Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1986

El Salvador is a recently established and developing democracy.
The Constitution of 1983 was written by an elected assembly;
the President, Legislative Assembly, and mayors were chosen in
elections which were pronounced open and fair by observers from
some 40 countries.
The economy is mixed. Banking and marketing of major export
crops are nationalized, and the price of food grains is
subsidized. The agrarian reform program begun in 1980
continues. The national currency was devalued, and an economic
stabilization program was instituted in January 1986 in
response to economic problems caused in great part by guerrilla
war and sabotage. These problems were exacerbated by a major
earthquake on October 10. Mainly affecting the capital area,
it killed over 1,000 people, left 300,000 homeless, and heavily
damaged or destroyed many hospitals, schools, and government
and commercial buildings.
For 7 years. El Salvador has fought a Marxist insurgency
supported by the Soviet Union and Cuba through Nicaragua.
The Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), whose
numbers have been halved to under 6,000 combatants, has
increasingly resorted to indiscriminate use of land mines,
machine-gunning and burning of vehicles on the nation's roads,
and generalized economic sabotage. The conflict is a major
cause of the displacement of approximately 400,000 Salvadorans
from their homes. As the Government has been able to restore
its authority in contested areas, some of the displaced are
returning home.
Despite the internal conflict and the resulting state of
emergency which nominally restricts a number of civil
liberties, the rights of free speech, press, association, and
assembly are respected by the Government. A military court
system separate from civil courts handles cases related to the
insurgency. Due to a large backlog of cases, prolonged
incarceration before trial is common to both civil and
military systems.
The conduct of the military and security forces has improved
steadily. The Government does not condone abuses and is
actively seeking to inculcate respect for human rights at all
levels of the military. The Government's Human Rights
Commission has expanded its role in improving respect for
human rights. Credible accusations of abuses and of
indiscriminate bombing were sharply reduced in 1986.
Investigation of guerrilla claims of indiscriminate bombings
proved them false. The number of politically motivated
killings continued to decline, and the bulk of such killings
appeared to be committed by FMLN guerrillas.
The infamous death squads, which used to advertise their
murders, made no claims of any killings during 1986, and there
was no indication they are still operating. Some unexplained
deaths may still be the work of extreme rightist elements, but
there is no evidence that the Government is linked to or
condones these killings.
To overcome serious weaknesses in the judicial system, the
Government has launched a comprehensive reform to revamp court
procedures, update laws, improve the investigative capacity and
training of judges, and protect witnesses and court personnel
from intimidation. The arrests in 1986 of police and military
personnel for crimes and human rights abuses are steps toward
equality before the law for all Salvadoran citizens.
A third round of dialog to end the war was proposed by
President Duarte and scheduled for September, but the
guerrillas failed to attend after unilaterally imposing
conditions the Government felt were unacceptable. The
Government continues to seek productive discussions with the
FMLN. In his October 1986 report, the United Nations Special
Rapporteur for Human Rights stated that dialog "should not be
converted into a means of gaining tactical political
advantages, but should be considered as a means of obtaining
peace, or, at a minimum, humanization of the conflict."
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including
Freedom from:
a. Political Killing
Most apparent political killings in 1986 were attributable to
guerrilla insurgents. The number of deaths reported in the
Salvadoran press which appeared to be politically motivated
averaged 21 per month through October; this compares with a
monthly average of 28 in 1985, 64 in 1984, and 140 in 1983.
The 206 deaths ascribed to political motives during the first
10 months of 1986, as taken from the local press and other
sources, may be classified as follows: perpetrated by the
guerrillas, 57; possibly by the guerrillas, 70; possibly by
the extreme right, 7; by unknown assailants, 37. An
additional 6 were killed by civil defense members, and 12
others died as a result of abuse of authority. Seventeen
civilians killed in military action by both sides are included
in the 1986 toll. Of the killings attributed to the FMLN,
most victims were rural residents who refused to collaborate
with the guerrillas or were suspected of being government
informers. Other victims were drivers or passengers of
vehicles machine-gunned by the guerrillas during one of the
seven "traffic bans" declared by the FMLN in the course of the
year .
The methodology for collection and classification of
information on political murders necessarily is inexact, and
these numbers can only be interpreted as indicative of trends.
Common criminal deaths, for example, are easily disguised as
political killings by perpetrators wishing to confound
investigators; political motivation in other murders may go
undetected, causing them to be classified as common crimes.
