Can they practice their religion without persecution, possibility of exemption from military service and their treatment upon return to El Salvador [SLV5070]

The information in this paragraph was provided by the El Salvador desk of the World Headquarters of the Jehovah's Witnesses in Brooklyn, United States by telephone on 23 April 1990: their Church has an active branch office and congregation in El Salvador, and permanent communication between this and the Headquarters exists. The World Headquarters has no reports of mistreatment of Jehovah's Witnesses or obstacles to the practice of their religion. However, a few members have been killed in crossfires. There are no problems reported with young members either, as Jehovah's Witnesses are considered neutral by both guerrillas and the armed forces and therefore "left alone". Regarding military conscription, no problems have been reported within the Church, although young men are likely to be apprehended for duty without prior notice or religion distinctions.

Other recent information on the situation of Jehovah's Witnesses in particular could not be found among the sources currently available to the IRBDC.

Regarding possible exemption from military service in El Salvador, the following paragraphs belong to the most recent response to an information request on the subject of exemptions to military service, dated 28 February 1990 (Information Request SLV4269). The listed attachments should be available at your regional Documentation Centre, but can be faxed to you immediately if they cannot be found among its Information Request files.

For additional information other than that already available at your regional Documentation Centre, please find attached a copy of a 1984 article with specific references to students and exemptions to military service in El Salvador: "Salvador presses hundreds into military", from The New York Times, 30 January 1984, p. 6A. Also attached, please find a copy of "El Salvador's Army: A Force Unto Itself", in The New York Times Magazine, 10 December 1989, pp. 47, 95 and 97. Finally, the latest report currently available to the IRBDC on the Salvadorean military (World Defence Almanac 1989-1990 [Bonn: Mönch Publishing Group, January 1990], p. 53) indicates only that military service in El Salvador is selective and lasts for 24 months. According to the Embassy of El Salvador in Ottawa, as stated by telephone on 28 April 1990, El Salvador "does not have a [conscription] system as would be understood in Canada or the United States", adding that no details were available at the moment.

What follows is a section of the response to Information Request No. 2745 dealing with the subject.

According to information from The Civilian Toll, (Washington: Americas Watch, August 1987), pp. 108-111, and Conscientious Objection to Military Service, (United Nations, 1985), p. 23, El Salvador has a compulsory military service, with no provisions for conscientious objection. Conscientious Objection to Military Service, p. 31, states Salvadorean law allows exemptions to military service based on family or health reasons; page 28 indicates that objectors may be imprisoned and treated as deserters. According to The Civilian Toll and a New York Times article ("Salvador Army fills ranks by force", 21 April 1989, p. A3), forced recruitment is practised, reportedly most frequently among lower-income men of draft age (18-30 years) or younger, although exemption from military service reportedly can be bought. Both sources report a draft system in which no prior notice is given to the conscripts; rather, young men are rounded up when leaving movie theatres or while riding on buses, etc. According to The Civilian Toll, pp. 108-111, military commanders claim this system reduces the possibility of infiltration by guerrilla members or collaborators.