'Systematic' human rights abuse. With these words the human rights organization Amnesty International has described El Salvador's anti-gang efforts in a report on April 3.
More than a year ago, the Salvadoran Bukele government has established a still ongoing "state of exception" in an effort to combat gang activities in the country. Since the first introduction, the state of exception, which only stays active for a month on a time, has been renewed 12 times, and with every additional month the devastating consequences of Bukele's strategy are worsening.
According to Amnesty International, government security forces and the national judicial sector have committed wide spread human rights violations, such as mass arrests, torture, forced disappearances and the denial of a fair process. In the course of the last year, more than 66,000 individuals have been detained, many of whom not even having any gang affiliation. Furthermore, according to Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International, at least 132 individuals have died in custody. Guevara-Rosas stated that, “The systematic violation of human rights and the dismantling of the rule of law are not the answer to the problems facing the country.”
Despite the international criticism, Bukele is holding on to his iron fist crack down strategy, and his popularity has only been surging since the implementation of the state of exception. Only a few months ago, the largest of Bukele's projects, a new mega-prison called "Terrorism Confinement Center" was finished. So far, the prison has a population of 4,000 despite having the capacity to hold up to 40,000 individuals, but this is believed to change soon. Proud of the arrest and the "Confinement Center," Bukele stated: “This will be their new house, where they will live for decades, all mixed, unable to do any further harm to the population.”
In their report Amnesty International condemns the reliance on imprisonment, with Guevara-Rosas saying that “The dehumanization that thousands of unjustly imprisoned people are suffering is intolerable.”
IRTF supports Amnesty International's denunciation of the Salvadoran anti-gang crackdown. We believe that the problem of gang violence can not be solved by more violence and imprisonment. We call for a solution that goes to the roots of the problem like poverty, ghettoization, the lack of future prospects for the youth, and one that actually protects the innocent population instead of criminalizing them.