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World : North America : El Salvador
El Salvador

Before the Spanish conquest, the area that is now El Salvador was made up of two large Indian states and several principalities. The indigenous inhabitants were the Pipils, a tribe of nomadic Nahua people long-established in Central Mexico. Early in their history, they became one of the few Mesoamerican Indian groups to abolish human sacrifice. Otherwise, their culture was similar to that of their Aztec neighbors. Remains of Nahua culture are still found at ruins such as Tazumal (near Chalchuapa), San Andres (northeast of Armenia), and Joya De Ceren (north of Colón). The first Spanish attempt to subjugate this area failed in 1524, when Pipil warriors forced Pedro de Alvarado to retreat. In 1525, he returned and succeeded in bringing the district under control of the Captaincy General of Guatemala, which retained its authority until 1821, despite an abortive revolution in 1811.

In 1821, El Salvador and the other Central American provinces declared their independence from Spain. When these provinces were joined with Mexico in early 1822, El Salvador resisted, insisting on autonomy for the Central American countries. Guatemalan troops sent to enforce the union were driven out of El Salvador in June 1822. El Salvador, fearing incorporation into Mexico, petitioned the U.S. Government for statehood. But in 1823, a revolution in Mexico ousted Emperor Augustin Iturbide, and a new Mexican congress voted to allow the Central American provinces to decide their own fate. That year, the United Provinces of Central America was formed of the five Central American states under Gen. Manuel Jose Arce. When this federation was dissolved in 1838, El Salvador became an independent republic. El Salvador's early history as an independent state--as with others in Central America--was marked by frequent revolutions; not until the period 1900-30 was relative stability achieved. The economic elite ruled the country in conjunction with the military, and the power structure was controlled by a relatively small number of wealthy landowners, known as the 14 Families. The economy, based on coffee growing, prospered or suffered as the world coffee price fluctuated. From 1932--the year of Gen. Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez's coup following his brutal suppression of rural resistance--until 1980, all but one Salvadoran temporary president was an army officer. Periodic presidential elections were seldom free or fair.

From the 1930s to the 1970s, authoritarian governments employed political repression and limited reform to maintain power, despite the trappings of democracy. During the 1970s, the political situation began to unravel. In the 1972 presidential election, the opponents of military rule united under Jose Napoleon Duarte, leader of the Christian Democratic Party (PDC). Amid widespread fraud, Duarte's broad-based reform movement was defeated. Subsequent protests and an attempted coup were crushed and Duarte exiled. These events eroded hope of reform through democratic means and persuaded those opposed to the government that armed insurrection was the only way to achieve change. As a consequence, leftist groups capitalizing upon social discontent gained strength. By 1979, leftist guerrilla warfare had broken out in the cities and the countryside, launching what became a 12-year civil war. A cycle of violence took hold as rightist vigilante death squads in turn killed thousands. The poorly trained Salvadoran Armed Forces (ESAF) also engaged in repression and indiscriminate killings. After the collapse of the Somoza regime in Nicaragua that year, the new Sandinista government provided large amounts of arms and munitions to five Salvadoran guerrilla groups. On October 15, 1979, reform-minded military officers and civilian leaders ousted the right-wing government of Gen. Carlos Humberto Romero (1977-79) and formed a revolutionary junta. PDC leader Duarte joined the junta in March 1980, leading the provisional government until the elections of March 1982. The junta initiated a land reform program and nationalized the banks and the marketing of coffee and sugar. Political parties were allowed to function again, and on March 28, 1982, Salvadorans elected a new constituent assembly. Following that election, authority was peacefully transferred to Alvaro Magana, the provisional president selected by the assembly. The 1983 constitution, drafted by the assembly, strengthened individual rights, established safeguards against excessive provisional detention and unreasonable searches, established a republican, pluralistic form of government, strengthened the legislative branch, and enhanced judicial independence. It also codified labor rights, particularly for agricultural workers. The newly initiated reforms, though, did not satisfy the guerrilla movements, which had unified under Cuban auspices--while each retained their autonomous status--as the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN). Duarte won the 1984 presidential election against rightist Roberto D'Aubuisson of the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) with 54% of the vote and became the first freely elected president of El Salvador in more than 50 years. In 1989, ARENA's Alfredo Cristiani won the presidential election with 54% of the vote. His inauguration on June 1, 1989, marked the first time that power had passed peacefully from one freely elected civilian leader to another.

Upon his inauguration in June 1989, President Cristiani called for direct dialogue to end the decade of conflict between the government and guerrillas. An unmediated dialogue process involving monthly meetings between the two sides was initiated in September 1989, lasting until the FMLN launched a bloody, nationwide offensive in November of that year. In early 1990, following a request from the Central American presidents, the United Nations became involved in an effort to mediate direct talks between the two sides. After a year of little progress, the government and the FMLN accepted an invitation from the UN Secretary General to meet in New York City. On September 25, 1991, the two sides signed the New York City Accord. It concentrated the negotiating process into one phase and created the Committee for the Consolidation of the Peace (COPAZ), made up of representatives of the government, FMLN, and political parties, with Catholic Church and UN observers. On December 31, 1991, the government and the FMLN initialed a peace agreement under the auspices of then Secretary General Perez de Cuellar. The final agreement, called the Accords of Chapultepec, was signed in Mexico City on January 16, 1992. A 9-month cease-fire took effect February 1, 1992, and was never broken. A ceremony held on December 15, 1992, marked the official end of the conflict, concurrent with the demobilization of the last elements of the FMLN military structure and the FMLN's inception as a political party.

Today, El Salvador is a constitutional, multiparty democracy with an executive branch headed by a president and a unicameral legislature. In 1999 voters elected President Francisco Flores of the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) to a 5-year term. In generally free and fair elections in March 2000, the former guerrilla organization Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) won a plurality of the seats in the Legislative Assembly. ARENA maintains a working majority in coalition with the conservative National Conciliation Party. Four other parties and one independent hold seats in the Assembly. The judiciary is constitutionally independent; however, it suffers from inefficiency and corruption.


The Salvadoran economy continues to benefit from a commitment to free markets and careful fiscal management. The impact of the civil war on El Salvador's economy was devastating; from 1979-90, losses from damage to infrastructure and means of production due to guerrilla sabotage as well as from reduced export earnings totaled about $2.2 billion. But since attacks on economic targets ended in 1992, improved investor confidence has led to increased private investment. Rich soil, moderate climate, and a hard-working and enterprising labor pool comprise El Salvador's greatest assets. Much of the improvement in El Salvador's economy is due to free market policy initiatives carried out by the Cristiani and Calderon Sol governments, including the privatization of the banking system, telecommunications, public pensions, electrical distribution and some electrical generation, reduction of import duties, elimination of price controls on virtually all consumer products, and enhancing the investment climate through measures such as improved enforcement of intellectual property rights. The post-war boom in the Salvadoran economy began to fade in July 1995 after an abrupt shift in monetary policy was followed by a June increase in the value added tax (VAT) and price hikes in basic public services. The slowdown lingered into 1996. Growth in GDP in 1996 was a mere 2.1%, but by 1997 it had picked up to 4%. In 1998, El Salvador's economy grew by 3.2% compared to the 4.2% growth posted in 1997. The damage caused by Hurricane Mitch to infrastructure and to agricultural production reduced 1998 growth by an estimated .5%. Growth weakened further (to 2.6%) in 1999 due to poor international prices for El Salvador's principal export commodities, weak exports to Central American neighbors recovering from Hurricane Mitch, and an investment slowdown caused by the March 1999 presidential elections and delays in legislative approval of a national budget. It picked up slightly to 3% in 2000. Because of the earthquakes that struck the country in January and February, the economy grew less than 2% in 2001. Inflation for 1998 was 4% and remained stable in 1999-2000. Thanks to the introduction of the U.S. dollar as legal tender and despite the earthquakes, inflation in 2001 was only 3.5%.

