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Press briefing notes Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

El Salvador – State of emergency

02 June 2023

Tecoluca, El Salvador - In the photos taken on February 26, 2023, hundreds of police officers, security agents from the Directorate of Penal Centers, and soldiers participated in the operation to transfer the first 2,000 prisoners to the new mega-prison that houses eight pavilions located within a perimeter surrounded by a concrete wall 11 meters high and 2.1 kilometers long, protected by electrified barbed wire. © ULAN/Pool / Latin America News Agency


Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Marta Hurtado



The repeated extension of the state of emergency in El Salvador – which has now been in force since March 2022 – is seriously concerning, especially given the consequences for people’s human rights.

We recognise the complex challenge El Salvador faces in tackling criminality, as well as the grave suffering inflicted by the country’s gangs, which for decades have murdered, raped, robbed and extorted the population.

However, weakening the rule of law and the integrity of the legal system by derogating from fair trial rights is not the answer.

At least 68,000 people have been jailed in El Salvador since the state of emergency came into force. Of these, at least 1,600 people are under 18 years of age.

According to a recent report by a leading NGO (Cristosal), at least 153 inmates have died in prison since the state of emergency was implemented – nearly half of them violently.

Civil society groups doing human rights work and media outlets continue to face risks and attacks. In 2022, civil society organizations documented 182 incidents of human rights defenders and journalists being targeted. On 14 April this year, El Faro, an online news outlet, announced that it was moving its staff from El Salvador to Costa Rica, citing the intimidation and smear campaigns they faced because of their work.

We call on the authorities to lift the state of emergency and review the measures they have introduced. We also call on the authorities to immediately investigate all deaths in custody in line with international standards, to hold those responsible to account, and to guarantee justice and redress for the victims’ family.

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]

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