University of Minnesota

Report on the Situation of Human Rights in El Salvador, Inter-Am. C.H.R., OEA/Ser.L/V/II.46, Doc. 23 rev. 1 (1978).





American Declaration:

Article XXI:

Every person has the right to assemble peaceably with others in a formal public meeting or an informal gathering, in connection with matters of common interest of any nature.

Article XXII:

Every person has the right to associate with others to promote, exercise and protect his legitimate interests of a political, economic, religious, social, cultural, professional, labor union or other nature. [1]/

A. Constitutional Provisions

1. The rights of assembly and of association are guaranteed under Title X of the Constitution under the heading of: Individual Rights (Article 150 through 178).

2. Specifically, paragraph 1 of Article 160 provides that: “The inhabitants of El Salvador have the right to assemble and to meet peacefully without arms, for any lawful purpose.”

3. In various other articles of the Constitution, as for example the second paragraph of Article 24, it is provided that “these are rights of citizens: to associate together to form political parties in accordance with the law and to join those already formed:

4. Paragraph 1 of Article 191 of the Constitution establishes that: “Employers, private employees and workers, and employees and workers in government, autonomous or semi-autonomous institutions, without distinction as to nationality, sex, race, creed, or political belief, have the right to associate freely for the protection of their respective interest, by forming professional associations or trade unions.” The third paragraph of that article provides the following: “The conditions adopted for the basis and form of the Constitution and functioning of professional and trade union organizations must not restrict the freedom of association.”

Article 192 stipulates that “Workers have the right to strike and employers the right to suspend work.”

5. These rights of entrepreneurs or employers and of laborers or workers are confirmed and governed by the Labor Code. That code establishes the rights of association in book Two, Tittle One, Chapter I, entitled the Right of Professional Association and its Protection. Article 204 of the labor Code provides the following: The following individuals have the right to associate freely in order to protect their common, economic and social interests by forming professional associations or labor unions, without distinction as to nationality, sex, race, creed, or political beliefs:

a) Private employers and workers;

b) Workers in autonomous or semi-autonomous government institutions.

The worker’s right to strike and the employer’s to suspend work are upheld and governed in Sections 7, 8, 9 and 10, Articles 527 through 566 of the Labor Code.

6. Article 160 of the Constitution, which concerns the rights of association and of assembly are, under the terms of Article 175 of the Constitution. Among the few constitutional guaranties that may be suspended “in the event of war, invasion, rebellion, sedition, catastrophe, epidemic, or other general disaster, or serious disturbance of the public order… except for meetings or assemblies for cultural or industrial purposes.”

7. Chapter I of this report, entitled the legal Norms Relating to Human Rights contains the entire text of the Law of Defense and Guaranty of Public Order. It should be pointed out that paragraphs 6, 8, 13 and 14 of Article 1 of that Law contain certain provisions that have a special bearing upon the rights of assembly and of association. [2]/.

8. In El Salvador, many groups regard the Law of Defense and Guaranty of Public Order. As a genuine threat to free exercise, of the rights of assembly and of association, as it opens up the possibility that such rights may be neglected in practice. Without having to resort to the procedure requiring a declaration of state of siege as provided for in the Constitution, and which must meet the constitutional requirements.

9. It has been alleged that Decree No. 407, because of the extraordinarily broad, generic and ambiguous way. It describes the crimes that it covers, can be used by officials and authorities to threaten or curtail free exercise of political, union and religious freedom and the rights of assembly and of association, beyond the specific purposes of the law in question.

B. Expressions of these rights in practice

a. Political Parties

10. In a meeting with the Special Committee, representatives of the Opposition national Union (U.N.O.), the coalition of opposition parties (Christian Democratic Party (P.D.C.), Revolutionary national Movement (M.N.R.), and Nationalistic Democratic Union (U.D.N.)), which in 1977 nominated as its Presidential candidate Colonel Ernesto Claramount, stated, among other things, that members of the U.N.O. have been persecuted and have been imprisoned and tortured; that a number of those present had been arrested and mistreated and, therefore, there is a deep-seated fear of participating in political activities; that the repression has also revealed itself in instances of violence such as those that occurred while troops broke up the demonstration in the Plaza Libertad; that the repression is very harsh and has spread into the rural areas, citing as one of many examples, the events in Aguilares; that during elections, the repression becomes more acute, that the Church is openly and brutally persecuted and that there are many individuals who have been expelled from the country, a list of whose names incomplete, so they said they turned over to the Special Committee; that during the last elections there was fraud; that the candidates of the Government parties and coalitions prevailed, since they had the backing of the powers in office.