The primary cause of death and maiming outside combat is the
intensified use of pressure-detonated land mines and booby
traps by the guerrillas. Planted around farm roads and paths,
guerrilla-downed electric poles, under railroad tracks, near
water sources, in farmlands, and on coffee plantations to
impede the harvest, these "revolutionary mines" (as the
guerrillas call them on their clandestine radio stations)
killed some 31 civilians in 1984, 55 in 1985, and 53 in the
first 7 months of 1986. From January through July of 1986,
172 civilians, many of them children, lost limbs to guerrilla
mines. Hundreds more were seriously injured. The Catholic
Archbishop of El Salvador has expressed grave concern over the
number of civilians now being killed or wounded by mine
The Government continued to reduce abuses of authority by the
military and police forces. Human rights form part of police
recruit training and officers' classes; the governmental Human
Rights Commission (CDH), the International Committee of the
Red Cross (ICRC), and Catholic clergy give lectures and courses
on human rights to the police, military, and civil defense
personnel; the entire National Police force attended a 2-day
intensive training course on human rights in late 1986. The
National Guard and Treasury Police are scheduled to take the
same course in early 1987. The Government's Normal Operating
Procedures (PON) require humane treatment of prisoners by the
police and the military; these ground rules are a fundamental
part of training and are enforced: 126 members of the armed
and security forces were expelled from service and handed over
to the civilian courts between September 1985 and June 1986 for
violations of laws and regulations.
Occasional noncombat killings attributed to members of the
armed or security services are a continuing concern. A civil
defense commander and three of his men were arrested for the
January murders of three brothers in the capital, San Salvador.
In the same month, the Arce Battalion was accused of executing
the former mayor of Nueva Esparta; the unit reported that he
rode into a predawn ambush. Common crime is a problem within
the military, and several officers are fugitives with warrants
against them for kidnaping.
A number of anonymous death threats were publicized. The
Archdiocese of San Salvador received a telephoned threat
against several of its employees in June, and a Lutheran
minister received similar threats in May, following public
accusations by guerrilla defectors that churchworkers were
diverting humanitarian aid to the guerrillas. The Government
denounced these reported threats. At midyear, students and
faculty members of the National University of El Salvador
reported anonymous threats; the rector attributed the reports
to infighting among leftist groups on campus. No one claimed
responsibility, and no one attributed the threats to a specific
group. Leaders of the Popular Democratic Unity (UPD) labor
group reported death threats following the announcement of
their withdrawal from the FMLN labor front, the National Union
of Salvadoran Workers (UNTS) .
Death squads which formerly publicized their murders did not
publish threats or claim responsibility for any killing during
1986, and there is no indication they are still operating.
Tutela Legal, the Catholic Church's legal aid and human rights
office, attributed 42 killings to death squads in 1986, as
compared with 136 in 1985. Tutela Legal frequently classifies
as "death squad killings" murders that other observers view as
criminal in nature, rather than political, and occasionally
gives no reason for attributing a murder to death squads.
Congressional hearings in May addressed allegations that the
Salvadoran air force engages in "indiscriminate bombing."
These allegations proved to be unfounded. The charges
themselves appear to be part of the FMLN's strategy to
manipulate human rights issues and organizations for tactical
military and political purposes. In one case, the Catholic
Archbishop reported receiving a letter from the village of San
Jose Las Flores, Chalatenango Department, claiming that a
civilian was killed by aerial bombing on October 10. An
onsite investigation showed that the village had not been
bombed. Elsewhere, on at least two occasions, the air force
acknowledged accidently wounding civilians in an aerial attack.
The air force has refrained from attacking guerrilla
concentrations and installations due to the proximity of
civilians .
b. Disappearance
According to press reports, 145 civilians disappeared between
January and October 1986, including nonpolitical disappearances
such as lost or runaway children aged 10 or over. There have
been repeated instances of kidnaping of children, apparently
for sale to adoptive parents abroad. During the same period,
the press reported 98 persons abducted by the guerrillas and
103 abducted by unknown assailants. The assailants were
frequently described as "heavily armed men in civilian
clothing;" on other occasions, especially in the countryside,
the perpetrators were believed to be guerrillas.
Many persons reported missing were found to have been legally
arrested and duly entered in a security force's register of
detained persons. Government policy forbids unacknowledged
detention by security or armed services, and it seldom occurs.
