At least 153 people have died in Salvadoran prisons in the first year of the “war on gangs”, according to a report by Cristosal. The most common cause of death was asphyxiation, and many cases of torture and beatings were documented. “It’s a painfully familiar scenario from the darkest eras of Salvadoran history,” said the organization’s director.
Dealing with human rights Cristosal has been documenting human rights abuses in Salvadoran prisons since Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele announced in March 2022 state of emergency and declared a “war on gangs”. After this decision, there was a huge wave of detentions in the country, a the president bragged about the progress in filling the new, huge prison with thousands more inmates.
According to the Cristosal report published on Monday, many of them died shortly after being imprisoned. The report documents a total of 153 inmates who died between March 27, 2022 and March 27, 2023. The causes of death were different: they died as a result of torture, beatings, suffocation, but also of their wounds and lack of access to medical help.
Of these cases, 29 inmates died a violent death and a further 46 died “probably violent” or “on suspicion of having committed a crime”. Among these 75 deaths, similarities were noted – the presence of cuts, hematomas caused by beatings, wounds inflicted by sharp objects, and signs of strangulation. According to the report, asphyxiation was the most frequently recorded cause of death among prisoners. “El Pais” recalls that it was also a common method of torture used by El Salvador’s security forces during the civil war in 1979-1992.
Salvadoran Gang War
Cristosal spoke to hundreds of people who had been imprisoned in Salvadoran prisons for many months, as well as to the relatives of those who died in prisons. She also accessed medical, court and police records, as well as the photos contained therein. The report describes, among other things: The case of a 32-year-old man whose autopsy showed that the cause of death was “severe chest trauma” and other injuries consistent with a beating were found on his body. In turn, a 50-year-old woman suffering from liver disease died in prison because the services did not give her medication, although the patient’s family delivered them to the facility.
According to the authors of the report, the real number of people who died in Salvadoran prisons may be much higher. It was indicated that some inmates are buried in mass graves after their death, and their families are not informed about it. The organization managed to document four such cases. There are also situations in which a prisoner leaves prison, but his health has deteriorated so much that he dies. According to former prisoners interviewed by Cristosal, beatings, ill-treatment are the order of the day in Salvadoran prisons, facilities are overcrowded and prisoners are denied enough food and water.
State of emergency in El Salvador
The state of emergency in El Salvador has been in effect since March 27, 2022. It was introduced by President Nayib Bukele after two of the country’s biggest gangs, MS-13 and Barrio 18, led to the murder of at least 92 people in just four days. A wave of arrests of alleged gang members followed. It is estimated that at least 60,000 people have been imprisoned since then. people, including hundreds of children. Arrests are made without a warrant and detainees are denied the right to defence, Reuters points out.
The state of emergency was criticized by human rights defenders, who pointed out that the arrests violated the fundamental right to a fair trial and that there were many innocent people among the detainees. – In the history of El Salvador, states of emergency are nothing new. They are instruments of social control and political repression used by the military dictatorships of the past, said Noah Bullock, director of Cristosal, in an interview with “El Pais”. – (Today’s situation) is a disturbing and painfully familiar scenario from the darkest eras of Salvadoran history (…) All Salvadorans know that any encounter with a police officer can end in detention and torture – he added.
El Pais, Reuters, tvn24.pl
Main photo source: Rodrigo Sura/EPA/PAP