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Startseite Urgent Actions 2022 05 State of emergency grave threat to rights
UA 041/22
El Salvador
Aktiv seit 9. Mai 2022 | Noch 2 Tage Laufzeit

State of emergency grave threat to rights

AI-Index: AMR 29/5576/2022

On 27 March 2022, El Salvador’s Legislative Assembly approved a state of emergency in response to reports of a spike in gang-related homicides. Since that time, more than 25,000 people have reportedly been arrested, and the human rights of the population are gravely under threat. Amnesty International calls on President Nayib Bukele to take all necessary measures to put an immediate end to human rights violations occurring in the context of the state of emergency, and to design public security strategies that guarantee fundamental rights.


On 27 March 2022, El Salvador’s Legislative Assembly approved a state of emergency at the request of President Nayib Bukele, to respond to reports of a spike in gang-related homicides. The state of emergency, originally due to last 30 days, was renewed by the Legislative Assembly on 24 April. More than 25,000 have been arrested to date and widespread human rights violations have been reported. Amnesty International is particularly concerned about the following issues:

Legal reforms implemented in the context of the state of emergency threaten human rights and do not comply with international standards.

The emergency decree approved by the Legislative Assembly suspends human rights that have been deemed fundamental, and therefore cannot be deferred, under international law. These include the right to legal defense and the right to be informed of the reasons for a detention, among others.

Other legal reforms passed by the Legislative Assembly include the establishment of prison sentences for minors aged between 12 and 16 for gang-related crimes; the ability to try people in absentia – that is, without their presence in the context of a trial; the abolition of maximum time periods for pre-trial detention; and the establishment of trials with «faceless» anonymized judges, which may raise concerns over due process and judicial independence.

Reforms also include the establishment of prison sentences for those that «directly or indirectly benefit from relationships of any nature» with gangs, or those that «reproduce…messages or statements originated or supposedly originated» by gangs – both vaguely worded reforms that do not meet the legality requirement under international law. The latter reform, in particular, could lead to the criminalization of journalists that report on gang-related activity.

There have been widespread reports of arbitrary detentions, as well as concerns over ill treatment and the deaths of prisoners in custody.

Civil society organizations have received more than 300 reports of human rights violations in the context of the state of emergency, more than 70% of which relate to arbitrary detentions.

Local organizations and the media report that people are being arrested in poor and marginalized neighborhoods merely for having tattoos or being present in areas where gang members traditionally operate. These people allegedly do not have access to legal defense, and concerns have been raised regarding judicial independence and the ability of these individuals to obtain fair judicial review of their detention. Reports of ill treatment have also surfaced in the context of the state of emergency, and the President has made concerning statements regarding limiting prisoners’ access to food and fresh air. Reports allege that at least five people have died in custody in the context of the state of emergency.

Journalists, human rights defenders and judicial actors are under attack.

Journalists and human rights defenders that have spoken out against the state of emergency have been subject to harassment and stigmatization by authorities on social media and other channels. This harassment against journalists in El Salvador has reached such levels that some have felt the need to leave the country, fearing reprisals. Judges and defense lawyers have also reportedly been subject to increased scrutiny.

The state of emergency and related measures come within a broader context of shrinking civic space in El Salvador. In May 2021, the Legislative Assembly – controlled by Nayib Bukele’s «Nuevas Ideas» Party – voted to remove judges from the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court – a move widely interpreted as an attack on judicial independence in the country. The Legislative Assembly has also tried to introduce legislation restricting foreign funding for civil society organizations, which, if approved, would have significantly hampered the work of NGOs in El Salvador. President Bukele frequently disparages and stigmatizes the work of NGOs and journalists on social media; and in January 2022, it was revealed that least 35 people, mainly independent journalists from outlets critical of the government, had been the object of Pegasus spyware infections.

Take action

  • Write an appeal in your own words or use the model letter below.

  • Take action on Social media: Infos see the yellow field on the right.

  • Please take action before 25 May 2022.

  • Preferred language: Spanish. You can also write in your own language.

Model letter

Dear President Bukele,

I am writing to express alarm regarding the human rights situation currently unfolding in El Salvador. The state of emergency and related measures have brought with them a whole host of human rights violations, and it is your responsibility to act to restore human rights and fundamental freedoms in the country. Most notably, I am concerned that:

The legal reforms approved since the start of the state of emergency threaten human rights and do not comply with international standards. It is distressing to see that the emergency decree suspends fundamental freedoms, such as the right to legal defence. In addition to this, other legal reforms, such as the elimination of maximum time periods for pre-trial detention and the approval of trials without the presence of the accused, are contrary to international law.

There have been widespread reports of arbitrary detentions and concerns regarding ill treatment of people detained, including deaths, while in custody. I find it alarming to learn of reports of ill treatment of detainees by security forces, with at least five people having allegedly died while in custody. Your own statements regarding limiting food and fresh air for prisoners are also serious cause for concern. Further to this, local organizations have identified incidents where people are being detained for having tattoos or merely being present in areas where gang members traditionally operate. Hundreds of reports of arbitrary detentions have been made.

