Washington, D.C.—On April 15, in a series of late night tweets, El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele vowed to defy a unanimous ruling by the Constitutional Chamber that found no legal basis for Bukele’s state of emergency decrees ordering the arrest of those accused of failing to comply with curfew orders, imposed as part of the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This confrontation escalates tensions in the country, following a March 27 Constitutional Chamber ruling that ordered the government to release hundreds of people who have been detained and sent to overcrowded “containment” centers; so far, the government has not complied.
El Salvador’s Legislative Assembly is currently considering extending the state of emergency, with the presidency proposing additional emergency powers that would allow Ministry of Health personnel to enter any private residences to conduct inspections. In response, WOLA President Geoff Thale issued the following statement:
“Mitigating the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is no excuse for undermining democracy and human rights. Arresting those accused of violating curfews and putting them in overcrowded ‘containment’ centers is a disproportionate, repressive, and ineffectual approach to halting the spread of the virus. In order to be as effective as possible, responses to the COVID-19 pandemic need to be constitutionally sound and legally grounded.
“The Constitutional Chamber and the Legislative Assembly have an important responsibility in checking executive power. This is especially critical when it comes to clearly defining the limits of emergency decree measures, meant to restrict the spread of the virus. President Bukele should respect these checks and balances instead of using COVID-19 as a pretext for autocratic actions.”