In one case, however, a guerrilla defector was not properly
registered. In this instance. Nelson Guerra, a member of the
People's Revolutionary Army (ERP), was arrested by the Second
Brigade in Santa Ana in January and defected to the Government.
His detention and subsequent defection were not acknowledged
until May, when he appeared on television. Some persons who
desert their families, emigrate, or join guerrilla ranks, are
also reported as missing. There have been occasional credible
reports of persons taken away by men thought to be members of
the army or security forces, although positive proof has not
been available.
In March and April, the National Police arrested three suspects
in a major kidnaping-for-ransom ring and issued arrest orders
for six others. Accused members of the ring had previously
been identified with right-wing death squads, and some of the
accused were implicated in other human rights cases now before
the courts. Other purely criminal kidnapings for ransom
received little public notice because the families and the
victims were directed by the kidnapers not to involve the
The FMLN engages in kidnaping for a variety of motives: for
ransom; as a form of recruitment of new combatants, including
children as young as 10 years of age; to obtain workers to grow
and cook food, obtain supplies, transport smuggled war
material, and perform other tasks. Col. Omar Napoleon Avalos,
the Director of Civil Aviation, was kidnaped by the FMLN in
October 1985 and is still being held. The ICRC has been denied
regular access to Colonel Avalos. The guerrillas have at
different times demanded the release of varying numbers of
detained guerrillas and collaborators held by the Government
in return for his release.
As part of the October 1985 agreement freeing President
Duarte's daughter and 23 mayors who had been kidnaped by the
FMLN, the guerrillas agreed not to kidnap relatives of
government and military officials in return for the
government's pledge not to detain family members of
guerrillas. In February the FMLN repudiated the agreement,
citing government "kidnaping" of several people; some of those
indentified had been arrested and charged with membership in
the FMLN, as was the case of defector Nelson Guerra. The
others were never reported missing to any human rights
organization inside the country. The FMLN declared itself
ready to resume kidnaping noncombatants for political purposes,
but has not done so to date.
c. Torture and Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or
In accordance with arrest regulations, the Salvadoran security
forces register detainees and have them examined by a doctor
or nurse upon entry into police facilities. They are required
promptly to notify the family of the detainee, Tutela Legal,
the CDH, and the ICRC of the arrest. The notification
procedures, together with the official prohibition on
mistreatment of prisoners, have reduced the claims of torture
by government forces. Detainees suspected of subversive or
terrorist activity are permitted private interviews by the CDH,
ICRC, and Tutela Legal after a maximum of 8 days in custody.
Persons suspected of common crimes must be freed or turned
over to the courts within 3 days.
While the number and severity of reported cases of torture have
declined, allegations of abuse by the arresting forces
continue. Most allegations involve abuses that leave no marks
and so are extremely difficult to prove or disprove:
deprivation of food and sleep, threats against the detainee or
his family, prolonged interrogation while blindfolded, being
forced to stand for long periods of time, forced exercise, and
blows to the ears. Some prisoners claim to have been forced
to sign confessions without being permitted to read them.
Isolated instances of severe beatings, rape, choking, electric
shock, and near-suffocation with a plastic bag over the head
were reported. When a complaint of mistreatment appears valid,
the CDH reports the incident to the commander of the unit
responsible and to the Ministry of Defense. Physical
mistreatment is not systematically practiced nor condoned by
government authorities. The ICRC reports claims of abuse to
the unit commander and the Office of the President.
There were no known complaints of torture occurring in the
penitentiaries in 1986. Punishment cells are reportedly rarely
used. The food budget is inadequate, some institutions have
insufficient water supplies, and some are severely overcrowded.
Prisoners receive family and conjugal visits and have access
to primary education and religious services. Some
opportunities for gainful employment are available. Inmates
charged with terrorist or subversive activities have their own
internal organization, give political classes, place political
advertisements in the local papers, and hold demonstrations
inside the prisons.
The FMLN claims to respect the physical and psychological
integrity of its captives. However, there are eyewitness
reports of soldiers on leave being pulled off buses and
executed by guerrillas, and of persons kidnaped by guerrillas
who have never reappeared. There have also been credible
reports that guerrillas have tortured suspected government
informers before killing them.
