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El Salvador: International Organizations Express Alarm over State Surveillance and Harassment of Human Rights Defenders in El Salvador

Echo call for investigation and protective measures at Inter-American Human Rights Commission

For immediate release: May 21, 2024

85 organizations from sixteen countries spanning the Americas and Europe issued a statement today expressing concern about state surveillance, harassment and intimidation against human rights attorneys and advocates in El Salvador.

Last month, human rights organizations in El Salvador whose attorneys represent victims of arbitrary arrest and political persecution by the Bukele government joined together to present evidence of an alarming pattern of police harassment and surveillance which has markedly increased since the start of the State of Exception. The State of Exception is an emergency measure suspending basic constitutional rights that the Salvadoran government has unlawfully maintained for over two years.

Attorney Ivania Cruz of the Committee of Families of Political Prisoners of El Salvador (COFAPPES) obtained a report from the Office of the Attorney General detailing surveillance against her and of leaders of other grassroots organizations that have been outspoken against government abuses. COFAPPES and other groups called on the Attorney General to follow through on an investigation into the officers involved in the surveillance. Meanwhile, attorneys from Socorro Jurídico Humanitario outlined a sustained defamation campaign against them and multiple police attempts to enter their office.

It is not just attorneys being targeted, however. Members of the Movement of Victims of the Regime (MOVIR) described being followed and harassed by policy, threatened with arrest following a press conference calling for their release, and infiltration by government intelligence officers posing as journalists from fabricated news services. MOVIR organizes family members of people arbitrarily arrested under the State of Exception.

Leaders from the rural Bajo Lempa region also described youth from their community being unjustly arrested and beaten in retaliation for public criticism of militarized repression under the emergency measure

In response, faith, solidarity, legal and human rights groups, including the American Association of Jurists, the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), the Latin America Working Group (LAWG), the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES) and others, issued a statement strongly condemning the “violations of the democratic rights of these human rights defenders, legal advocates and community organizers and the use of state funds to surveil and intimidate them. Their work is essential to a free and just society and the exercise of democratic rights.” 

The groups call on the Office of the Attorney General to conduct a thorough and transparent investigation into the targeted surveillance of human rights defenders. They also call on the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to grant protective measures to ensure not only their safety but to protect their rights to free speech and freedom of association.

Lastly, the groups urge the United States, the top international contributor of military aid to El Salvador, to halt security assistance in light of the government’s targeting of human rights defenders and the erosion of democracy. Congress is currently considering the Biden Administration’s request for FY25, which proposes more than doubling a U.S. military training program (IMET) in El Salvador over FY23 funding, among other initiatives.


To read the full statement with signers in Spanish, click here
To read the full statement with signers in English, click here