11. At the beginning of 1978, it seemed that there was more freedom within political parties to participate in the parliamentary and municipal elections held last March; however, the opposition, according to public statements, decided not to participate in the electoral process. The opposition justified its nonparticipation by alleging that it was impossible for it to organize in rural areas, because of hostility on the part of the authorities, a lack of confidence in the electoral process, and finally, the disproportionate representation of the official party on the Central Election Board.

12. A few days after their meeting with the Special Committee, the U.N.O. members held a public demonstration in front of the Hotel Camino Real, where the offices of the Special Committee were located.

b. Business Organizations

13. Representatives of the business community or employers (Chamber of Commerce and Industry of El Salvador; Salvadoran Industrialists Association; Agricultural agencies Coordinating council and the National Federation of Small Businesses). In a lengthy document that they presented jointly to the Special Committee, did not claim the existence of violations of their rights to associate or assembly, freely in the defense and protection of their legitimate interest and claimed to have free access to all communications media. In order to express and disseminate their thoughts or spread their ideas; but theses same representatives complained of what they called a progressive breakdown in respect for the law, which they claim started approximately ten years ago and seriously affects private business activity.

c. National Bar Association

14. During a meeting with the Special Committee held at the headquarters of the Bar Association, its representatives agreed that there were no limitations on the rights of Salvadoran lawyers in the exercise of their duties. They also stated that the situation regarding respect for individual freedoms had stabilized considerably since July 1, 1978, the date on which the current President, General Romero, took office.

d. Students and Educators

15. As for the students sector, for example, it is alleged that hundreds of university, high school and vocational education students have been arrested for personal acts of for their participation in various demonstrations, public events or meetings, even though, as was said later, most have been released.

16. Information received alleges that since 1972, the year in which government authorities used detachments of armed forces to take over the University of El Salvador, the Government has appointed its administrative officials and that police control or security was established within the grounds of the university. [3]/ Since that time the most important events that have been denounced can be summarized as follows:

I. According to one denunciation, on July 25, 1975, a demonstration by university and high school students protesting the takeover of the Centro Universitario de Occidente, in the Department of Santa Ana, was dissolved by the use of violence.

II. On July 30, 1975, what the claimants regard, as the most serious instance of repression on the part of the authorities took place, so called, because of the means used to break up the student demonstration held to protest the events in Santa Ana. And to defend the autonomy of the university. The denunciations and information received by the Commission reported many dead and wounded (the Government report did not acknowledge even one death.) [4]/

III. On October 24, 1976, another student demonstration held on the campus of the University was also broken up through the use of violence by police forces maintaining order on the University grounds. These events led to an indefinite cancellation of classes, beginning on November 28, 1976.

IV. The Board of Regents appointed by the Government in May of 1977 was told to fire forty professors who were accused of supporting the students.

For their part, the authorities of the National University told the Special Committee that University activities are now normal, in contrast to the previous situation, when groups of said authorities said to be extremists maintained an atmosphere of conflict that seriously disrupted the peace of the University. (In the Introduction to this report there is a detailed description of the interview held by the Special Committee with the authorities of the National University).

17. The National Association of Salvadoran Educators (“ANDES 21 de junio”) presented to the Special Committee a document in which it denounced a police of government repression prejudicial to the Association and its members, and repression that manifested itself in numerous cases of detentions and disappearances.

In the document in question, they point out that between February and December of 1977 21 teachers were arrested; of these Manuel Alberto Rivera and Efraín Arévalo Ibarra continued to be deprived of their freedom.

The educators also stated that as a result of the demonstration demanding, the release of political prisoners and repatriation of exiles held on January 29, 1977. By the Revolutionary Peoples Bloc, of which NADES is an affiliate, together with the relatives of certain political prisoners the denunciation of the repression and captures was widely disseminated to the point that “now no one doubts the existence of hundred of political prisoners that the military tyranny has hidden.”

ANDES stated in that same document, that the reason it had not attended an interview convoked by the Special Committee, was that the latter had come to El Salvador at the Government’s invitation and that; Therefore its visit would give legitimacy to the current regime, instead of assuming an impartial role. They went on to state that the association was interested in combating the Government through other means, by stepping up the organized and combative fight of the people.

18. Later, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights received from the World Confederation of Organizations of the Teaching Profession (WCOTP), and institution that includes millions of educators, a copy of the communication that it had sent to the President of El Salvador, which reads as follows:

“Please order the release of Professor Manuel Rivera Efraín Arévalo and Hipólito Martínez. Return the headquarters of the Association (ANDES) 21 de junio, thereby respecting the free exercise of political rights and the autonomy and sovereignty of a union organization; through this just response, your Government would crate trust among educators.”