Fiscal policy has been the biggest challenge for the Salvadoran Government. The 1992 peace accords committed the government to heavy expenditures for transition programs and social services. Although international aid was generous, the government has focused on improving the collection of its current revenues. A 10% value-added tax, implemented in September 1992, was raised to 13% in July 1995. The VAT is estimated to have contributed 51% of total tax revenues in 1999, due mainly to improved collection techniques. A multiple exchange rate regime that had been used to conserve foreign exchange was phased out during 1990 and replaced by a free-floating rate. The colón depreciated from five to the dollar in 1989 to eight in 1991, and in 1993, was informally pegged at 8.73 colónes to the dollar, later adjusted to 8.79. Large inflows of dollars in the form of family remittances from Salvadorans working in the United States offset a substantial trade deficit and support the exchange rate. The monthly average of remittances reported by the Central Bank is around $150 million, with the total estimated at more than $1.9 billion for 2001. As of December 1999, net international reserves equaled $1.8 billion or roughly 5 months of imports. Having this hard currency buffer to work with, the Salvadoran Government undertook a "monetary integration plan" beginning January 1, 2001, by which the dollar became legal tender alongside the colón. No more colónes are to be printed, the economy is expected to be, in practice, fully dollarized, and the Central Reserve Bank dissolved, by late 2003. The FMLN is strongly opposed to the plan, regarding it as unconstitutional, and plans to make it an issue in the 2003 legislative elections.

The country's population is over 6.3 million. The free-market, mixed economy largely is based on services, agriculture, and manufacturing. Although agriculture accounts for only 12 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP), it is the largest source of employment, engaging 35 percent of the work force, estimated at over 2.6 million persons. Coffee and sugar are the principal export crops and important sources of foreign exchange, although a sustained decline in coffee prices has depressed activity in this sector. According to the Salvadoran Coffee Council, the decline reduced employment in the end of year harvest by approximately 4,300 jobs. The manufacturing sector, which contributes 21 percent of GDP, employs 9 percent of the work force. The textile sector, especially the maquila (in-bond assembly or processing) plants in free trade zones, represents about 50 percent of manufacturing sector employment and is the main source of new jobs. The economy is open, and private property is respected. The rate of real economic growth was estimated to reach 2 percent during the year 2001. Inflation was 1.4 percent. Per capita GDP reached $2,183. The official unemployment rate averaged 5.5 percent in the third trimester of the year, 5.9 percent urban and 4.8 percent rural; however, the rate of underemployment (less than full-time work or total income below the minimum wage) during the year 2001 was estimated at about 28 percent. In January and February 2001 two earthquakes, killed over 1,100 persons, made over 1.2 million homeless, and caused over $1.3 billion in damage. The result was a 5- to 7-year setback for the country. For example, reversing a decade of steadily declining poverty rates, the earthquakes left 55 percent of the population below the poverty level, substantially more than the 49 percent recorded in 2000. On January 1, the dollar became an official currency together with the colon. Official transactions, including court fines, may take place in either currency.


El Salvador's penal and procedural codes were derived from the established precedents of nineteenth-century Spanish jurisprudence and therefore follow the standard Latin American pattern. Although adopted early in the twentieth century, both documents have been revised and updated periodically since then. Changes in the Penal Code of 1904 have been enacted through supplementary legislation in the form of laws or decrees. El Salvador published a revised Penal Code in 1980. The code recognizes three distinct levels of offenses: felonies (delitos), misdemeanors (faltas), and infractions (contravenciones). The major categories of offenses distinguish among crimes against the state, crimes against persons or property, and threats to public order or safety. The Penal Code contains statutes prohibiting crimes against the state (Articles 373 to 411), subversion (Articles 376 to 380), treason (Article 381), terrorism (Articles 400, 402, and 403), and other actions against the stability of the state. Crimes against persons or property cover the more conventional types of lawbreaking, including such offenses as homicide, assault, robbery, and fraud. The code takes into account possible extenuations and mitigating factors, such as self-defense. Ignorance of the law is not considered an excuse, however, and an unsuccessful attempted crime is punishable as though perpetrated. Provisions allow for increased penalties in cases considered aggravated or grossly malicious.

The code carefully defines penalties and their range in considerable detail. Recognized punishments include fines, imprisonment, banishment, loss of civil rights, and death. Article 27 of the Constitution, however, allows the death penalty only in cases established by military laws during a state of international war. The code also prohibits imprisonment for debt, perpetual and dishonorable sentences, banishment, and all kinds of mental or physical torment. Persons arrested for crimes against the state have the same legal protection as common criminals. Holding views opposed to the government is not justification for arrest if the suspect does not advocate violence. Thus, the courts have held that membership in a front organization controlled by the insurgents is not by itself sufficient reason to hold an arrestee, although membership in a guerrilla group is.


Although statistics are incomplete, the crime rate in El Salvador is low compared to industrialized countries, with the important exception of murder. An analysis was done using INTERPOL data for El Salvador. For purpose of comparison, data were drawn for the four of seven offenses used to compute the United States FBI's index of crime. Index offenses include murder, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, and motor vehicle theft. The combined total of these offenses constitutes the Index used for trend calculation purposes. El Salvador will be compared with Japan (country with a low crime rate) and USA (country with a high crime rate). According to the INTERPOL data, for murder, the rate in 1998 was 38.80 for El Salvador, 1.10 for Japan, and 6.80 for USA. For rape, the rate in 1998 was 10.01 for El Salvador, compared with 1.48 for Japan and 35.92 for USA. (It will be pointed out below that rape is highly underreported for El Salvador.) For aggravated assault, the rate in 1998 was 63.73 for El Salvador, 15.40 for Japan, and 382.04 for USA. The rate for motor vehicle theft in 1998 was 148.49 for El Salvador, compared with 28.37 for Japan and 505.80 for USA. Data were not provided to INTERPOL by El Salvador for robbery, burglary, and larceny, so the rate for all index offenses could not be computed. Note that data were not provided to INTERPOL by the USA for 1998, so 1997 data for USA were used in the above comparison.


Legal system is based on civil and Roman law, with traces of common law. Judicial review of legislative acts is done by the Supreme Court.


