El Salvador’s prolonged state of emergency violates fair trial rights, UN experts warn

El Salvador is facing a serious human rights crisis as it continues to extend a state of emergency that was declared in March 2022 to combat gang violence. The state of emergency has led to mass arrests, violations of due process, and overcrowded prisons. Three UN experts have called on the government to lift the measure and respect the right to a fair trial.

According to official data, more than 67,000 people have been detained since the state of emergency was enacted. Many of them have been arrested without warrants, held incommunicado, and subjected to mass trials with limited access to legal representation. The UN experts have received information that some of these detentions amount to short-term enforced disappearances.

The state of emergency also grants the authorities sweeping powers to conduct surveillance, prosecute, and sentence suspects of gang membership or association. The UN experts have warned that these powers carry the risk of mass violations of the right to a fair trial and undermine the presumption of innocence.

The UN experts have urged the government to ensure that people are not arrested on mere suspicion of gang affiliation without sufficient legal authorization. They have also called for the government to guarantee that detainees are afforded all fundamental safeguards required under international human rights law and due process.

The UN experts have expressed concern about the impact of the state of emergency on the families of detainees, who often face difficulties in locating their relatives and accessing information about their legal situation. They have also highlighted the dire conditions in prisons, where overcrowding, lack of hygiene, and violence pose serious threats to the health and safety of inmates.

The UN experts have stressed that while the government has an obligation to protect its citizens from gang-related violence, it cannot do so at the expense of human rights. They have reminded the government that states of emergency must be exceptional, temporary, and proportionate and that they must not be used as a pretext to undermine the rule of law.

The UN experts have appealed to the government to lift the state of emergency immediately and review its legislation and policies on combating gangs. They have also offered their assistance and cooperation to support the government in ensuring compliance with its human rights obligations.

Source: https://news.un.org/en/story/2023/05/1136922