San Salvador, May 29 (EFE).- At least 160 people, most of them relatively young, have died in El Salvador in the custody of state security agents during the controversial “state of exception” implemented by the Nayib Bukele administration to “combat” gangs.
The Cristosal humanitarian organization presented the figures in a report made public on Monday at a hotel in San Salvador.
Attorney Zaira Navas, Cristosal’s head of legal operations for rule of law and security, said during the presentation of the report that this is the first time, via an investigation, that “the deaths that occurred inside the penal centers, that is to say in state custody, have been verified and documented.”
She said that between March 27, 2022 and March 27, 2023, Cristosal had documented the deaths of 139 people in state custody, noting that “this doesn’t mean that only they have died, because there is testimony and evidence (that show) that many (dead) have been buried in common graves.”
Of the 139 people who died in state custody during that period, according to the report, four were women and 46.3 percent of the dead were between the ages of 18 and 38.
Navas also said that, another 14 people died in state custody through the month of April, with Cristosal documenting a total of 153 such cases, adding that up through May 26, “it’s been verified that 160 people have died in state custody.”
The document says that researchers identified patterns of deaths by torture, and by other forms of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Corpses have been examined bearing lacerations, hematomas from beatings, wounds from sharp or heavy objects, strangulation, hanging and other signs of torture, she said in her presentation.
Navas also said that some reports from the Legal Medicine Institute (IML) indicate that the cause of death for some of the victims was mechanical asphyxiation or by immersion – that is, by drowning – and in some cases the correlation between the registered cause of death and the condition of the body “do not coincide.”
The report explains that to obtain the information, Cristosal undertook field research, including probing common graves, collecting a wide variety of photographic documentation on the bodies and IML death certificates, as well as from interviews with relatives, neighbors and acquaintances of the dead people and from people who were at one time held in state custody but survived.
The Legislative Assembly – which has a significant majority of lawmakers supporting the Bukele government – on May 16 approved the 14th extension of the state of exception that has prevailed since late March 2022, when Bukele implemented it after a spate of murders. Since that time, more than 69,000 people have been arrested in El Salvador.
Humanitarian organizations in mid-March had registered at least 5,082 “direct victims” of human rights violations, mainly arbitrary detentions, within the context of the state of exception.