In the early post-colonial period, the primary function of police forces was to enforce, at the behest of local authorities of towns and communities, an 1825 law on vagrancy in order to ensure an adequate supply of labor for the large landowners. New regulations issued in 1855 established a state-subsidized regional "rural police" force, whose roving inspectors were to patrol the highways and countryside and to penalize offenders for minor offenses by fining or jailing them.

Salvadoran police structures, including the National Police (Policia Nacional--PN), which was founded in 1867, developed in the later part of the nineteenth century for the purpose of assuming most of the internal security functions that the urban-based militia or army had been performing. In 1883 San Salvador set up a permanent professional police corps of 100 men and 18 officers and administrators. As a result of the liberal government's measures to deprive the Indian population of their land, expanded police forces were needed to deal with the growing Indian unrest. An 1888 legislative decree authorized the formation of a rural mounted police corps for the prosperous coffee-growing areas of western El Salvador, principally the departments of Ahuachapan, Sonsonate, and Santa Ana.

A national urban police system developed concurrently with the rural National Guard (Guardia Nacional--GN). By the end of 1906, the full-time police forces of the other major cities were linked administratively to the San Salvador police. President Manuel Araujo established the basis of a professional law enforcement system in 1912 when he appointed a Spanish army captain as commander of all the permanent civil police organizations. The captain formed a national police corps of 1,200 officers and men and developed a training program.

The evolution of the rural police system culminated in 1912 when two Spanish officers formed a Salvadoran version of the Spanish Civil Guard called the GN. Placed under the operational control of the Ministry of Government and Development, the guard's black-helmeted troops were organized specifically to defend coffee and fruit plantations from thousands of peasants evicted from what had been communal properties. Although the main duty of the GN was to control the rural population, it also enforced petty agrarian provisions and kept records on personnel employed by plantations. Thus, many GN units--like their army counterparts--acted as private armies for the large landowners. The Treasury Police (Policia de Hacienda--PH), formed in 1926, functioned mainly as a frontier guard and customs force. Its initial mission was primarily to prevent campesinos from producing chicha, the local version of corn liquor.

In January 1932, a month after taking power, Martinez ordered his security forces to use indiscriminate violence to suppress a rural revolt in western El Salvador organized by the newly established Communist Party of El Salvador (Partido Comunista de El Salvador--PCES). The GN and Civic Guard (Guardia Civica), a newly created civilian militia, thereupon massacred, by most historical accounts, approximately 30,000 peasants, trade unionists, and opposition members in la matanza and captured and executed the communist leader, Agustin Farabundo Marti. The Martinez regime refined a system of stricter control of the rural population by developing the rural security forces, including the Civic Guard, with units in each of more than 2,000 local communities. After the rebellion, Civic Guard units functioned as a private militia for wealthy families and military commanders. The regime based its new security measures largely on existing legislation and the Agrarian Code, which it revised in 1941 in order to set down guidelines for law enforcement and the regimentation of rural life. The basic organization of the security system as established by Martinez operated with little modification until the 1980s. The Revolution of 1948, however, reversed the subordination of the army to the security services and disbanded the Civic Guard. The three police forces thereafter assumed primary responsibility for internal security.

In the early 1960s, some Salvadoran officers of an extreme rightist orientation formed paramilitary organizations to assist the army and GN in fighting subversion with unconventional and illegal methods. The GN's Colonel Jose Alberto "Chele" Medrano helped found the Nationalist Democratic Organization (Organizacion Democratica Nacionalista-- Orden). By the mid-1960s, Orden was a well-established, nationwide network of peasant informants and paramilitary forces, with a unit in most villages. Local army commanders supervised these units in coordination with GN commanders. Recruits came primarily from the army reserve system, and the GN provided most of their training. Orden units performed regular patrolling duties in their local areas, served as an informant network, and attempted to inculcate an anticommunist doctrine among the rural population. With the support of President Fidel Sanchez Hernandez, its "supreme chief," and Medrano, its "executive director," the organization expanded its role in the late 1960s to include involvement in civic action and development projects. Because of the influence of some of the more zealous GN intelligence officers, however, Orden deteriorated into an undisciplined and even ruthless militia of between 50,000 and 100,000 members. After Medrano's removal from power in 1970, Orden's status was reduced from official to semiofficial by removing it from direct presidential control.

By the early 1970s, an extensive paramilitary organization utilizing the structure and personnel of Orden supplemented the traditional security system. Although the reformist coalition that seized power in October 1979 issued decrees to outlaw and disband Orden that November, the organization apparently was abolished in name only. In 1976 a new civil defense law had established a system to assist in national emergencies and to counter attempts at rural insurgency. The membership of the new civil defense units that were finally organized in 1981 reportedly tended to overlap with that of Orden. The main purpose of the new civil defense units was to serve as local self-defense militia and to repel guerrilla attacks on villages. By the late 1980s, the Salvadoran Army claimed to have organized 21,000 civil defense troops in 319 communities, with another 10,000 troops in training. Despite being lightly armed and poorly trained, the civil defense troops were an important supplement to the thinly stretched army.

In 1988, El Salvador's internal security forces, called the public security forces, consisted of the GN, with 4,200 members; the PN, with 6,000 members; and the PH, with about 2,400 members. These services were supported by the territorial Civil Defense (Defensa Civil--DC), with about 24,000 members. Although controlled by the minister of defense and public security, even in peacetime, and engaged in the counterinsurgency effort, the public security forces had primarily a police role. By mid-1988 the police forces had improved markedly in professionalism and performance, but they still lacked sufficient training and resources to deter or respond effectively to terrorist attacks.

The PN was responsible for urban security, the GN for rural security, and the PH--including customs and immigration personnel--for the prevention of smuggling, for border control, and for the enforcement of laws relating to alcohol production and associated tax matters. The GN was organized into fourteen companies, one for each of the fourteen departments. A tactical structure of five commands or battalions could replace the regular organization in an emergency. The PN was divided into the Line Police (Policia de Linea), which functioned as an urban police force; the Traffic Police (Policia de Transito), which handled traffic in urban areas; the Highway Patrol (Policia de Caminos); the Department of Investigations (Departamento de Investigaciones), or plainclothes detective force; and the Night Watchmen and Bank Guards Corps (Cuerpo de Vigilantes Nocturnos y Bancarios).

Until the early 1980s, the security forces were among the most notorious violators of human rights in El Salvador. The PH, with an extensive network of rural informants, evolved into the most select and brutal of the three security forces during its first fifty years. Police and army units were involved in a number of bloody incidents when they attempted to break up large demonstrations.