“José Ernesto Fuentes Rivera, President of the Summit Meeting held in Panamá and Member of the Committee of the World Confederation of Organizations of the Teaching Profession (WCOTP).

Dr. Fernando Hernández Días, a consultant for the World Confederation of Organizations of the Teaching Profession (WCOTP).

“Ricardo Cabrera LaMadris, Assistant Secretary of the Confederation of American Educators (CEA).”

e. Trade Unions

19. As for unions, it should be pointed out that during the meeting between leaders representing various labor groups and the members of the Special Committee, the majority of the complaints involved the right to strike.

20. The labor leaders denounced the serious limitations that they experience in practice since, among other reasons, the law itself and the procedures allow, as a general rule. The judges to declare the strikes “unjustified” or “illegal”; the workers find it very difficult to obtain permission beforehand or authorization from the authorities.

21. As for union rights guaranteed internationally, the complaints lodges were what the Government has not yet ratified Conventions 87 and 98 of ILO, which concern the freedom of trade unions and respect for collective agreements.

22. They also stated that the right of assembly is limited in practice by the fact that entrepreneurial groups, together with the Government, have always tried to establish so-called “white labor unions” to counteract the unions to which most of the workers belong.

f. Campesino Organizations

23. Union representatives that spoke with the Special Committee also explained that it was especially difficult for them to attract members in the campesino sector, because of governmental opposition and because the law only recognized three types of unions: trade unions, industrial unions, and business unions. Thus, for example, there was a coffee syndicate, but the Labor Code did not permit a syndicate to represent the cane cutters; there was no cotton syndicate because the Salvadoran cotton cooperative had blocked its formation.

24. Further, union representatives pointed out that death, imprisonment, disappearance, injury, mistreatment and harassment; have always been more common among farm workers, as it is the country’s largest sector and because recent denunciations involved attacks, occupations and massive reprisals against villages or settlements where campesinos work and live with their families; it is alleged that these places have been shot at, sacked and burned.

25. Government authorities said that the Union for Farm Workers (UTC) and the Christian Campesino Association (FECCAS) have been and are involved in subversive and terrorist activities, as are campesino organizations as a rule. The leaders of the U.T.C- and the FECCAS denied this accusation. Representatives of the Catholic Church also categorically deny that the activities of Catholic nuns and priests in organizing campesinos are acts of violence as the Government alleges, as one of the purposes of the church is to promote the welfare of campesinos and the Church condemns terrorism.

g. The Church

26. Authorities of the Catholic Church reported to the Special Committee—and have done so publicly as well—that both the Government and government-favored organizations systematically and seriously harass nuns, priest, and the lay people who participate in activities that are part of the Church’s social action, as for example the matter of organizing the campesinos. Further, because of such activities the church, in general, and the bishops in particular, are publicly attacked and are linked to terrorism and the encouragement of subversion. They said that in rural areas, the atmosphere is always tense because of the unfair distribution of wealth and of the impotence of the campesino in terms of being able to improve his situation, because he not only is not allowed to organize but any attempt to obtain a more just remuneration or to improve working conditions is put down brutally. They added that the Church is being slandered when it is accused of being responsible for the unrest in the rural areas. According to Church spokesmen, it has been harshly attacked for trying to fulfill its mission. As proof of this, they pointed to the deaths of Fathers Grande and Navarro, the expulsion of a number of priests, and the threats that religious authorities constantly received. [5]/




[1]American Convention on Human Rights

Article 15, Right of Assembly

The right of peaceful assembly, without arms, is recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right, other than those imposed in conformity with the law and necessary in a democratic society. In the interest of rational security, public safety or public order, or to protect public health or morals on the rights or freedoms of others.

Article 16. Freedom of Association

1. Everyone has the right to associate freely for ideological religious, political, economic, labor, social, cultural, sports or other purposes.

2. The exercise of this right shall be subject only to such restrictions established by laws as may be necessary in a democratic society, in the interest of national security, public safety or public order, or to protect public health or morals or the rights and freedoms of others.

3. The provisions of this article do not bar the imposition of legal restrictions, including even deprivation of the exercise of the right of association, on members of the armed forces and the police.

[2] See Chapter I, page 32.

[3] Art. 204 of the Constitution provide that: “The University of El Salvador is autonomous in its teaching, administrative and financial aspects….”

[4] See Chapter II, page 50 et seq.

[5] See the Introduction page 11,and Chapter II, page 50.


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