El Salvador

Two decades after the end of its civil war, El Salvador has been trying to limit the influence of criminal gangs that control large portions of the country. Once afflicted by the world’s highest murder rate, the country now sees fewer homicides, but the gangs have tightened their grip upon turf where they run extortion rackets and exercise other forms of social control. Every year, the dangers of daily life push tens of thousands of Salvadorans to hazard the journey north to the U.S. border. Through its fieldwork and advocacy, Crisis Group presses for crime prevention, rehabilitation and socio-economic reform policies that can make El Salvador a safer place to live.

CrisisWatch El Salvador

Unchanged Situation

Concerns about human rights violations, including sexual and gender-based violence, under state of exception persisted.

Govt denied allegations of rights violations under state of exception. Legislative Assembly 12 Oct extended state of exception for 19th time, with VP of assembly claiming that human rights violations committed during measure were isolated incidents. Despite claims, civil society organisations and journalists continued to document cases of arbitrary arrests and torture, and shed light on conditions within prisons. Notably, coalition of human rights organisations 18 Oct estimated inmate population of 1,620 people per 100,000, translating into 148% overcrowding rate. Meanwhile, military 11 Oct sent 3,500 soldiers into Apopa municipality, San Salvador department (centre), amid ongoing efforts to root out gangs.

Women’s groups spotlighted sexual violence at hands of military and police. Following late Sept charges brought against six soldiers involved in rape of minor, military and police came under scrutiny for abuse of power and allegations of rape from within their ranks. Notably, several feminist groups 18 Oct protested in front of army headquarters, accusing military and police of using state of exception to act with impunity; they reported, for example, that one soldier had raped an eight-year-old girl in Bajo Lempa area, Usulutan department (south east).

In other important developments. Govt and opposition 3 Oct began campaigns for Feb 2024 general elections, which President Bukele is expected to win; Bukele 26 Oct officially registered as candidate despite constitutional ban on consecutive presidential re-election.

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