes controlled $301 million and $351, million respectively.

On June 19, the Attorney General’s Office initiated an asset forfeiture claim against 24 properties owned by Funes, cabinet members, public officers, and his relatives. Properties included sugarcane plantations, beach houses, and homes.

As of July 31, the Ethics Tribunal reported it had received 190 complaints against 273 public officials. The tribunal sanctioned 20 public officials and forwarded six cases to the attorney general. The attorney general issued 28 arrest warrants on June 6, targeting individuals linked to more than $300 million allegedly embezzled by former president Funes from 2009 through 2014. Despite Constitutional Chamber restrictions on transferring funds without legislative approval, Funes allegedly had misdirected funding for personal gain since 2010. In July the attorney general accused Funes of using $215,000 in public funds to acquire 91 military-grade weapons through the Ministry of Defense for his personal use.

Financial Disclosure: The illicit enrichment law requires appointed and elected officials to declare their assets to the Probity Section of the Supreme Court. The law establishes fines for noncompliance that range from $11 to $571. The declarations were not available to the public unless requested by petition. In 2016 the Supreme Court established three criteria for selecting investigable cases: the age of the case (i.e., proximity to the statute of limitations), relevance of the position, and seriousness and notoriety of the alleged illicit enrichment.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Although government officials generally were cooperative and responsive to these groups, officials expressed reluctance to discuss certain issues, such as extrajudicial killings and IDPs, with the PDDH.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The principal human rights investigative and monitoring body was the autonomous PDDH, whose head is nominated by the Legislative Assembly for a three-year term. The PDDH regularly issued advisory opinions, reports, and press releases on prominent human rights cases. The PDDH generally enjoyed government cooperation and was considered generally effective except on problems relating to criminal groups and gangs.

The PDDH maintained a constructive dialogue with CAPRES. The government publicly acknowledged receipt of reports, although in some cases it did not take action on recommendations, which are nonbinding. The PDDH faced threats, such as two robberies at its headquarters specifically targeting computers containing personally identifiable information.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future