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El Salvador
11.07.07
Urgent Interventions

Arbitrary detention and use of excessive force by police

Case SLV 110707
Use of excessive force by police / Ill-treatment / Arbitrary detentions / Unfair sentencing / Fear for personal integrity

The International Secretariat of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) requests your URGENT intervention in the following situation in El Salvador.

Brief description of the situation

The International Secretariat of the OMCT has been informed by Antenna Internacional, a member organisation of the SOS-Torture Network, about the violent repression exercised by members of the National Police against members of various communities who were peacefully protesting in the Municipality of Suchitoto, Department of Cuscatlán. OMCT was likewise informed of arbitrary detentions and reported unfair sentencing of members of various communities.

According to the information received, on 2 July 2007 various local social work organisations had programmed a day of peaceful protest on the highway leading from San Martín to Suchitoto. On one hand, they wanted to express their discontent with the “National Decentralisation Policy” (Política Nacional de Descentralización), which entails the privatisation of the national water supply. The local people have made it known that they have lost all confidence in such government proposals, since previous similar government projects have simply been privatised under different names. On the other hand, the protest was planned on the day of the first anniversary of the brutal political murder of Ms. Juanita Monjarás de Manzanares and Mr. Francisco Manzanares which took place in Suchitoto[1]. The perpetrators of this crime reportedly remain unpunished to this day.

According to the reports, members of the “Unit for Maintaining Order (UMO) of the National Civil Police (PNC)” (Unidad de Manteimiento del Orden de la Policía Nacional Civil) fired tear gas and rubber bullets at the protesters, forcing groups of them to flee into nearby hills. Furthermore, the UMO, along with the “Police Elite Reaction Group” (GRP - Grupo Elite de Reacción Policial), gave chase by land and air for over 4 hours. The reports also mention that the entire operation was backed up by a strong military presence which went so far as to make use of small tanks.

According to the same information, the rubber bullets wounded over 25 people, out of which 18 were also severely affected by pepper-spray. Another 14 people were detained and accused of “public disturbances” (desordenes públicos) and of “unlawful gatherings” (asociaciones ilícitas).

On 8 July 2007, Mr. Manuel Antonio Rodríguez Escalante, Mr. Héctor Antonio Ventura Vásquez, Mr. José Ever Fuentes, Mr. Patricio Valladares Aquino, Mr. Clemente Guevara Batres, Mr. Santos Noel Mancía Ramírez, Mr. Vicente Vásquez Basilio, Ms. Marta Yanira Méndez and Ms. Beatriz Eugenia Nuila González were sentenced to 3 months of protective custody (prisión preventiva) after having been charged with terrorism.

Mr. Facundo Dolores García was also arrested on 2 July and later freed with no further information being provided. Furthermore, nearby communities were severely affected by the excessive use of tear gas, which also forced nearby schools to displace their pupils.

Ms. Marta Lorena Araujo Martínez, Ms. Rosa María Centeno Valle, Ms. María Aydee Chicas Sorto and Ms. Sandra Isabel Guatemala, active members of the Asociación de las Comunidades Rurales para el Desarrollo de El Salvador (CRIPDES)[2], were also likewise sentenced on 8 July 2007. They were seized and then detained simply because they were on their way to the demonstration. This happened after a vehicle pulled over in front of the CRIPDES car they were traveling in, right at the city’s entrance.

The reports also mention that when the people protesting in front of the plaza heard these four members of the CRIPDES had been captured, they headed to the entrance of the Barrio de La Cruz to ask for the detainees to be freed. Even the local parish priest participated in this effort, to which the PNC replied that they were willing to negotiate and that a release warrant would be issued. Nevertheless, members of the UMO came onto the scene without warning, acting violently, ill-treating and assaulting even the parish priest’s assistant, all of which made it impossible to negotiate peacefully and resolve the problem.

According to the reports, the detainees were assigned to the jurisdiction of the Cojutepeque judge and held in Santa Cruz Analquito, Department of Cuscatlán. They have been reportedly held in inhuman and degrading conditions, including overcrowding, lack of hygiene and lack of privacy (even when using the toilet). Furthermore, the men are being held with other regular inmates, and both the men and the women are only allowed to go to the toilet twice a day (at 5am and 5pm).