The Government reported that 598 guerrilla combatants and
civilian supporters voluntarily turned themselves in between
January 1 and October 27. Those who did so were interrogated,
and most were turned over to their families or the ICRC; some
suspected of surrendering in order to continue their insurgent
activities in the cities were placed under the jurisdiction of
the courts and sent to prison. Captured guerrillas were
likewise imprisoned. Wounded guerrillas were cared for, and
some were later released. Seven wounded guerrilla combatants
and two paramedics attending them were discovered in an
underground shelter in northern Chalatenango Department in
March. The guerrillas were immediately turned over to the
ICRC and, after hospital treatment, were permitted to leave
the country. The paramedics were released to their families.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
The Constitution provides for the suspension of some civil
guarantees in times of emergency. State of emergency
legislation has been renewed monthly by the Legislative
Assembly. Special legislation (Legislative Decree 50)
establishes a system of separate judicial handling of crimes
such as terrorism, sabotage, subversion, and participation in
organized groups attempting to overthrow the Government.
Holding political views opposed to the Government is not a
basis for arrest when violent action is not advocated.
Under the state of emergency, the security forces may make
arrests without a warrant and upon the denunciation of a single
accuser, who can be anonymous. Categoric judgments of which
arrests are justified are not possible; persons often are
released or have charges against them dismissed as a result of
ineffective investigation or a desire to reduce the backlog of
cases in an overcrowded court system.
Under Decree 50, the security forces may hold an arrested
person for up to 15 days for investigation. The person must
either be released or turned over to a military investigative
judge, who in turn must decide within 72 hours v;hether to
continue detention. The judge must inform the person of the
charges against him within 15 days of receiving the case.
Once so informed, the person has the right to legal counsel.
The investigative judge must then decide within 60 days of
receiving the case whether it has merit; if his decision is
affirmative, he sends the case to the military First Instance
(trial) judge. The military judge has 15 days to decide
whether to confirm or revoke the person's detention. Once the
judge raises the case to trial, he must hand down a decision
within 30 days. That decision is reviewed by a military court.
An appeal of the legality of the detention at any point during
this process freezes the timetable until the Supreme Court
decides the appeal. The system is cumbersome, but it mandates
more rapid processing of cases than the legislation in effect
prior to February 1984.
As the insurgency has lost ground militarily and moved to a
strategy of political organizing and infiltration, the number
of prisoners held under Decree 50 has been increasing rapidly.
The number of female prisoners in Ilopango prison under Decree
50 increased from 44 to 76 in 1986, and male prisoners
increased from 462 to 971. Because of the increasing number
of arrests under Decree 50, observance of the time limits at
the investigative level slipped further in 1986. A single,
overburdened first instance judge had accumulated a backlog of
approximately 1,000 Decree 50 cases before two new first
instance judges were appointed in August 1986. They had just
started work when the October 10 earthquake badly damaged the
judicial facilities and brought the whole system to a
standstill. It resumed functioning in November.
In cases of common crime, the police roust free a suspect or
turn him over to the courts within 72 hours of arrest. The
judge theoretically is constrained by legal time limits on his
investigation, but in practice these limitations are not always
followed. The backlog of cases is one major reason for delay.
The processing of common criminal cases in the capital was also
halted in the wake of the earthquake.
There are no provisions in Salvadoran law for exile or for the
revocation of citizenship.
The Government prohibits forced labor. The guerrillas,
however, have kidnaped peasants and forced them to cook, do
laundry, and perform other tasks, as well as to become
combatants .
Clear evidence emerged in 1986 of use by the FMLN of children
under the age of 15 in combat. Following one military
operation, the Government rescued children, one of whom was
14 years old and had been fighting with the FMLN for 4 years.
Other information emerged about the existence of units composed
of children receiving military training for integration into
combat units. Still other credible reports were received of
children being kidnaped for forced recruitment into the FMLN
and of their use as couriers and spotters, practices clearly
contrary to Geneva Convention prohibitions against the
recruiting of children into armed groups or their
participation in hostilities.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
Decree 50 offenses are tried by the judge in his office,
without spectators. Common crimes in El Salvador are tried
publicly with a five-person jury. Low response to calls for
jury duty, absences of attorneys, and the general inefficiency
of the judicial system often cause long delays; people are
usually incarcerated for 6 to 18 months between the placing of
charges and coming to trial. Even longer waits are common.
About 9 percent of the people in prison are serving sentences:
the rest are awaiting adjudication of their cases. Bail is
available for some offenses but is little used. When cases do
come to trial, the charges are frequently dismissed, often due
to the poor investigative capacity of the police and judges.
