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).




In the light of the facts, observations, and other elements of judgement mentioned in this report, the Commission considers it appropriate to draw the following conclusions:

1. Many persons have died as a result of the actions of security bodies and of the official paramilitary origination known as ORDEN.

2. The security bodies and the official paramilitary organization ORDEN have committed torture and physical and psychological mistreatment in many cases.

3. The security bodies have committed serious violations of the right to liberty, in making arbitrary arrests. They have maintained secret places of detention, where some persons, whose capture and imprisonment have been denied by the government, were deprived of liberty under extremely cruel and inhuman conditions.

4. In general, the laws of El Salvador contemplate the right to a fair trial and to due process of law, but in practice the legal remedies are not effective for protecting the persons arbitrarily derived of their basic human rights. This situation is particularly serious in the cases concerning missing persons. Even in regard to the formal legal system, there is an important deficiency in that police magistrates can sentence a person to jail for up to six months, without that person being able to exercise his right to defense and to due process in an effective way.

5. The rights of assembly and of association, especially the latter, frequently meet obstacles when exercised by persons or groups opposing the government, especially in the case of campesinos.

6. The right to freedom of thought and of expression is subject to limitation, especially at this time, as a result of the interpretations that have resulted from the Law of Defense and Guaranty of Public Order.

7. There is widespread skepticism among the citizenry regarding the right to vote and to participate in government. In particular, the political parties of the opposition, in this connection, come to have no confidence in the possibility of having free and honest elections. Not only in the light of their experiences during the course of recent elections, but also because of the structure of the electoral system and of the obstacles system and of the obstacles the parties encounter in trying to organize in the interior of the country. For all these reasons, the Commission considers that electoral rights are not effective under the present circumstances.

8. As a result of the activities that the Catholic Church is carrying on, because it considers that they are an integral part of its mission, priests, members of religious orders of both sexes. And lay persons who cooperate actively with the Church have been the objects of systematic persecution by the authorities and organizations that enjoy the favor of the government.

The highest authorities of the Government of El Salvador and the representatives of all the sectors of the population recognize the existence of a tense atmosphere of polarization in their country, on account of the great problems that affect it.

Many persons, both within and outside the government, cite as one of the principal causes of this tension and polarization the economic and social conditions that have been getting worse thought the country for a long time. The Commission recognizes the seriousness of these conditions, which have been described in Chapter X of this report. Among the most serious is the tremendous concentration of land ownership and of economic power in general, as well as political power, in the hands of a few, with the consequent desperation and misery of the campesinos, who make up a large majority of the Salvadoran population.

The Social and economic conditions explain, to a considerable extend serious violations of human rights that have occurred and continue to occur in El Salvador. And, at the same time, obstruct the enjoyment of the economic and social rights set forth in the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man. the Charter of the OAS, Article 26 of the American Convention on Human rights, and other international violations of the basic political and civil rights. These violations constitute an obstacle to overcoming progressively the social and political tensions, since they impede the effective functioning of a political system that could respond constrictively to the real social and economic needs of the population.

On the basis of all of the foregoing, and in fulfillment of its essential mission, the Commission believes it appropriate to make the following recommendations to the Government of El Salvador:

1. That the official preliminary organization called ORDEN be dissolved, because the way it has acted and is acting is contrary to the effective exercise of the human rights of the campesinos;

2. That the legal standards concerning public order, and especially the Law of Defense and Guaranty of Public Order, be amended. For the purpose of eliminating the provisions that give rise to an excessively broad interpretation, of their provisions and an indiscriminate application of them. Because they have given rise to important acts of abuse of power to the harm of the free and normal development of opponents of the government, in accordance with the uses and customs characteristic of a democratic society;

3. That the electoral system be reformed, especially by reorganizing the Central Election Council, so that the political parties be equitably represented, and confidence in the system be established;

4. That the campesino sector be permitted to resort to every means of organization existing in a democratic society, on the basis of the exercise of the rights, among others, of assembly, of association, and of union organization. For this purpose, the government should also encourage and protect the campesinos—and those who cooperate or wish to cooperate with them, such as the churches, particularly the Catholic Church—in their effort to organize themselves to exercise their rights and to affirm their dignity;

5. That effort be made so that denunciations about persons killed arrested, tortured or missing following arrest is investigated, and the authorities responsible for such acts are investigated, tried, and punished;

6. That the necessary measures be taken to prevent continuation of the persecution of the members of the Catholic Church who act in legitimate exercise of their pastoral mission;

7. That the substantive and procedural rules be amended so that in trial before police magistrates the right to defense may be effectively exercised and due process of law guaranteed;

8. That the necessary measures be taken, taking advantage of all resources, to improve the social and economic conditions prevailing in the country, so that the inequalities that constitute an obstacle to the observance of basic human rights may be lessened and eventually disappear. This effort will require the participation of the entire sector of society, without excluding those most affected by the present situation;

9. That Salvadoran nationals who are abroad because of expulsions decreed by the government or for any other reason who wish to return to their homeland be permitted to enter the country, without limitation or condition.


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