The El Salvador Legislative Assembly extended its COVID-19 state of emergency law Sunday by a 68-12 vote despite human rights concerns. The extension is effective until April 16.
The state of emergency law allows the El Salvador government to detain those who violate lockdown orders. This provision has concerned human rights groups. According to the International Bar Association (IBA), El Salvador has unnecessarily detained more than 850 people in containment centers for breaching lockdowns. Additionally, more than 4,000 El Salvador citizens cannot return to El Salvador due to stringent travel restrictions. Of the citizens who have returned from overseas, some are kept under quarantine in detention centers without food, water or hygiene products.
The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) penned an open letter to El Salvador’s president, Nayib Bukele, on April 8 expressing the human rights concerns. In the open letter, the IBA and IBAHRI demanded actions to rectify the human rights violations and criticized Bukele’s statements on constitutional concerns:
The IBAHRI urges El Salvador to release those in arbitrary detention, and immediately provide those detained with access to essential provisions. Further, the IBAHRI regrets communication from Your Excellency through twitter, stating ‘We must stop arguing whether a measure is taken or not, whether we are alarmists or not, whether it is constitutional (at someone’s discretion) or not, whether it suits the interests of a group or not.’ Whilst certain emergency measures are required to secure the public health of citizens, these measures should be proportionate, temporary and guaranteeing respect for an individual’s human rights. The rule of law must prevail throughout times of crisis and it is imperative that the El Salvadorian government upholds the decisions enacted by the Supreme Court.
During the four-day state of emergency law extension, assembly members promise to discuss a new decree to protect constitutional rights of citizens during the quarantine enforcement. The assembly plans to create an agency to regulate any quarantine violation arrests to ensure civil liberties.
The law extension currently holds the controversial quarantine detention policies in place. However, measures to avoid price increases and overconsumption, provide support to financial institutions and streamline medical purchases are among the praised sections of the state of emergency law.
For more on COVID-19, see our special coverage.