Over the past 10 years, the overall conviction rate has never
exceeded 20 percent.
Aside from the lack of resources to carry out their duties,
both judges and juries are subject to bribery and intimidation.
A Judicial Protection Unit (JPU) to provide security for
witnesses, juries, and court personnel in ?;ensitive cases was
activated briefly for the 1984 trial of the murderers of four
U.S. churchwomen, but the prison guards who formed it returned
to their regular duties after the trial. The concept is being
revised, and there are plans to recreate the unit as a
permanent organization.
The Government has embarked upon a judicial reform program
with four major components: reestablishment of the JPU; the
judicial Revisory Commission; the Commission for
Investigations; and judicial training and administration. The
Revisory Commission is reviewing the penal code in order to
recommend changes to bring it into line with the Constitution.
It is also working over the longer term to overhaul and update
the entire system of laws and procedures in order to produce a
modern and efficient judicial system. The Revisory Commission
is drafting a package of revisions to the law which it plans
to submit to the legislature early in 1987. The Commission
for Investigations is operational and includes a special unit
which has received forensic investigative training and is
investigating a number of highly publicized cases. Among these
is the Armenia well case, into which the local civil defense
unit is alleged to have thrown the bodies of its victims
between 1980 and 1982. The unit excavated the well in May,
found the remains of four persons, and made arrests in the
case in September .
The judicial administration and training program has already
sent judges and prosecutors to other countries in the region
for conferences and 2- to 4-week courses in criminal
jurisprudence. The program, which includes construction of
physical plant as well as the training of judges, was
seriously disrupted by the October 10 earthquake.
The Salvadoran judiciary is independent of the rest of the
government. Supreme Court justices and the Attorney General
are chosen by the Legislative Assembly after nomination by
political parties. The judicial branch determines its own
budget, which must be approved by the legislature. Judicial
authority historically has not extended to the military.
Although low ranking military and police are discharged and
turned over to the civilian courts for trial of criminal
offenses, in practice the officers of the armed and security
forces are treated differently from other citizens before the
law. Judges are frequently reluctant to bring charges against
them, and colleagues often cannot be relied upon to cooperate
in the prosecution of crimes imputed to a fellow officer.
Also, real or perceived intimidation of judges and juries by
members of the armed forces occasionally will overcome the
prosecutorial efforts of the Attorney General's office.
No military officer has been convicted of human rights
violations in recent years. Nevertheless, in the course of
the investigation of. the kidnaping ring early in 1986, the
police arrested an active duty army major and a former
lieutenant of the National Guard, and issued arrest warrants
for six other men including an army lieutenant colonel and a
lieutenant, who fled the country. The case is before a
military judge. In December 1986, the courts reopened the
case against an army captain suspected of participating in the
1981 murders of the president of the Salvadoran Land Reform
Institute and two American land reform advisers.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or
The Government does not arbitrarily interfere in the personal
lives of citizens except in matters it considers related to
the armed conflict. Both the Government and the guerrillas
use networks of informers. The Government runs antiterrorist
advertisements urging the people to report guerrilla activity,
and the police rely on informers in criminal cases and
investigations of subversion. The security forces use forced
entry to carry out arrests and investigations and need no
warrant to do so. The constitutional provision protecting the
inviolability of correspondence is suspended under the state
of emergency. Postal officials have the legal authority to
inspect correspondence, but there is no government policy to
do so, and it is not believed to be a frequent occurrence.
Government troops have removed civilians when considered
necessary for their own security or because of the requirements
of a military operation. These civilians were reunited with
their families in nonconf lictive areas; the others were turned
over to the ICRC or the Catholic Church or were sent to
displaced persons camps. During a major military operation
which started in January, the military removed some 500
civilians from the guerrilla stronghold on Guazapa Volcano.
All feasible measures were taken to ensure the shelter,
hygiene, health care, safety, and nutrition of the displaced
population. Similar removals of smaller numbers of civilians
occurred elsewhere in the country during 1986. In August, for
example, 81 civilians moved onto land not belonging to them in
San Vicente Department. They were removed by the army and
later accepted in a church-run displaced persons camp.
