Amnesty International concerned about “dismantling” of Salvadoran state

By Hugo Sanchez

San Salvador, Jun 5 (EFE).- Amnesty International views with concern the possibility that the “exceptional regime” implemented in El Salvador could become the norm and “end up dismantling the institutions of the state and the Rule of Law” in the Central American country, AI’s director for the Americas, Erika Guevara Rosas, told EFE in an interview.

The country has been living under that regime for more than two months after it was originally approved by the Legislative Assembly for 30 days, but has been extended twice for the same period, after a spike in murders in late March attributed to local gangs, mainly the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13).

President Nayib Bukele, after acquiring assorted special powers under the new regime, believes he is close to winning the “war” against the gangs, having arrested more than 37,000 people, of whom – the president says – perhaps 1 percent have been “mistakenly” detained.

Humanitarian organizations have filed 1,123 complaints about human rights violations, mainly due to arbitrary arrests of people who they claim have no links to the gangs, along with at least 24 people who have died in state custody.

With the more than 700 complaints collected by the Prosecutors Office for the Defense of Human Rights (PDDH), the total number exceeds 1,800.

Guevara recently in El Salvador presented the preliminary conclusions of an investigation that found that “serious violations” of human rights are being committed in the Central American nation.

“The preliminary conclusion of the highest concern is that these exceptional regimes, these extensions, may not be the exception but may become the norm and that this will end up dismantling the institutions of the state and the Rule of Law,” Guevara told EFE after being asked about AI’s main concerns.

It only required a request by the Salvadoran administration to receive the legislature’s approval of special powers for Bukele’s government, with lawmakers not taking time to study the measure or subject it to parliamentary debate.

The Salvadoran Congress is dominated by the New Ideas (NI) party, which holds an absolute majority and is headed by the president’s cousin. In addition, the presidency of the party is in the hands of one of Bukele’s former secretaries.

Guevara said that before the approval of the exceptional regime, “we had been issuing a global warning about significant and emblematic signs of a breakdown of state institutions, of a dismantling of the Rule of Law, of the impossibility of defending human rights and the free press.”

She said that the regime and the criminal reforms approved within its framework “are creating the perfect storm for a context of human rights violations.”

She also said that in Bukele’s official discourse “we see a complete intolerance of constructive criticism and international scrutiny, which have been very serious signs that we’ve seen in other countries in the hemisphere … (with) authoritarian leaders who impose absolute control.”

“There is no doubt, we’re seeing very similar signs to those we’ve seen in countries like Nicaragua,” she said.

Guevara told EFE that AI’s investigation documented “multiple violations of human rights” and she emphasized that they include “arbitrary arrests, (along with) violations of due process and the presumption of innocence.”

In addition, she said, there have been “reports of torture … (and) the deaths of people who have been in (state) custody,” which also “represents an enormous concern for what it means in the exercise of rights.”

Upon presenting the conclusions of the investigation, Guevara said that this kind of study is made when it is thought that systematic rights violations may be occurring within a country and “the policies implemented by a government could give rise to international criminal responsibility.”

When asked if this responsibility would fall directly on Bukele, she said that this “would have to be determined through the investigations.”

“It’s important to mention that El Salvador, via its signing and ratification of the Rome Statues (on human rights), is one of the member states that subjects itself to … (the jurisdiction of) the International Criminal Court,” the human rights defender said.

EFE hs/sa/lll/bp

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