Civil society organizations reveal data on extrajudicial executions in El Salvador

“Humans rights cannot be treated as an added extra to be traded off in moments of national crisis. They must be embraced as the foundation of security and peace. These human rights organizations have documented a pattern of permissiveness and impunity for rights violations by state security forces against Salvadoran citizens. To end the perpetual cycle of violence that causes so much suffering for the Salvadoran people, the government must make fundamental rights to life and liberty, due process, freedom from torture and cruel punishments the bedrock of their security policy.”

-Noah Bullock, Executive Director, Cristosal


January 25, 2018— Civil society organizations IDHUCA, the Passionist Social Service, Cristosal, COMCAVIS TRANS and FESPAD express concern about the current situation of violence in the country and state security policies’ emphasis on repressing the problem, which has led to the occurrence of extrajudicial executions in El Salvador. To this end, the organizations have prepared a report on the subject, which will be delivered to UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Agnes Callamard.

From January 2014 to June 2017, the report records a total of 1,607 supposed clashes of police and military with civilians, mostly members of gang structures, according to official figures. In the same period, and as a result of these clashes, 1,416 people have died, including alleged gang members, civilians, police and military, and 442 have been injured. Of the total number of people who lost their lives, 1,325 died at the hands of state security agents.

As a constitutional principle, state security agents must use lethal force as a last resort, unless it is in the legitimate defense of self or a third party; therefore, it is expected that the number of deaths would not exceed the number of wounded. However, the lethality rate from January-June 2017 was 6.3— that is, for each person injured in combat, six lost their lives.

In 2014, before the government launched its offensive against the gangs, the ratio of deaths between state security forces and civilians was 15, indicating that 15 civilians died for each state agent killed in a clash. As of 2016, this trend climbed to 60; in 2017 it awoke alarm by reaching 112, almost double the previous year.

Another element that has aroused concern is the more than doubling of the number of deaths due to health reasons in jails and prisons. In 2016, 104 deaths were reported, while in 2017 the number grew to 253[1]. This increase shows humanitarian crisis conditions within detention centers, where the protection of the state authorities must be more effective.

The alarming figures reveal a practice of extrajudicial executions, understood as a deliberate murder committed by the state or by individuals who have the state’s acquiescence or consent.

Therefore, it is no surprise that the organizations contributing to the report have registered cases of extrajudicial executions in the country, which have been reported by the National Civil Police as deaths resulting from clashes. This denotes a practice within the police corporation of concealment, human rights violations and fraud.

Finally, the report highlights a lack of access to justice. As of November 2013, the Criminal Procedure Code allows that in the initial stage of the criminal process, by means of a resolution from a judge, a public security agent or military member assigned to such tasks may be released of murder charges if it is alleged that they acted in self-defense; subsequently, by 2014, no fewer than 50% of cases where police or military members were investigated for homicide had been released by this means, according to data from the Attorney General’s Office in the report. In 2017, more than 90% of these cases were dismissed provisionally or definitively, which is cause for very serious alarm. Furthermore, the report shows that practically all hate crimes victimizing the LGBTI population have been left in impunity.

Civil society organizations welcome the visit of Special Rapporteur Callamard, vital in a national context with observable patterns of extrajudicial executions, mainly perpetrated by the National Civil Police, the Armed Forces of El Salvador and prison staff. This visit is valued as an opportunity for the state to review security policies and adopt measures necessary to eradicate security institutions’ practice of violating human rights.

[1] Inmates who died in jails and prisons (data reflects January 2016-September 2017 in prisons; January 2016-October 2017 in jails)


Hannah Rose Nelson