The FMLN and others claimed that these displacements
constituted human rights violations. The Government maintained
that they were necessary because of both security and human
rights considerations. The Government maintains that such
displacements have reduced civilian casualties, are a
legitimate means of protecting civilians, and are in conformity
with international law and the Geneva Conventions.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The power to restrict freedom of speech and the press under
state of emergency decrees was ended in May and has not been
reinstated. Prior to that, there was at least one case in
which books being shipped into the country were stopped in
customs. Self-censorship growing out of fear of violent
reprisal from political extremists is the primary constraint
on free expression in El Salvador.
The leading daily newspapers in the capital are conservative,
and they vigorously criticize the Government. Paid advertising
by government agencies in one of the papers was reduced. The
views of the radical left continue to be expressed in a variety
of journals, periodicals, newsletters, bulletins, and paid
advertisements in the daily press.
Radio news covers a wider variety of stories than the printed
media and is more broadly diffused in Salvadoran society than
news from the papers or television. Insurgent leaders are
interviewed on local radio programs and commercial stations
frequently repeat reports broadcast by clandestine guerrilla
radio stations.
The Government owns no newspapers, although the recent change
in ownership of one daily is widely attributed to purchase by
interests of the governing Christian Democratic Party. The
Government owns one radio station and two television stations.
There are four privately owned television stations. The
Salvadoran Army operates one radio station.
A 7-year-old decree forbidding publication of anonymous
communiques remains in effect and is largely observed by the
media. When it has been violated, the Government has taken no
action against the reporting media.
Academic freedom is guaranteed by the Constitution and is
broadly interpreted by university authorities to mean that
local police have no authority on campus. In 1986 there were
isolated instances of armed forces entry on university grounds,
but most appeared to be the inadvertent result of hot pursuit
of criminals. Since the reopening of the main campus of the
National University in 1984, the university has sponsored major
antigovernment political conferences and many protest marches
without interference. Students are not arrested because of
academic or free speech issues; a small number, however, were
detained on unrelated charges of subversion.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
Any association not formed for criminal purposes is legal in
El Salvador. Political, professional, religious, labor, and
social organizations operate openly and freely. Various groups
criticize the Government from both the left and the right,
holding marches and demonstrations without interference from
the Government. The Government was severely criticized from
abroad for the May arrests of 10 members of the nongovernmental
Human Rights Commission (CDHES) and the Committee of Mothers
(Co-Madres). The Government claimed they were arrested on
suspicion of membership in guerrilla groups. Within days of
their arrest, 3 of the 10 confessed to membership in the
National Resistance (RN), the political arm of the Armed Forces
of National Resistance (FARN), one of the 5 constituent groups
of the FMLN. They publicly detailed the manner in which the
CDHES and the Co-Madres were infiltrated and manipulated by
the FMLN. The other arrested members of the two groups were
charged with membership in various guerrilla organizations and
were incarcerated. One of them, Maria Teresa Tula de Canales,
was released by President Duarte in September as a goodwill
The Constitution guarantees the right of private sector and
autonomous public institution employees to organize unions,
bargain collectively, and strike. Government employees of
nonautonomous public institutions are prohibited by the
Constitution from forming unions and striking, but most of
these employees are represented by associations which, in
fact, act as unions by bargaining collectively and calling
work stoppages. Salvadoran unions draw up their own statutes
and elect their own officers. The Government has not acted
upon a proposal which would extend collective bargaining
rights to peasant organizations.
The labor code requires that labor disputes go through stages
of direct bargaining, conciliation, and arbitration before a
strike or lockout can be declared. The law states that strikes
may be called only to demand the implementation or review of
the collective bargaining agreement, or in the defense of the
common interests of the workers. Fifty-one percent of the
workers must agree before a strike is called. Unions often
ignore these requirements, and many strikes are declared
illegal. The Labor Ministry oversees the implementation of
collective bargaining agreements and serves as conciliator in
labor disputes in the private sector and in autonomous
institutions. The Ministry reported that between June 1985
and May 1986, it participated directly in 553 labor -management
conflicts, including 54 strikes.
Unions may join national and international federations. Some
unions are affiliated with the World Federation of Labor;
others are affiliated with the Communist-dominated World
Federation of Trade Unions.
Labor unions participated in numerous marches and
demonstrations, both for and against the Government throughout
1986, often in cooperation with other nongovernmental
organizations .
c. Freedom of Religion
Freedom of religion is guaranteed by the Constitution and is
respected in practice. Although the country is predominantly
Roman Catholic, an estimated 20 percent of the population
subscribe to other faiths, mainly Protestant. Foreign and
Salvadoran missionaries operate freely and without harassment.
