Friday, February 03, 2012

El Salvador: UN panel voices concern at arbitrary detention, prison overcrowding

UN - A United Nations expert human rights panel has voiced concern about the right to security impinging on the right to be free from arbitrary detention in El Salvador, as well as extreme overcrowding in prisons and police facilities in the Central American nation.

Wrapping up a 10-day mission to the country, the five-member UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention also highlighted the lack of written notification of sentences to the defendant and the lack of effective access to defence counsel.

Another concern was the “over-reliance on informers and testimony by opportunistic witnesses,” the Group said in a news release issued in the capital, San Salvador.

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

The 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 Mr. Sow.

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. Members also met with a range of actors from the Government, civil society and the UN.

According to the experts, all of whom work in an independent and unpaid capacity, 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,” said Mr. Sow. “But we urge the Government to urgently review its procedures to ensure human dignity for those deprived of their liberty.”

The experts commended the Government for its positive initiatives in recent years and encouraged the effective implementation of these initiatives to further protect against arbitrary deprivation of liberty.

The Group – also comprising Mads Andenas (Norway), Shaheen Sardar Ali (Pakistan), Roberto Garretón (Chile), and Vladimir Tochilovsky (Ukraine) – will present its final report on the visit to the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council next year.