El Salvador: Right to security must not override right to be free from arbitrary detention, urges UN expert body

2 February 2012

SAN SALVADOR –The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention* urged the Government of El Salvador to ensure that the right to security does not override the right to be free from arbitrary detention. The Working Group also raised serious concern about the extreme over-crowding in prisons and police detention facilities.

At the end of its ten-day mission to El Salvador, the expert body further highlighted the lack of written notification of sentences to the defendant and the lack of effective access to defence counsel. The Working Group also noted the over-reliance on informers and testimony by opportunistic witnesses (known as criteriados).

“This practice not only affects the credibility of testimonies due to the incentives offered, but also jeopardises the fairness of the judicial process as the procedure of cross examination is often not made possible,” said El Hadji Malick Sow, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group.

The Working Group questioned the effectiveness of the judiciary, particularly concerning the right to be brought promptly before a judge.

“The fact that some individuals wait eight years for an appeal, with minimal intervention from judges is disconcerting,” said El Hadji Malick Sow. “I am deeply concerned at the low use of alternative measures to detention in cases we have seen, and the excessive use of preventive detention in judicial proceedings.”

According to the expert panel, prisoners who were interviewed privately complained of the invasive and humiliating searches faced, including of their relatives and lawyers, introduced since the armed forces were charged with security in prisons. “I understand the need to protect prisons and the dire security situation faced by the authorities, particularly in relation to the gangs (maras and pandilleros). But we urge the Government to urgently review its procedures to ensure human dignity for those deprived of their liberty,” he said.

The independent experts commended the Government for its many positive initiatives in recent years and encouraged effective implementation to further protect against arbitrary deprivation of liberty. The Working Group also welcomed that the mano dura policies of recent years had been declared unconstitutional.

The expert panel visited 11 prisons, police holding cells and other detention facilities in San Salvador, San Miguel and Santa Ana and interviewed detainees in private. During its mission, the Working Group met with high level authorities from the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the State. Meetings were also held with representatives of lawyers’ organizations, civil society members, the national human rights institutions and representatives of UN agencies.

A final report on the visit will be presented to the Human Rights Council in 2013.

(*) The Chair-Rapporteur is Mr. El Hadji Malick Sow (Senegal). The other members are Mr. Mads Andenas (Norway); Ms. Shaheen Sardar Ali (Pakistan); Mr. Roberto Garretón (Chile) and Mr. Vladimir Tochilovsky (Ukraine).


The former Commission on Human Rights established the five-member Working Group in 1991 to investigate allegations of arbitrary deprivation of liberty. Its mandate was extended in 1997 to cover the issue of administrative custody of immigrants and asylum-seekers.

Full statements in English and Spanish

Learn more on the mandate and activities of the Working Group at: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/detention/index.htm

The Working Group’s database can be found at: http://www.unwgaddatabase.org

For more information and media requests, please contact Mr. Miguel de la Lama, Secretary of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (Tel. +41 79 201 0118 / email: mdelalama@ohchr.org) or write to wgad@ohchr.org

UN Human Rights, follow us on social media:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/unitednationshumanrights
Twitter: http://twitter.com/UNrightswire
YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/UNOHCHR