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Press briefing notes Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

El Salvador state of emergency

28 March 2023

Gang members wait to be taken to their cell after 2000 gang members were transferred to the Terrorism Confinement Center, according to El Salvador's President Nayib Bukele, in Tecoluca, El Salvador, in this handout distributed to Reuters on March 15, 2023. © Secretaria de Prensa de la Presidencia/Handout via REUTERS

Delivered by

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Marta Hurtado



The state of emergency has now been in force in El Salvador for a year – a year during which the authorities have taken several measures that raise serious human rights concerns.

An initial month-long state of emergency was introduced on 27 March 2022 and has since been regularly renewed. 

We understand the serious challenges posed by gang violence, and the State’s duty to ensure security. However, it is the State’s duty to do so in compliance with international human rights law.

Over the past year, at least 65,000 people have been detained. Some of these mass detentions, including of children, may amount to arbitrary detention, as they appear to be based on poorly substantiated investigations, on crude profiling of the physical appearance or social background of those detained.

Conditions in frequently overcrowded places of detention are also deeply concerning. We have received allegations of serious violations of prisoners’ rights, such as prolonged solitary confinement and inmates with chronic disease not receiving prescribed medication. There have also been reports of other forms of ill-treatment.

It is especially worrying that 90 people have allegedly died in custody since the state of emergency was first enacted, and only limited information is available on how the investigations into these deaths are proceeding. 

States have a heightened duty to protect the lives of individuals deprived of their liberty.

The national human rights institution has so far collected about 7,900 complaints of human rights violations against prisoners.   

We call on the authorities in El Salvador to ensure people are not arrested without sufficient legal authorization and ensure that those detained are afforded all fundamental safeguards as required under international human rights law.

We also call on the authorities to allow the national human rights institution unrestricted access to all prison facilities so it can conduct regular, independent reporting on prison conditions.

We remind the authorities of international experience showing that relying on an overly repressive penitentiary model reduces the chances of prisoners being successfully reintegrated into society. The right to life, the absolute prohibition against torture, the principles of fair trial, including the presumption of innocence, as well as the procedural safeguards that protect these rights apply at all times, even during declared states of emergency.

To find long-term, sustainable solutions to insecurity and crime, the root causes of gang violence – such as social inequalities, marginalization and the lack of effective social policies and governance – must be addressed.


For more information and media requests, please contact:

In Geneva

Marta Hurtado - + 41 22 917 9466 / [email protected] or
Ravina Shamdasani - + 41 22 917 9169 / [email protected] or
Liz Throssell + 41 22 917 9296 / [email protected] or
Jeremy Laurence +  +41 22 917 9383 / [email protected]

In Nairobi

Seif Magango - +254 788 343 897 / [email protected]

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