NGOs: Few checks on rights abuses amid El Salvador’s state of emergency

San Salvador, Aug 31 (EFE).- A group of non-governmental organizations said Wednesday in El Salvador that mechanisms for monitoring alleged human rights abuses by security forces and holding those responsible accountable are virtually non-existent amid an ongoing state of emergency.

The number of complaints received to date by those NGOs exceeds 3,100, according to a report presented Wednesday.

Following a wave of homicides that claimed more than 80 lives in three days, President Nayib Bukele’s administration asked the ruling party-controlled Legislative Assembly to approve the suspension of constitutional guarantees.

That measure was approved in March, and the state of emergency has subsequently been extended on five occasions.

The government says more than 51,200 alleged gang members have been arrested since those controversial measures were first declared, while NGOs have registered the deaths of at least 72 people in state custody during the crackdown.

Danilo Flores, a representative of the Human Rights Institute of the Central American University (Idhuca) in San Salvador, said at a press conference that he is concerned about the current absence of rights control mechanisms in El Salvador.

“We’re extremely concerned about the weakening or shutdown of the national human rights protection system in the country,” Flores added.

He was referring specifically to the lack of intervention by the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office (PDDH), the Attorney General’s Office, the National Civil Police (PNC) and the courts in recent months, as well to the eroding of “due process, the right to a defense and fair trial and the presumption of innocence.”

Flores urged authorities to conduct an “independent, impartial and thorough investigation into the different complaints of rights violations attributed to the PNC, armed forces and other actors.”

Rina Montti of Cristosal, a uman rights NGO, told reporters that entity received 3,186 complaints of alleged rights abuses between March and early August. That is in addition to the more than 3,400 complaints received over that same period by the PDDH.

Most of the complaints gathered by NGOs pertain to arbitrary detentions, while the majority point to National Police officers as the perpetrators of the abuses.

In a report sent to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Salvadoran government said only five of the more than 80 homicide cases that triggered the state of emergency have been brought to trial. The remainder are still under investigation.

According to Montti, those numbers call into question the real reason for the suspension of constitutional guarantees and the granting of special powers to the executive branch.

“It would seem that the ultimate goal of the state of emergency was not to prosecute, arrest, discover and publicly present, with sufficient evidence, this group of (suspects),” she told Efe.

Montti added that historically the federal AG’s office has a very poor track record, with impunity having prevailed for years in between 80 percent and 90 percent of El Salvador’s homicide cases.

Flores, for his part, said communication has been cut off between humanitarian organizations and El Salvador’s human rights ombudsman, who has been accused of minimizing rights abuses.

“At least in our experience at Idhuca, dialogue has been broken with that institution and we deeply regret that this has happened,” he said, adding that the same trend is occurring with nearly all state institutions.

He called on the PDDH to perform its role of “promptly and assertively verifying, promoting and defending human rights” and acting with “objectivity and impartiality.”

Tobar said his office recently confirmed seven instances of rights abuses out of 173 reported cases in San Salvador department during the first mont of the state of emergency.

Since Congress approved those measures, the PDDH has received more than 3,400 complaints of alleged human rights violations, he added.

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