El Salvador: Ex-Mils to Become Prison Directors, Forced Disappearances Continue

Human Rights Ombudswoman: Military Officers Should not Run Prisons

El Salvador‘s Human Rights Ombudswoman, Beatrice de Carrillo, blasted a government proposal to fill vacant prison directorships with military officers.

“I am against this, because we know that the actions taken by police and they haven’t worked. It´s erroneous then, that people who don’t know anything about the penal system are going to come in and put things in order. Things need a 180 degree turn for anything significant [to change],” said Carrillo.

On February 1, the Director of Prisons, Jaime Vilanova announced, “Five ex-members of the Armed Forces who are lawyers and retired—I reiterate retired—will form part of the prison management. They are ex-military members.”

In her denouncement of the measure, Carrillo added, “There is a catastrophic situation in the prisons in the country… we are confronting a barbaric, repressive and anti-democratic phenomenon in prison management.”

The measure is another step toward the militarization of Salvadoran society, a theme that was covered within the country’s 15-year old Peace Accords. Military and civilian policing duties were clearly defined in that document to ensure that the military would not be politicized or be able to exact repression against a civilian population that organized to claim rights enshrined within the Constitution of the Republic.

Tony Saca’s “Hard Hand” plan established joint military- civilian police patrols to combat street crime last year. Joint patrols can often be seen in neighborhoods in and around San Salvador.

There are 200,000 prisoners in Central American jails. The United Nations office on Human Development estimates that sixty percent of those interred have not been convicted of any crime. In many cases, case loads are back-logged up to two years.

Forced Disappearances Continue, El Salvadoran Government Responsible: UN Working Group

The message was clear: after 2000 recorded cases of forced disappearance in El_Salvador, the failure to punish perpetrators has allowed for a continued occurrence of the crime throughout the country. That was the conclusion of the United Nations Working Group on Forced Disappearces during a February 6 press conference.

“While there is no investigation and responsibility is not established, forced disappearances are a continued and permanent occurrence, without regard to whether they were committed recently or long ago,” said Santiago Corcuera, as quoted by Diario CoLatino. Corcuera is President of the UN body.

“It hurts to say it, but as I am speaking to you, the Salvadoran Government is committing the crime of forced disappearance,” he said.

The Working Group was created in 1980 as part of the Human Rights Office within the UN. According to the group, El Salvador has documented 2,661 cases of forced disappearance, with 2,270 of those unresolved.

Darko Gottlicher, a UN Working Group expert, criticized the role of the Amnesty Law passed by the Salvadoran Legislature for allowing continued impunity in the cases.

He said that the Law has stalled further investigation, and permitted that perpetrators continue in impunity.

Said Corcuera: “In El Salvador, the Amnesty Law…is an obstacle to clarifying the facts and [an obstacle] to justice for victims and their families.”

Corcuera said the UN Group was not opposed to amnesty laws in principle, but that laws of this type should not violate Article 18 of the UN Declaration on Forced Disappearances, which stipulates that such laws should not impede investigations, as the Salvadoran version does.