After taking office as president in 1984, however, Duarte, in an effort to tighten discipline and centralize control over the traditionally semiautonomous security forces, created the new position of vice minister of defense and public security and named Colonel Lopez Nuila to fill it. Lopez Nuila thereupon reorganized all police forces and private guard organizations as he sought to clarify the ambiguous, overlapping responsibilities of the PN, PH, and GN. The reorganization gave the PN sole responsibility for urban law and order and restricted the GN's authority to rural areas. In addition, Lopez Nuila merged the Customs Police (Policia de Aduana) with the PH, thus removing the latter from nationwide law-and-order duties and restricting it to handling border duties and supervising the defense of state property and customs. Lopez Nuila also replaced the controversial PH director general, Carranza, with an ally, Colonel Rinaldo Golcher. Golcher placed all other paramilitary organizations-- from the guard forces that defended electric companies and banks to the private guards that were hired by individuals or private firms--under the control and licensing of the PH. Lopez Nuila also made an effort to purge the security services of disreputable personnel. He announced in December 1986 that 1,806 members of the public security forces had been dismissed between June 1985 and May 1986.

In November 1986, Duarte inaugurated a program under which the three security services would receive training. As a result, mandatory human rights instruction became part of police recruit training and officers' classes in the late 1980s. The security forces instituted a separate intensive human rights training program for all police. By early 1988, virtually all members of the PN had received the course, and the GN was in the process of receiving it.

The new civilian police force, created to replace the discredited public security forces, deployed its first officers in March 1993, and was present throughout the country by the end of 1994. As of 1999, the PNC had more than 18,000 officers. The United States, through the International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program (ICITAP), has led international support for the PNC and the National Public Security Academy (ANSP), providing about $32 million in nonlethal equipment and training since 1992. The ICITAP program plans to spend $1 million on assistance to the PNC in 2002. The ICITAP mission is to help the ANSP and the PNC to develop more experience in police techniques and procedures and assist with the development of an efficient operation and administration.

The PNC has faced many challenges in building a completely new police force. With common crime rising dramatically since the end of the war, more than 650 PNC officers had been killed in the line of duty. PNC officers also have arrested a number of their own in connection with various high-profile crimes, and a "purification" process to weed out unfit personnel from throughout for force was undertaken late in 2000. U.S. assistance--about $2 million--has been critical in helping start innovative community policing programs that attack the gang problem head-on, training criminal investigators, and improving the training of police supervisors.

Today the National Civilian Police (PNC) maintains internal security. The military is responsible for external security. The military provides support for some PNC patrols in rural areas, a measure begun in 1995 by presidential executive order in an effort to contain violence by well-armed, organized criminal bands, and provides support to the law enforcement agencies for specific activities, including antinarcotics efforts and reform school training for juvenile convicts. Civilian authorities generally maintain effective control of the military and security forces. Members of the police committed human rights abuses.

Currently, human rights abuses by the police in El Salvador are continuing. There were no reports of political killings by agents of the Government during the year 2001; however, members of the police committed some killings. In 2001, there were no reports of politically motivated disappearances. The Constitution prohibits such practices; however, some members of the PNC has continued to use excessive force or otherwise mistreated detainees. In August 2001, a prominent women's rights organization asserted that sexual harassment was widespread within the PNC and that female officers were subject to violence within the police. The Constitution provides for a right to privacy, and government authorities generally respected this right in practice. The law requires the police to have a resident's consent, a warrant, or a reasonable belief that a crime is under way or is about to be committed, before entering a private dwelling. However, on July 18, 2001, the Legislature approved a series of penal code reforms that allow the police to use undercover agents with the permission of the Attorney General and enter legally private property without a warrant when criminal activity is suspected. In addition, samples of blood and other bodily fluids can now be taken without the consent of the accused if a judge mandates it. Neither the Attorney General nor a special legislative commission has identified who was responsible for illegal wiretapping activities conducted by the telecommunications company, TELECOM, in 2000.


The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest; however, at times the PNC arbitrarily arrested and detained persons. During the year 2001, the PDDH received 178 complaints alleging violations of personal liberty, compared with 181 complaints in 2000. During the year 2001, the PDDH upheld the charges in 11 cases filed during the year and in prior years. The courts generally enforced a ruling that interrogation without the presence of counsel is coerced, and that any evidence obtained in such a manner is inadmissible. As a result, police authorities generally delayed questioning until a public defender arrived.

The law permits the police to hold a person for 72 hours before delivering the suspect to court, after which the judge may order detention for an additional 72 hours to determine if an investigation is warranted. Because of a lack of holding cells, such detainees often are sent to regular prisons, where they may be placed together with violent criminals. The law allows 6 months to investigate serious crimes before a judge is required to bring the accused to trial or dismiss the case. In exceptionally complicated cases, the judge or either party may ask the appeals court to extend the deadline for three months. However, many cases were not completed within the legally prescribed time frame. During the year 2001, 5,147 inmates (more than half the prison population) were in pretrial detention. From January through May 2000, the justice of the peace courts, where most court cases originate, accepted a daily average of 166 cases. Of these, a daily average of nine cases was resolved through conciliation proceedings.

The Penitentiary Code permits release on bail for detainees who are unlikely to flee or whose release would not impede the investigation of the case. Because it may take several years for a case to come to trial, some prisoners have been incarcerated longer than the maximum legal sentence for their crimes. In such circumstances, a detainee may request a review by the Supreme Court of his or her continued detention.

The Constitution prohibits forced exile, and the Government observes this prohibition.


The judicial branch of government is headed by the Supreme Court of Justice. The number of magistrates on the Supreme Court is not stipulated in the Constitution but is determined by other statutes. Magistrates are required to be Salvadoran by birth, more than forty years of age, and lawyers who have practiced for at least ten years or who have served as judges in a chamber of second instance for six years or on a court of first instance for nine years. Clergymen are prohibited from serving as magistrates. The president of the Supreme Court directs the business of the Supreme Court and functions as the head of the judicial branch. Magistrates are appointed by the Legislative Assembly to fiveyear terms.

The Supreme Court is divided into three chambers, or salas. The Constitutional Chamber (Sala de lo Constitucional), composed of the Supreme Court president and four other magistrates, rules on the constitutionality of laws and hears cases involving the invocation of amparo (restraint against the infringement of an individual's rights) or of habeas corpus. The remaining chambers of the Supreme Court, the Civil Chamber and the Criminal Chamber, serve as the last level of appeal in these legal categories.

Below the Supreme Court are the chambers of second instance, or courts of appeal. Each chamber is composed of two magistrates, who hear appeals of decisions handed down in the courts of first instance. There were fourteen chambers of second instance in 1986. The courts of first instance hear both civil and criminal cases; there were some eighty-seven such courts in 1986. The broadest level of the legal system is the justice of the peace courts. Numbering approximately 193 in 1986 and located throughout the country, the justice of the peace courts decide only cases involving misdemeanors and minor civil suits.

El Salvador's criminal justice system, which is derived from nineteenth-century Spanish jurisprudence, extends customary procedural safeguards to accused persons. Under Article 12 of the 1983 Constitution, any person accused of a crime shall be presumed innocent until proven guilty in conformance with the law and in a public trial. A person who is detained must be immediately informed of his or her rights, including the right to an attorney, and the reasons for the detention. Forced confession is prohibited. Article 13 prohibits any governmental organ, authority, or functionary from dictating orders for the unlawful arrest or imprisonment of any individual. Furthermore, arrest orders must always be in writing. The Constitution also provides that the periods for administrative or investigative detention not exceed seventy-two hours, during which time the detainee's case must be assigned to a competent judge. The United States Department of State reported that this requirement was followed in the great majority of cases in 1987. Americas Watch, however, charged in late 1987 that both the security forces and the army had violated this constitutional provision.