Church members and employees, both Catholic and Protestant,
have on occasion been arrested, but these arrests were
unrelated to the individual's religious beliefs or activities.
The Catholic Church continues to be one of the most influential
institutions in the country. The Archbishop's Sunday homily is
broadcast live from the Metropolitan Cathedral on one of the
Government's television stations and on radio. Church
publications disseminate the Church's position on human rights
and the war. Church statements have become increasingly
critical of the leftist insurgency, but the Church has not
hesitated to criticize the Government.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign
Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
Although the state of emergency decree formally suspends the
constitutional right to free movement, this suspension is not
strictly enforced. Local military commanders have denied
entry for short periods of time to areas where military
operations are under way, and require that foreign visitors
receive permission from the Armed Forces Chief of Staff's
office before entering combat zones. The Government has
deported some foreigners who failed or refused to seek
permission before entering areas of frec[uent military clashes.
An estimated 400,000 people (down from a previous level of
500,000) are displaced within El Salvador by the conflict,
primarily from the northern and eastern zones. As the level
of violence falls, an increasing number of refugees are
returning from abroad. More than 4,000 have returned from
other Central American countries during the past 4 years,
according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. Even
larger numbers of internally displaced persons appear to be
moving back to their homes with government assistance.
Eastern departmental commanders reported that former residents
who had gone to live in the capital returned to their homes in
the countryside by the hundreds after the October 10 earthquake
destroyed squatter communities in San Salvador. The
Intergovernmental Committee for Migration (ICM) reports no
government harassment of individuals returning to El Salvador
from abroad, either from the United States or elsewhere. The
Government imposes no control on emigration and cooperates
with international organizations that arrange Salvadorans'
emigration to other countries.
Land transportation has been limited by traffic stoppages
declared by the guerrillas and enforced with roadblocks, land
mines, and attacks on vehicles moving during the stoppages.
The guerrillas declared seven such stoppages in the course of
the year. The last occurred from December 8 to 14, when
guerrillas machine-gunned a passenger bus, killing 2 civilians
and wounding II; machine-gunned another smaller bus, killing
1 civiiian and wounding 2; and wounded 6 civilians in a
similar attack on another bus. The total for the week was 4
civilians killed and 34 wounded, one of the highest tolls in a
traffic stoppage in 1986.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens
to Change Their Government
El Salvador is a representative democracy. The President's
Christian Democratic Party (PDC) enjoys a 33-seat majority in
the 60-member Legislative Assembly elected March 31, 1985, but
there is vigorous debate among the 5 parties represented in
the Assembly; opposition members are represented on all
committees. Legislators are elected for 3-year terms.
In preparation for the 1988 legislative/municipal elections
and the 1989 presidential election, the Central Elections
Council (CCE) is creating a new voter registry with safeguards
against fraud. The CCE, composed of one representative of each
of the three major parties — the PDC, the National Republican
Alliance (ARENA), and the National Conciliation Party (PCN) —
is also drafting a streamlined electoral law to present to the
The Constitution allows the participation in the electoral
process of all political parties that do not advocate armed
opposition to the Government, and the right to membership in
any legally recognized party is guaranteed. Although the
National Revolutionary Movement (MNR) is a member of the
insurgent Democratic Revolutionary Front (FDR) allied with the
FMLN, the MNR remains a legally recognized party. The Popular
Social Christian Movement, though never inscribed as a legal
party, has resumed political activity inside El Salvador.
In 1986 the Social Democrats sought inscription as a party but
did not present the required 3,000 signatures on its
inscription petitions. The conservative Patria Libre party,
representing elements formerly incorporated in the ARENA
party, presented more than the required number of signatures,
but two of the three CCE commissioners blocked a vote on the
party's inscription for months. After a change in the law to
require a rapid decision on applications for inscription, the
CCE advised Patria Libre (since renamed Partido Liberacion) in
December that it would be inscribed.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and
Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations
of Human Rights
The Government continues to be receptive to visiting groups
interested in human rights. High-ranking governnient officials
and military officers have briefed and been interviewed by
U.S. congressmen, church and labor groups, and others. The
Inter-American Human Rights Commission of the Organization of
American States sent an investigative group in August which met
with government representatives, including President Duarte.
