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UN expert urges El Salvador step up measures to halt murders, vicious cycle of impunity

El Salvador

06 February 2018


SAN SALVADOR/GENEVA (6 February 2018) – El Salvador must urgently take more effective steps to prevent arbitrary deprivation of life and bring an end to the vicious cycle of impunity that enables these crimes, a UN human rights expert said.

At the end of an official visit to El Salvador, Agnes Callamard, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, highlighted El Salvador’s complex and longstanding security challenges, including one of the highest rates of murder in the world, the majority of which are attributed to gangs.  She expressed her grave concerns about the endemic and pervasive fears and insecurity that prevail in the country in an end-of-mission statement.

"During my visit, I met fathers and mothers who have lost their sons to violence, and young women who have been subjected repeatedly to sexual violence; young men deeply traumatized by their experience of violence, grandparents living in constant fear of the day their grandchildren will be forcibly recruited into violence.” she said.

Callamard said she found that, for victims, the trauma was without end. “Victims have no choice but to walk the same footpaths as do their rapists; to meet their torturers on the street corner; or to watch their son’s killers daily pass by.”

The expert said the killings appeared to be a deliberate strategy of gangs to secure territorial control and power.  "They may target women and girls or rival gang members; be directed at those who resist gang’s extortion efforts; may be aimed at police and soldiers. They are not random criminal acts.  

“No matter how complex the context, how tough the call on public resources, the Government’s response to this endemic violence should not further embed it. The cure cannot be just as bad as the complaint. Yet, unfortunately, I found a pattern of behavior amongst security personnel pointing to excessive use of force and extrajudicial executions. This is further fed by very weak responses from key public institutions, including at the investigatory and judicial levels.” 

Callamard said that endemic impunity served only to feed and perpetuate the violence. "People from the most impoverished communities told me of their fear and distrust of security officials.  Many spoke of what they perceive to be a war by the security forces against young people and the poor, with the police and State officials treating all young people as if they are gang members simply by the mere fact of where they live."

The Special Rapporteur praised the Government for a number of due diligence initiatives, including the Plan El Salvador Seguro, “Yo Cambio” and “Jovenes Con Todo”.  “These are positive signs that the Government is  recognising that the series of ‘iron fist’ strategies have failed and that more comprehensive preventive, re-integration and rehabilitation measures are needed,” she said.

The Government’s application of Extraordinary Security Measures, adopted in 2016, has resulted in the detention of 39,110 people in cruel and inhumane conditions, often for prolonged periods.  "The appalling conditions that I have witnessed cannot be explained by security concerns alone.  I am left to conclude that their primary purpose is the de-humanising of detainees. Such unlawful measures ought to be stopped immediately,” urged the Special Rapporteur. 

She also said that large numbers of people had fled El Salvador due to the violence, but for many their journey was met with even more violence. “Many Salvadorans are being killed as they flee; they disappear, are sexually abused, or are detained under inhuman conditions in neighboring and, or destination countries,” Callamard said.

“While these crimes take place outside El Salvador’s territory, the State still has a responsibility to protect the rights of their migrant populations.  I welcome the establishment of the Forensic Data Bank for missing migrants and urge for its capacity be strengthened.  In view of my findings, I also call on the Government of the United States to extend once again Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for El Salvador.”

She noted the Government’s adoption of an ambitious legal framework for the investigation and prevention of gender-based killings, including hate crimes and femicide. "Tragically, El Salvador continues to suffer alarmingly high levels of killings of women and LGBTQI persons, in particular transgender women.”  The expert welcomed the legislative reform proposal that stipulates exception of the absolute ban on abortion on four grounds and called for the decriminalization of abortion to safeguard women’s rights to life, health, autonomy and wellbeing.

Her full findings and recommendations will be included in a report to the Human Rights Council in June 2018.


Ms. Agnes Callamard (France), Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions,  has a distinguished career in human rights and humanitarian work globally. Ms. Callamard is the Director of Columbia Global Freedom of Expression at Columbia University and has previously worked with Article 19 and Amnesty International. She has advised multilateral organizations and governments around the world, has led human rights investigations in more than 30 countries, and has published extensively on human rights and related fields.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, Country Page: El Salvador

For more information and media requests, please contact: In Geneva, Vanessa Asensio (+41 229 17 9001 / [email protected]); in Central America, Carlos Augusto Rodriguez (+507 6671 3569 / [email protected])

This year, 2018, is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN on 10 December 1948. The Universal Declaration – translated into a world record 500 languages – is rooted in the principle that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” It remains relevant to everyone, every day. In honour of the 70thanniversary of this extraordinarily influential document, and to prevent its vital principles from being eroded, we are urging people everywhere to Stand Up for Human Rights:

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