In the Salvadoran system, the courts become involved in the case almost immediately after the crime is committed because the judge oversees the investigation. If the police conduct a preliminary investigation, they must submit the result to the courts within seventy-two hours. A justice of the peace handles minor crimes, but must forward major cases to a judge in a court of first instance within fifteen days. In cases involving death, a judge--usually a justice of the peace--goes to the scene of the crime and "recognizes" the death judicially; a medical examiner determines the cause of death. Arrest regulations require that the security forces register detainees and have them examined by a doctor or nurse on entry into police facilities. In insurgencyrelated cases, the authorities must promptly notify the family of the detainee or one of the human rights offices of the arrest. Mistreatment of prisoners is prohibited. The judge has seventytwo hours to determine if the evidence shows sufficient cause to hold the suspect and, if so, orders pretrial detention. After being turned over to the courts within seventy-two hours, an arrestee has the right to have a defense attorney present.

The judge then begins the investigation (instruccion) phase, actually conducting an in-depth investigation into the crime. The judge lists all of the elements of proof needed in order to determine the guilt or innocence of the accused, then presides over each step of the investigation, issuing orders for witnesses to come to testify, visiting the scene of the crime, and ordering the police to perform forensic tests. While the judge is conducting the investigation, suspects accused of major crimes often remain in pretrial confinement, even though the investigation phase may take years to complete.

Once the judge is satisfied that all the available information has been collected, the case may be dismissed or moved to the plenary phase of the trial, in which the judge, the defense, and the prosecution prepare in writing their explanations of what the evidence shows. In murder cases, the final step of the plenary phase is the jury stage, in which the court clerk reads to a panel of five jurors a summary of the evidence and the statements by the judge, defense, and prosecution. Extensive procedural safeguards protecting the rights of the defendant and rigid rules of evidence under the civilian Penal Code severely limit the capabilities of the prosecution. This is one reason why only about 15 percent of jury trials resulted in convictions in the mid-1980s.

The accused has the right to file an amparo petition (a claim that a constitutional right has been violated) with the Supreme Court at any time during the process, as well as one habeas corpus petition per phase of the process, starting from the time the accused becomes aware that the judge may issue a warrant for his or her arrest. When any petition is filed with the Supreme Court, all work on the case by the judge in the court of first instance ceases, and the entire case record is sent to the Supreme Court. The defense may also file appeals to the chambers of second instance at certain times in the process, and this too causes the judge in the court of first instance to cease work on the case. Finally, a type of appeal known as a cassation may be filed with the Supreme Court, also causing a halt in work on the case. Some time limits set down in the laws for consideration of these appeals have been followed rigorously, whereas others were ignored in the late 1980s.

In the event of war, invasion, rebellion, sedition, catastrophe, epidemic, or other general calamity, the constitutional guarantees provided by Articles 12 and 13 may be suspended under Article 29 for a period not to exceed thirty days if at least three-fourths of the deputies in the Legislative Assembly vote to do so. For example, the 1986 state of siege allowed fifteen days of incommunicado detention for prisoners detained for political reasons.

The constitutional guarantees notwithstanding, El Salvador's criminal judicial system historically has been weak. For years the courts acquitted the few politically powerful individuals who were accused of crimes and held dissidents and poor prisoners in jail without trial indefinitely. The great majority of offenders nationwide traditionally were laborers, agricultural workers, unemployed individuals, and skilled workers. Well-to-do professional and technical personnel were rarely charged with, much less prosecuted for, crimes. The acquittal rate in court trials also traditionally was high, not only in the lower tribunals but even in the courts of first instance, which try felonies.

A Department of State study noted that the criminal judicial system was characterized by consistent underfunding; unwieldy laws of evidence that created an overreliance on confessions to obtain convictions; the intimidation of judges, prosecutors, jurors, and witnesses; a lack of modern investigative and forensic equipment and expertise; judges and court officers who worked only half-days; and antiquated and wholly inadequate administrative systems and office equipment. Political violence in the 1970s and 1980s further crippled the judicial system. Virtually no attempt was made to investigate the many thousands of murders perpetrated between 1979 and 1983 or to punish those responsible. By 1985 the homicide conviction rate, which in 1978 was 25 percent, had dropped to 13 percent. It was as low as 4 percent in rural areas by 1988. The number of homicide cases brought before the courts also declined steadily in the 1980s. Although the reported homicide rate reached a record high of 6,145 in 1980, only 812 cases were brought to trial, and only 109 convictions were obtained.

According to the Ministry of Justice, only about 10 percent of those in prison had been sentenced; the rest were detained suspects awaiting trial. Investigations of crimes dragged on long past the legal time limits, and the accused often spent years in prison awaiting trial.

Because the courts could not be relied on to prosecute the perpetrators of crimes nor to provide those arrested with speedy and fair trials, citizens had little confidence in obtaining redress of grievances through the courts. In the absence of a functional criminal justice system, acts of vengeance and vigilantism were rampant. Even in civil cases, attorneys rarely risked confronting powerful interests or wealthy families for fear of physical retribution.

The judiciary also suffered from the political polarization and extremism that gripped the country during the 1980s. Unidentified terrorists killed a military court judge in May 1988. That June FMLN terrorists assassinated an alternate justice of the peace and threatened two prosecuting attorneys. Right-wing obstructionists in the courts and the Salvadoran attorney general's office also repeatedly delayed highly publicized cases such as the murder of Archbishop Romero. The Romero case was shelved in December 1984 by judicial authorities claiming insufficient evidence. In August 1985, however, a Salvadoran court ordered the reopening of an investigation into the archbishop's murder. Duarte publicly presented new evidence in December 1987 that he said strongly implicated D'Aubuisson. Nevertheless, the government announced in December 1988 that the Romero killing would remain unresolved because of a Supreme Court ruling that the testimony of a key witness was invalid.

Some military personnel reportedly also resorted to kidnapping to intimidate lawyers and witnesses. A lawyer assigned to defend the five Salvadoran members of the GN accused of murdering the United States churchwomen said he was forced to take part in a "conspiracy" aimed at preventing higher ranking military officers from being implicated in the case. After refusing to cooperate, the lawyer charged that he was abducted by members of the GN, tortured, and imprisoned at GN headquarters.

Prior to January 1987, suspected FMLN members were charged with violations of Articles 373 to 411 of the Penal Code (the articles dealing with crimes against the state) but were processed under Decree 50, a special state-of-emergency law that established a military court system to try such cases. As a result of the Legislative Assembly's January 1987 decision not to renew the state of emergency, all terrorism-related cases had to be tried under normal Salvadoran law. New FMLN suspects were therefore remanded to the regular courts, although the previous cases continued to be tried under Decree 50 provisions. By mid1987 the Decree 50 courts had cleared more than half of their backlog of pending cases, acquitting some defendants, convicting some, and sending others to the regular courts for trial for common crimes. Judges in the regular courts tended to follow the Penal Code strictly and often released suspects despite evidence of their membership in the FMLN. The continuous threat of FMLN violence was a principal reason that court personnel avoided making decisions that might draw retaliation.