Americas Watch maintains an office and a part-time
representative in San Salvador. The ICRC and local and foreign
human rights groups regularly visit prison inmates.
The U.N. Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in El Salvador
made his sixth annual visit to the country from September 21
to 27. He met with government representatives, including
President Duarte and the military high command; visited prison
inmates; made an onsite investigation of the condition of a
group of displaced persons in Zacatelocula; spoke with
representatives of the Catholic Church and official and
nonofficial human rights organizations; and personally
interviewed 22 persons put forward by the Catholic Church and
the guerrilla-affiliated human rights groups.
Domestic human rights organizations active in El Salvador
include the governmental Human Rights Commission (CDH), an
agency which investigates complaints of human rights abuse by
the Government and the FMLN, and Tutela Legal, of the Catholic
Archdiocese of San Salvador. The nongovernmental Human Rights
Commission of El Salvador (CDHES) was exposed in 1986 as a
political front of the FMLN. It continues to operate freely,
although individual members charged with guerrilla membership
are imprisoned awaiting trial.
The Government's Human Rights Commission (CDH) receives
testimony from individuals about human rights violations,
conducts investigations, visits arrested persons, and reports
to the local commanding officer and the Ministry of Defense
when it discovers a case of abuse. Its doctors examine
detainees to determine the validity of complaints. The CDH
keeps a register of persons injured by land mine explosions
and acts as liaison for groups wishing to assist amputees with
prosthetic devices. To enhance its accessibility to the
public, the CDH opened two additional field offices in the
departmental capitals of Morazan and Usulutan in August and
September .
Tutela Legal 's staff visits persons detained by the security
forces, carries out some onsite investigations, receives
testimony from individuals about human rights violations, and
uses the press as a major source for its monthly reports. In
his report on the human rights situation in El Salvador, the
U.N. Special Rapporteur questioned Tutela Legal 's methodology,
saying that, where convenient, Tutela Legal counts victims as
civilians even when they may be guerrillas. He said he was
"obliged to point out that part of these (figures) are
combatants and the indication that the majority (of victims)
belong to the civilian population constitutes a presumption,
which the source (Tutela Legal) clearly acknowledges." The
Rapporteur concluded that Tutela Legal 's methodology is based
on presumptions, not facts.
For their reports, the other groups rely on newspapers,
announcements by guerrilla groups, and personal testimony.
According to the statements of former members of the CDHES and
the Co-Madres, these groups fabricate stories of human rights
abuses and attribute the abuses to the Government. A
voluminous CDHES presentation to the U.N. Special Rapporteur,
including statements made to a U.S. lawyer collaborating with
the group, has been circulated in the United States. This
report was dismissed by the Special Rapporteur as lacking
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion,
Language, or Social Status
Under the Constitution, women enjoy the same legal rights as
men. Women are represented in all three branches of
government, in business, and in the professions. In the armed
forces, women serve as nurses and in administration and
intelligence; the security services have a limited number of
policewomen. In January, as part of a larger economic package,
the Legislative Assembly passed a law requiring equal pay for
female and male agricultural workers. A high proportion of
women in the lower economic strata are heads of single parent
households, often providing for large families.
The Constitution permits employment of children under 14 years
of age only when their employment is necessary to provide for
their own or their families' subsistence. Children under
age 18 are prohibited from working at night or in dangerous
occupations. In reality, however, teenage and even younger
children work long hours.
The minimum wage applies to persons working at least 5 hours a
day and is equivalent to about US$3 per day. In practice, most
of these workers are paid more than the minimum wage. The law
entitles them to 15 days of annual paid vacation and extra pay
for working at night or for more than 44 hours a week. Persons
working less than 5 hours per day receive a proportion of the
minimum daily wage equivalent to the hours worked. The law
also requires that those paid by piecework or commission
receive a salary at least equivalent to the minimum wage.
The m.inimum wage for farm workers is equivalent to about
US$1.60 per day plus food. Most farm workers receive only the
minimum, but piece rates paid at harvest time net workers
triple or quadruple the minimum wage.
The Government requires that work sites be safe, and that
drinking water, toilets, and adequate ventilation be provided
workers. Industrial enterprises generally meet these
requirements. The Labor Ministry made 28,041 work site
inspections in 1985-86 and issued fines equivalent to US$12,270
to employers who did not meet the law's safety requirements.