Journalists, human rights defenders and judicial actors are under attack in the country. Recent legal reforms threaten the ability of journalists to report on gang-related activity without being subject to prosecution. Instead of celebrating their work to uphold human rights in El Salvador, it is disturbing to see that your government has stigmatized and harassed journalists and human rights defenders. Moreover, judges and defence lawyers appear to be under increased scrutiny.

The human rights context in El Salvador that your government has created is appalling and I urge you to immediately change course. Public security strategies are important but must guarantee fundamental human rights. I therefore call on you to:

- Repeal or amend all legal reforms that do not comply with international law and standards;

- Guarantee the rights of prisoners to due process and fair treatment;

- Stop the stigmatization of civil society, the press and judicial actors, and ensure that these individuals can perform their work without reprisals.

Yours sincerely,


Model letter in spanish open here / Aqui modelo de carta en español

Señor Presidente Bukele:
Me dirijo a usted para expresarle mi alarma por la situación de derechos humanos que vive actualmente El Salvador. El régimen de excepción y las medidas relacionadas con él han traído consigo una multitud de violaciones de derechos humanos, y es su responsabilidad actuar para restaurar los derechos humanos y las libertades fundamentales en el país. En particular, me preocupa que:
1. Las reformas legales aprobadas desde el inicio del estado de excepción amenazan los derechos humanos y no cumplen las normas internacionales. Resulta angustioso ver que el decreto sobre el régimen de excepción suspende libertades fundamentales, como el derecho a la defensa jurídica. Además, otras reformas legales, como la eliminación de los periodos máximos de prisión preventiva y la aprobación de juicios sin la presencia de la persona acusada, son contrarias al derecho internacional.
2. Ha habido informes generalizados de detenciones arbitrarias, y preocupación respecto a los malos tratos contra personas detenidas, incluidas muertes bajo custodia. Recibo con la alarma los reportes sobre los malos tratos infligidos a personas detenidas por las fuerzas de seguridad, que indican que al menos cinco personas han muerto al parecer bajo custodia. Sus propias declaraciones sobre la limitación de alimentos y acceso al aire libre para las personas presas también son motivo de honda preocupación. Además, las organizaciones locales han identificado incidentes de personas a las que se ha detenido por tener tatuajes o simplemente por estar presentes en zonas en las que suelen operar miembros de pandillas. Se han realizado cientos de denuncias de detención arbitraria.
3. En el país se ataca a periodistas, personas defensoras de los derechos humanos y funcionarios judiciales. Las recientes reformas legales amenazan la capacidad de los y las periodistas de informar sobre la actividad de las pandillas sin sufrir persecución. En lugar de aplaudir su trabajo de defensa de los derechos humanos en El Salvador, resulta inquietante ver que su gobierno ha estigmatizado y acosado a profesionales del periodismo y personas que defienden los derechos humanos. Además, los jueces, juezas y los abogados y abogadas defensoras parecen estar sometidos a un escrutinio cada vez mayor.
El contexto de derechos humanos que su gobierno ha creado en El Salvador es aterrador, y le insto a que proceda de inmediato a cambiar de rumbo. Las estrategias de seguridad pública son importantes, pero deben garantizar los derechos humanos fundamentales.

Por tanto, le pido que:
1. derogue o enmiende todas las reformas legales que no cumplen con el derecho y las normas internacionales;
2. garantice los derechos de las personas presas al debido proceso y a un trato justo;
3. ponga fin a la estigmatización de la sociedad civil, la prensa y los funcionarios judiciales, y garantice que estas personas pueden realizar su trabajo sin represalias.



Appeals to

President Nayib Bukele

Twitter: @nayibbukele

Ž → President Nayib Bukele is very active on Twitter.


Copies to

Ambassade de la République d'El Salvador
Rue de Lausanne 65
1202 Genève

Fax: 022 738 47 44
E-mail: ;

Social media guide

President Bukele is very active on Twitter and this is therefore an effective way of expressing concern. Please use the following sample messages:

- - -

.@nayibbukele, the state of emergency in #ElSalvador threatens the human rights of thousands. Public security must go hand in hand with fundamental freedoms. Change course now!

- - -

.@nayibbukele, your government is responsible for mass arbitrary arrests, laws that threaten human rights, the ill treatment of prisoners, and attacks on journalists and human rights defenders. Is this ithe legacy you want to leave #El Salvador? Change course now.

- - -

@nayibbukele, the world is shocked by your actions to tear apart fundamental rights in #ElSalvador. These are our demands:
1️⃣ Repeal legal reforms that threaten human rights
2️⃣ Guarantee the rights of prisoners
3️⃣ Protect journalists, HRDs and judicial actors

- - -

. @nayibbukele, public security and human rights are not incompatible. I urge you to design strategies that don't undermine the rights of thousands. . #ElSalvador

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UA 041/22 english
Microsoft Word Document, 41.4 kB
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UA 041/22 espagnol
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Modelo de carta en español
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