In the late 1980s, several developments suggested that the principle of military accountability to the judicial system was slowly being established. First, two military officers were jailed in 1987 for their involvement with a kidnap-for-profit ring. In addition, an army lieutenant was arrested and turned over to the courts in connection with the murders of three civilians in August 1987; and third, a jury in May 1987 determined that four policemen were guilty of the January 1983 murders of two students. As of late 1988, however, the courts had never convicted any military officer of a crime.

With the enactment of enabling legislation by the Legislative Assembly in the summer of 1985, the Salvadoran government initiated a judicial reform effort in collaboration with AID, which provided US$9.2 million in assistance. The program called for institutionalizing due process and the rule of law, including the speedy and fair trial of persons accused of crimes. Another important objective was to bring to justice the perpetrators of particularly notorious crimes, such as political assassinations.

The Salvadoran government's reform effort included establishing a study commission that drafted changes in the military justice and penal codes and proposed steps to reduce the prison population, create a judicial career system, and implement merit selection of judges. Progress in reforming the judicial institution continued to be slow, however, and encountered many problems in 1988. Under the judicial administration and training portion of the program, the government established four new courts in order to reduce case backlogs, completed a management assessment of the judiciary, inaugurated three new law libraries, and trained judicial personnel both locally and abroad. The government also drafted legislation aimed at improving the administrative efficiency of the judiciary.

According to the Department of State, the judicial reform program comprised a legal revisory commission, a judicial protection unit, a commission for investigations, and a judicial training program. The first component was created by decree in June 1985 and called the Revisory Commission for Salvadoran Legislation. It consisted of ten presidential appointees representing three ministries, the Supreme Court, law faculties, and attorney associations. Its purpose was to coordinate the overall judicial reform effort, to study the Salvadoran judicial system, and to develop the resulting draft legislation for the Legislative Assembly. The commission focused its efforts initially on revising procedures and laws to improve such facets of the existing criminal law system as rules of evidence and procedures, the jury system, and legal defense and detention. The commission also planned to explore the possibility of a new Decree 50-style code to prosecute crimes against the government. In addition, it envisioned longer term and costlier reforms such as merit selection of judges and judicial career service.

The second component, the Judical Protection Unit (Unidad de Proteccion Judicial--UPJ), was initiated in 1984 (formally created by decree in September 1985) to provide security for judges, jurors, prosecutors, and witnesses in politically controversial criminal cases. In the UPJ's first assignments, a group of sixty prison guards who had received training in the United States provided security for participants in the churchwomen's murders trial in the summer of 1984 and the Sheraton case trial in February 1986. The initial concept of the unit was found unworkable, however, owing to the high costs of maintaining a sufficiently large and well-trained force. In early 1988, the government was considering a new proposal to establish the unit as a professional risk-assessment team that would plan and organize protection in appropriate cases; protective personnel would then be drawn from law enforcement units or private contractors.

The third component, the Investigations Commission (Comision para Investigaciones--CI), was created by decree in July 1985 to develop criminal investigation capabilities, supported by forensic laboratories. The members of this civilian-controlled agency were appointed by the president. Chaired by the minister of justice, it included the vice minister of interior and a representative of the president. Reporting to the commission was an executive-branch office responsible for managing the twentyseven -member Special Investigative Unit, the eight-member Forensic Unit, and a legal and administrative support unit. The SIU was formed in 1985 to investigate politically important crimes and consisted of Salvadoran soldiers or officials trained by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Required by law to be drawn from the security forces, SIU members remained salaried employees of those forces. The Forensic Unit was inaugurated in mid-1987 and by early 1988 was approaching full operational capacity. The SIU and the Forensic Unit, which were almost fully equipped and trained, had made valuable contributions to the investigations of several key cases, including the Romero assassination. The investigative and forensic expertise of the two units was unprecedented in El Salvador and represented a significant step in the professionalization of the country's criminal justice system.

The fourth component, the Judicial Training Program, was designed to improve the court system's administrative management, human resources, and physical facilities. Under this project, the government established two new courts to deal with a serious backlog of cases, assessed court equipment needs, set up a new administrative unit for the court system to release judges from administrative tasks, and provided short-term training for judges and justices of the peace.

Both the Truth Commission and the Joint Group identified weaknesses in the judiciary and recommended solutions, the most dramatic being the replacement of all the magistrates on the Supreme Court. This recommendation was fulfilled in 1994 when an entirely new court was elected. The process of replacing incompetent judges in the lower courts, and of strengthening the attorney generals' and public defender's offices, has moved more slowly. The government continues to work in all of these areas with the help of international donors, including the United States. Action on peace-accord driven constitutional reforms designed to improve the administration of justice was largely completed in 1996 with legislative approval of several amendments and the revision of the Criminal Procedure Code--with broad political consensus.

Today, the Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the Government generally respects this provision in practice. However, the judiciary suffers from inefficiency and corruption.

The court structure has four levels: justices of the peace, trial courts, appellate courts, and the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court selects justices of the peace, trial judges, and appellate judges from a list of nominees proposed by the National Judicial Council (CNJ). The CNJ is an independent body provided for in the Constitution to nominate, train, and evaluate justices. The Legislative Assembly elects, by a two-thirds majority, Supreme Court magistrates from a list provided by the CNJ and the National Association of Lawyers. Magistrates serve for periods of 3, 6, or 9 years and may be reelected. There are separate court systems for family matters and juvenile offenders; they stress conciliation as an alternative to adjudication. The system also has criminal sentencing courts and penitentiary oversight courts. The former determine sentences for persons found guilty by trial courts, and the latter monitor the implementation of sentences. (For cases that entered the judicial system before the penal code reforms of 1998, the trial court remains responsible for establishing sentences.) Through its Department of Judicial Investigation, the Supreme Court regularly receives and investigates public complaints about judicial performance. This department also reviews the findings and recommendations of the CNJ, which evaluates justices on an ongoing basis. The Supreme Court imposes penalties when warranted.

Judges, not juries, decide most cases. Juries are used in a particular phase of the prosecution. Most cases start with a preliminary hearing by a justice of the peace court, and then proceed to the trial court, which determines whether or not a jury should hear the case. After the jury's determination of innocence or guilt, a judge decides the sentence. Almost all cases such as homicide, kidnaping, fraud, environment, drugs, or issues involving private property go to juries. Only a few categories of cases do not go to juries, such as petty theft, crimes of honor (e.g. libel), public security crimes against the state (e.g. terrorism), carrying illegal weapons, selling abortants illegally, or battery which causes less than 10 days of disability. A jury verdict cannot be appealed. However, the defendant may appeal the sentence to the Supreme Court for reduction. A jury verdict may be overturned by a mistrial determination that there were serious problems with jury panel selection or errors in the trial procedure. A judge's verdict may be appealed.

