Prolonged states of emergency become torture
State media communications announced the declaration of a state of emergency in 28 penitentiary centers throughout El Salvador this past June 20th. On July 18th, also through Twitter, President of the Republic Nayib Bukele ordered the Director General of the Prison Centers Osiris Luna Meza to gradually lift the declared state of emergency. He declared: “The culprits will be able to receive sun, go to workshops, go to the penitentiary farms and receive classes. External communications and visits will remain suspended indefinitely.”
While we recognize the president’s decision to moderate the “general declaration of a state of emergency,” it is still important that we understand that the excessive prolongation of these types of limitations can lead to grave violations of human rights, contrary to a democratic state and counterproductive to objectives of public security.
Faced with this situation, we have made the following reflections:
Prolonging excessively or indefinitely a state of emergency, including measures such as permanent enclosure in cells and the suspension of family visits, and applying them as punishments against private citizens, constitute as acts of torture under international law.
If these measures are meant as punishments and are executed in a mass and indiscriminate manner as part of a “policy,” then the tortures committed become “crimes against humanity,” for which the responsibility would fall on the Salvadoran state, according to international human rights law.
Human rights should be considered essential to the elaboration and application of security policies whose objectives are to maintain control of the penitentiary centers as well as outside territories, permitting that such policies return efficient and sustainable results over time.