Further reports mention that one of the detainees (identity unknown) was in a terrible state of health when brought to the hospital (he vomited blood as a consequence to the beating he was subject to when detained). A second person (identity unknown) was burnt by the tear gas, and a third one is since emotionally troubled. Although people outside have been allowed to visit the prisoners, this is reportedly done for one hour a day only, at the PNC’s discretion.

The International Secretariat of the OMCT severely condemns this violent repression and manifests its grave concern over the safety and the health of all of those detained and wounded as a consequence to these events. OMCT requests the Salvadorean government to immediately take the necessary measures to ensure these people’s safety and access to medical treatment.

More generally, OMCT asks the authorities of El Salvador to implement the minimal safety conditions, as well as to insure the respect of all detainees’ physical and psychological integrity. This should be done in accordance with national laws and international human rights instruments which El Salvador, in particular the Convention Against Torture to which El Salvador is a State Party.

Action requested

Please write to the Salvadorean authorities urging them to:

  1. Urgently and immediately take all necessary measures to guarantee the physical and psychological safety and integrity of all the aforementioned detained and wounded individuals, including urgent access to free medical care for those who may require it;
  2. Order the immediate release of all persons under arrest in the absence of valid legal charges and, if such charges exist, bring them before a fair, competent, independent and impartial tribunal and guarantee their procedural rights at all times;
  3. Order a thorough, independent and impartial investigation into these events, particularly into the alleged use of excessive force by police, in order to identify all those responsible, bring them to trial and apply the penal and/or administrative sanctions as provided by law;
  4. Guarantee the respect of human rights and the fundamental freedoms throughout the country in accordance with international human rights standards, particularly the Convention Against the Torture, ratified by El Salvador.

Addresses

  • Mr. President Elías Antonio Saca, Presidency of the Republic, Government of El Salvador, Secretary of Communications Fax: +503.2243 9947 +503.2243 7857 +503.2243 9930; E-mail.:casapres@casapres.gob.sv;
  • Ambassador Mr. Byron Fernando Larios López, Permanent Misión of the Republico f El Salvador to the United Nations in Geneva, Rue de Lausanne 65, CH-1202, Geneva, Switzerland, E-mail : mission.el-salvador@ties.itu.int; mission.ginebra@rree.gob.sv; FAX: +4122 738.47.44
  • Licenciado Héctor González Urrutia, Ambassador in Brussels, FAX: +322.735.02.11, Avenue de Tervueren 171, Segundo Piso, 1150 Brussels, Belgium.
  • Licenciado Félix Garrid Safie, Public Prosecutor of the Republic, Colonia Flor Blanca, 49 Avenida Sur, Edificio 8-B, San Salvador, El Salvador Fax: +503 2249 8613
  • Doctor Agustín García Calderón, President of the Supreme Court of Justice, El Salvador, Fax: +503 2243 9930, +503 2243 7857
  • Dra. Beatrice Alamanni de Carrillo, Prosecutor’s Office for the Defence of Human Rights, 90 Av. Norte y 51 Calle Poniente, Edificio AMSA N1 535 San Salvador, El Salvador Fax: + 503 2222 0655
  • Ministry of Foreign Affaire, Colonia San Benito. Calle Circunvalación, No.227, San Salvador, El Salvador, Fax: +503.2243-9656
  • Ministry of Government. Fax: +503.2281-5959
  • Vice-ministry of Citizen Safety, e-mail: webmaster@gobernacion.gob.sv
  • Director General of the National Civil Police PNC, El Salvador. Tel: +503.2254-8700. Fax: +503.2245 1554/ +503.2221 39 55/ +503.2221 36 88

Please also write to the diplomatic representations of El Salvador in your countries.

Geneva, 11 July 2007

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting this appeal’s number in your reply.

[1] See Urgent Appeal OMCT 100706

[2] The CRIPDES works, among other goals, for the improvement of living conditions for the worse off communities. It does so through social organisation, by participating in the creation or modification of gender-equality and environmentally- friendly public policies. Its goal is to encourage the organisation of the rural population, and to encourage their participation in public policies which may contribuye to improving these families living standards.

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