The Juvenile Legal Code requires that minors under the age of 18 be tried only in juvenile courts, limits sentences for minors to a maximum of 7 years, and includes alternatives to incarceration for minors.

The Constitution provides for the presumption of innocence, protection from self-incrimination, legal counsel, freedom from coercion, and compensation for damages due to judicial error. Defendants also have the right to be present in court. These rights were not always respected fully in practice. The Constitution and law require the Government to provide legal counsel for the indigent; however, this requirement was not always implemented in practice.

Impunity from the country's civil and criminal laws has continued, especially for persons who were politically, economically, or institutionally well connected. Corruption in the judicial system and the Attorney General's office contributed to impunity.

For example, the Attorney General's office and police made no progress in bringing to justice the perpetrators of the 1999 rape and murder of 9-year old Katya Miranda. Human rights groups charged the investigation was flawed criminally, and the prosecution was inadequate to ensure due process.

In October 2001, an appeals court overturned a 2000 decision that directors of the Salvadoran Soccer Federation could not be prosecuted for the disappearance of funds from its coffers because the institution was private. The appeals court determined that the trial should move to the next phase. Two board members, Juan Sigfrido Torres Polanco and Fredy Orlando Vega, faced charges of embezzlement of public funds. The appeals court upheld the dismissal of charges against five other members of the board of directors.

The Government and the Legislature have taken steps to address these problems. In November 2000, the Legislative Assembly passed a law, at the Attorney General's urging, that created an expedited process for dismissing employees of the Attorney General's office. The measure, authorized for 120 days, was modeled after a law passed in August 2000 that permitted the expedited removal of corrupt and incompetent personnel from the police force. In December 2000, the Attorney General formed a board to review appeals in this process; the panel included representatives of the national lawyer's association and of two NGO's with relevant expertise. The Attorney General dismissed a total of 36 prosecutors and 24 administrative personnel under this authority. Early in the year, the Attorney General asked the appeals board to conduct an institutional review of his office. The board published a report in September, and the Attorney General began to implement its recommendations.

In August 2001, the Attorney General's office presented a report to the Supreme Court on its investigation of possible "irregularities" in the law degrees of almost 1,000 lawyers, including prosecutors, judges, and politicians. The Attorney General's office alleged that eight universities had issued questionable degrees. As of late September, the Supreme Court had suspended seven lawyers and judges pending further investigation and the Attorney General had dismissed one prosecutor. Critics maintained that the Attorney General's report did not differentiate between serious and minor offenses. For example, some persons under investigation never took courses listed on their transcripts, while others simply failed to complete the requisite number of semesters after transferring schools.

The Supreme Court has maintained that its Department of Judicial Investigation and the CNJ scrutinized judicial performance on an ongoing basis and that, therefore, the court system needs no further oversight mechanisms or disciplinary procedures. However, the Court has imposed few sanctions upon judges. In 2000 the Court received the Council's evaluations of the performance of 322 justices of the peace, 46 trial court judges, 63 sentencing court judges, and 28 appeals court magistrates. The evaluations reviewed each judge's performance over several months in 1998 or 1999. The Council recommended the dismissal of 3 justices of the peace and 1 trial court judge and suspensions ranging from 3 to 60 days for 156 justices of the peace, 23 trial court judges, 18 sentencing court judges, and 13 appeals court magistrates. During 2000-2001, the CNJ reviewed the performance of 617 judges. It recommended disciplinary action against 230, including the dismissal of 4. The Supreme Court disciplined a total of 19 judges in 1999 (4 were dismissed); 15 judges in 2000 (5 were dismissed); and 48 judges in 2001 (12 were dismissed).

Police, prosecutors, public defenders, and the courts have continued to have problems adjusting to the 1998 legal reforms. Inadequate police coverage (due to limited resources) and intimidation of victims and witnesses (especially by gangs) made it difficult to identify, arrest, and prosecute criminals, thus diminishing public confidence in the justice system.

There were no reports of political prisoners.


The 1983 Constitution reaffirms that the penal system shall be designed to rehabilitate prisoners rather than solely to punish them. Article 28 prescribes that "the state shall organize the penitentiaries with the aim of reforming offenders, educating them, and teaching them industrious habits, seeking their rehabilitation and the prevention of crime." Overall direction and administration of the prison system is under the jurisdiction of the director general of penal and rehabilitation centers, under the minister of justice.

As of the late 1980s, the prison system was composed of three national penitentiaries and at least thirty jails or preventive detention facilities distributed throughout the country. The federal government operated the penitentiaries, located in Ahuachapan, Santa Ana, and San Vicente. The penitentiaries were the principal incarceration institutions, housing approximately half of the total prison population. Other than the penitentiaries, the prison system was loosely organized and received little centralized guidance or control. The government published few statistics on prisons. Local authorities supervised subordinate facilities and had few restrictions on their authority over methods and procedures. Each of the country's departments had at least one jail or detention facility, with at least one in every departmental capital, although San Salvador had no facility for men. The two women's prisons were located at the town of Ilopango and Santa Ana; their inmates consisted mainly of prostitutes serving six-month terms. Prison facilities ranged from simple frame enclosures with little security and few amenities to well-built, professionally planned buildings with good protection and adequate accommodations.

In late 1988, El Salvador's security situation worsened. The FMLN, armed for the first time with some Soviet-made AK-47 assault rifles, actually had brought the war to its bloodiest level in two or three years by launching another countrywide guerrilla and terrorist offensive, which once again included assassinating mayors. FMLN guerrillas inflicted disproportionately high casualties on the army in attacks on installations such as the Fourth Infantry Brigade garrison at El Paraiso in Chalatenango Department and in a mortar barrage on a GN facility in San Salvador. Other FMLN actions in San Salvador included breaking criminals out of a jail and carrying out nightly terrorist bombings. FMLN leaders, including Villalobos, also opened an unusual diplomatic offensive by visiting several Latin American capitals. The army, for its part, was widely reported to have perpetrated a massacre, the first in three years, of ten peasants in the hamlet of San Sebastian in San Vicente Department, after accusing them of collaborating with the guerrillas. Under increasing criticism for its conduct of the war, the military underwent another orderly shakeup, with General Blandon being replaced as armed forces chief of staff by Colonel Ponce, a strong advocate of promoting economic development in the areas affected by the war. Under Ponce's command, the military was expected to become a more aggressive, offensive-minded force, but one placing greater emphasis on the "hearts and minds" campaign.

Currently, prison conditions have remained poor. From December 1997 to December 1999, the prison population fell about 23 percent as a result of the implementation of new sentencing and penal codes, which limit preventive detention to serious crimes. However, it increased again during 2000 and continued to increase during the year 2001. The prison system has the capacity to hold 7,050 prisoners in 19 penal facilities. There still was overcrowding in individual facilities. At year's end, 8,889 men were held in 17 prison facilities with a combined capacity of 6,800, and there were 41 men and 5 women in 3 secure hospital wards with a combined capacity of 75 persons. Because of a lack of holding cells, pretrial detainees often are sent to regular prisons, where they may be placed together with violent criminals.

