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El Salvador: Police raid offices of human rights and feminist NGOs as Bukele ramps up persecution against popular opposition

Source: CISPES

UN: Proposed Foreign Agents Law would be “clear violation” of human rights accords
Early in the morning of November 22, representatives of the Attorney General of El Salvador, accompanied by police, raided seven human rights organizations, ostensibly on the grounds of investigating “corruption.” The Salvadoran popular movement describes the raids as the latest in an escalating campaign of political persecution by President Bukele against voices critical of the regime.

Among the organizations targeted were Las Mélidas, a historic feminist organization that works to defend women’s rights, and PRO-VIDA, a humanitarian association that works in areas of healthcare, climate change, and strengthening of democratic institutions. Also targeted were PROCOMES, FUNDASPAD, Fundación Una Mano Amiga, Asociación de Mujeres Tecleñas, Fundación Ambientalista de Santa Ana (FUNDASAN).

In a statement following the raid, a representative of Las Mélidas condemned the attacks as “unjustified” and meant to “criminalize their initiatives” which include literacy, violence prevention, and sexual health campaigns, and other programs serving the country’s most marginalized women. She added that all of Las Mélidas’ projects have been previously subject to audits, thus the raid can only be understood as a “direct attack” on the organization, one that suggests political motivation.

The raids take place as the Salvadoran legislature considers a proposed “Foreign Agents Law” meant to delegitimize and suppress Salvadoran organizations that receive international funding by forcing them to register as “foreign agents” and prohibiting them from carrying out “political” activities that, by the government's assessment, are deemed to “disturb public security” or threaten “social and political stability,” among others. Violations would result in massive fines and the loss of legal status, thus giving the administration broad license to selectively target opposition groups for investigation or censure.

If approved by the legislature, the law would also place heavy taxes on all international donations to many NGOs, in essence appropriating funds meant to respond to the urgent needs of some of the country’s most vulnerable populations.

The proposed law has been widely denounced, including by the United Nations, which described it as a “clear violation of El Salvador’s international human rights commitments.”

Statement by Alexis Stoumbelis, Executive Director:

“We denounce these attacks, which represent a grave setback in El Salvador’s struggle towards democracy, and commit our solidarity to Las Mélidas, PRO-VIDA, and other popular movement organizations who have become targets of political repression.

What’s happening to Las Mélidas, PRO-VIDA and many others is political persecution, pure and simple. Their only crime is being part of an increasingly vocal opposition movement that is taking to the streets to defend the democracy that countless thousands in El Salvador gave their lives to build.

Once again, we see the de facto Attorney General - who occupies the role unlawfully - using allegations of corruption as a pretext to intimidate important grassroots organizations. These were similar to the false pretenses used to imprison former officials from the leftist FMLN party over the summer. Given that there’s no reason to expect that this type of persecution will end, the United States government should reconsider its financial support for the Attorney General’s Office, the police, and other agencies engaged in blatant acts of intimidation.”