Gang violence, especially in the country's three largest and oldest penitentiaries, has continued to plague the prison system, despite government efforts to segregate gangs. In January 2000, the media reported incidents of prisoners torturing other prisoners in La Esperanza prison in San Salvador in 1999 and earlier. Prison authorities reported that, through late October, there were 25 deaths in the prison system; 10 prisoners died from multiple wounds caused by violence between prisoners; 3 died attempting to escape; 1 died from hanging (allegedly killed by other inmates). The remaining deaths resulted from illness.

There are separate facilities for female detainees and prisoners. At the end of the year, there were 501 women in 2 women's prisons, which have a capacity of 250, and 81 women in prisons where most inmates are males. Conditions in the women's facilities are adequate but overcrowded.

The law requires that all juveniles be housed separately from adults both prior to trial and while serving a prison sentence, and the Government generally observes this requirement in practice. Gang violence in juvenile holding facilities is a problem. In April the authorities separated the different gangs in the country's juvenile correction centers into different facilities to mitigate violence between rival groups. The Salvadoran Institute for the Protection of Children (ISPM) reported a sharp reduction of gang-related violence in youth corrections centers and an increased ability to implement education and reintegration programs following this change. Most criminal cases involving juveniles are brought to trial or conciliation proceedings within 3 months.

The Government permits prison visits by independent human rights monitors, NGO's, and the media.


Violence against women, including domestic violence, is a widespread and serious problem. The law prohibits domestic violence and provides for sentences ranging from 6 months to 1 year in prison upon conviction. Convicted offenders are prohibited from using alcohol or drugs and from carrying guns. The law also allows the imposition of restraining orders against offenders. Once a taboo social subject, domestic violence increasingly is being recognized publicly and has become a topic for national debate. Government institutions such as the PDDH, the Attorney General's office, the Supreme Court, the Public Defender's office, and the PNC coordinated efforts with NGO's and other organizations to combat violence against women through education, government efforts to increase enforcement of the law, and NGO support programs for victims. The National Secretariat for the Family, through the Salvadoran Institute for the Development of Women (ISDEMU), maintains a hot line for victims to report domestic abuse. The ISDEMU received 3,423 cases of domestic violence during the year 2001, a significant reduction from the 5,785 cases in 2000. Incidents of domestic violence and rape have continued to be underreported for several reasons: societal and cultural pressures against the victim; a fear of reprisal; poor response to victims by the authorities; fear of publicity; and the belief that cases are unlikely to be resolved. However, the Criminal Code permits the Attorney General to prosecute in the case of a rape with or without a complaint from the victim. Criminal Code reforms in February eliminated a provision allowing a victim's pardon to nullify the criminal charge. The penalties for rape are 6 to 10 years in prison. The law does not address specifically spousal rape; however, it can be considered a crime if the actions meet the Criminal Code's definition of rape. The ISDEMU received 286 cases of sexual aggression compared to 364 in 2000.

The law does not prohibit a person from working as a prostitute. However, it prohibits any person from inducing, facilitating, promoting, or giving incentives to anyone else to work as a prostitute. Prostitution is common, and there were credible reports that some women and girls were forced into prostitution.

Trafficking in women and girls for purposes of sexual exploitation is a problem.


The ISPM reported 139 cases of sexual abuse through November 30, a decrease from the 2000 figure of 292. A majority of the victims were female. According to the PDDH, over 85 percent of all abuse occurs in schools and at home, and only a small percentage of these cases were reported to the authorities.

Substance abuse (glue and paint sniffing) was a problem among urban street children. FUNDASALVA, an NGO, provides drug counseling and treatment to minors. Contrary to the past, there were no allegations during the year 2001 from children's rights advocates that police abuse and mistreat street children. The PNC incorporated PDDH human rights training into programs for police units that deal with juveniles.

Child prostitution is a problem. Between 10 and 25 percent of visible prostitutes are minors, and an estimated 40 percent of the hidden prostitutes who cater to upper-class clients are believed to be minors, according to a UNICEF study released in 2000. Through November 30, ISPM assisted 24 children who were involved in prostitution, compared with 79 in 2000.

Children, especially those living on the streets, are trafficked to other countries and then forced into prostitution; children from Honduras have been used as beggars to support traffickers in San Salvador.


In October the Legislative Assembly approved criminal code reforms that prohibited trafficking in persons. Prior to the reforms the Criminal Code stipulated that any crime involving "commerce in women or children" automatically carried a 30 percent increase in the prison sentence or fine that otherwise would be imposed for that crime; however, trafficking in persons is a problem.

Women and children are trafficked for prostitution to Mexico, Guatemala, and other Central American countries. There are credible reports that women and children are lured to Mexico by procurers only to be sold to owners of establishments there who then force the trafficked persons to work off the debt as prostitutes. According to Guatemalan authorities, street children from El Salvador are lured to border areas with Guatemala where they are then forced into prostitution by organized rings. Trafficking of female teenagers, from 14 to 19 years of age, for sexual exploitation also occurs within the country from the south to the northern ports of Acajutla and La Libertad. The majority of trafficked victims transiting El Salvador are from Nicaragua, Honduras, and South America. The most common methods used to approach the victims are kidnaping, lucrative job offers, and inducement into prostitution by friends.

According to press reports, Honduran children were brought to San Salvador to beg for their sponsors. The Government investigated and took a number of children into custody. When their parents could not be found, they were turned over to the ISPM. The Government, through the office of the Attorney General, has created a unit for the protection of women and children that is charged with the investigations of cases of abuse against women and children, including trafficking. The PNC, the Child Protection Institute, and the Directorate of Immigration also actively are involved in combating trafficking in persons. However, the investigative units are new and poorly funded, and the Government has not prosecuted traffickers. The Government deports non-Salvadoran victims of trafficking; however, victims can obtain temporary residency or refugee status if they are likely to face political persecution in the country of origin. Access to legal, medical, and psychological services is provided to the victims. Victims of trafficking are not treated as criminals. The Government does not provide assistance to its repatriated citizens who are victims of trafficking, nor does it support the NGO's that assist them.


El Salvador is a transshipment country for narcotics, mainly cocaine, destined for the U.S. Local consumption is a growing problem. In the annual designation of "major drug producing and transit countries" President Clinton designated El Salvador as a "country of concern" because of increased drug flows through Central America and its increased vulnerability caused by Hurricane Mich. President Calderon has sought to coordinate an inter-agency counter-drug policy. The technical expertise of the anti-narcotics division (DAN) of the National Civilian Police (PNC) has improved, reflecting U.S. assistance. However, the performance of the DAN, and of the PNC as a whole, has suffered from the confusion, which followed the entry into force of new criminal codes. El Salvador produces limited amounts of cannabis for domestic consumption. The emerging threat of money laundering is being addressed by the passage in December 1998, of new, well-regarded money laundering legislation. The U.S. will assist El Salvador in the development of an implementing mechanism. El Salvador is a party to the 1988 UN drug convention.


Internet research assisted by Monica Benitez and Jose M. Gutierrez

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