WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas

CENTRAL AMERICA MONITOR:

EVALUATING PROGRESS

Central America’s Northern Triangle region is struggling with violence, corruption and impunity.

Scroll for the key findings or to find links to download the full reports under each area of progress.

Evaluating progress in Central America

As Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras struggle with high levels of violence and insecurity, systemic corruption, and widespread impunity, it’s critical that we find ways to assess how the policies and strategies being implemented in the region are contributing to the strengthening of the rule of law, improving transparency and accountability, and to reducing violence and insecurity. Using a comprehensive series of indicators, the Central American Monitor aims to measure progress and identify trends over time in eight key areas directly relevant to rule of law and security, thus providing critical information that can inform policies and strategic investments in the region.

The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), the Myrna Mack Foundation (FMM) of Guatemala, the University Institute for Public Opinion (Iudop) of the José Simeón Cañas Central American University (UCA) of El Salvador, the University Institute on Democracy, Peace and Security (IUDPAS) of the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH) have developed a series of qualitative and quantitative indicators to evaluate progress in Central America in eight key areas.

EL SALVADOR
Areas of progress
1.

Strengthening the Capacity and Independence of Justice Systems

1.1

Capacity of the Justice System

1.2

Internal Independence

1.3

External Independence

EL SALVADOR / Areas of progress

1. Strengthening the Capacity and Independence of Justice Systems

1.1
Capacity of the Justice System

The data shows that the Public Defender’s Office and the Institute of Forensic Medicine have the lowest personnel levels per 100,000 inhabitants. During the period analyzed, there were four public defenders and three medical examiners in criminal matters for every 100,000 people. Meanwhile, there were eight judges and eight prosecutors with competence in criminal matters for every 100,000 people.

With the exception of the Public Prosecutor’s Office, staffing levels in El Salvador’s justice institutions were well below international standards for the administration of justice.

The accompanying chart compares staffing levels at El Salvador’s justice institutions (2014-2017).

 

EL SALVADOR / Areas of progress

1. Strengthening the Capacity and Independence of Justice Systems

1.2
Internal Independence

In El Salvador, there are information gaps in terms of internal independence of justice institutions (such as recruitment, selection, evaluation, disciplinary mechanisms). In some cases, there is no information system that allows data to be processed efficiently to provide an agile response to information requests. In others, it has been the lack of procedural information that does not allow greater precision in the mechanisms for the staff recruitment, selection, evaluation and discipline of justice entities. See the available data on the use of the disciplinary system for justice institutions (2014-2017) in the accompanying table.

EL SALVADOR / Areas of progress

1. Strengthening the Capacity and Independence of Justice Systems

1.3
External Independence

During 2014-2017, data shows that El Salvador’s justice institutions accounted for just 7 percent of the country’s overall national budget. The judicial institution that received the lowest allocation of resources throughout 2014-2017 was the national public defender’s office. Meanwhile, the Attorney General’s Office registered the largest increase in resources during that time. Much of the budgetary resources allocated to El Salvador’s justice institutions go towards paying salaries. In the case of the national public defender’s office, salaries absorbed approximately 90 percent of its total budget during 2014-2017. At the Attorney General’s Office, salaries absorbed some 61 percent of its resources during that same time period. During 2016 and 2017, salaries represented more than 70 percent of the judiciary's expenditures.   The accompanying table compares budget allocations among El Salvador’s judicial institutions (2014-2017).

EL SALVADOR
Areas of progress
2.

Cooperation with Anti-Impunity Commissions

During the initial design of this project, and while conducting research on the 2014-2017 baseline reports, the government of El Salvador did not have an international anti-impunity commission. In September 2019, Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele announced plans and took preliminary measures to establish the International Commission against Impunity in El Salvador (Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en El Salvador, CICIES) in collaboration with the Organization of American States. This portion of the website will be updated with information on the CICIES once the Central America Monitor releases a report and datasets for 2019.
EL SALVADOR
Areas of progress
3.

Combatting Corruption

3.1

Levels of Public Trust

3.2

Scope and Implementation of Legislation to Combat Corruption

3.3

Advancements in Criminal Investigations

3.4

Functioning of Oversight Bodies

EL SALVADOR / Areas of progress

3. Combatting Corruption

3.1
Levels of Public Trust

During the 2014-2017 period, El Salvador was rated extremely low in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, with scores between 33 to 39 points (Transparency International uses a scale between 0 and 100, 0 meaning highly corrupt, and 100 meaning non-corrupt). This is well below the annual average reported by the international organization. The accompanying table shows El Salvador’s performance in this index. Public opinion polls show the main problems that citizens identify in the country are crime and the economy. However, since 2013, the proportion of Salvadorans who identify corruption as the country’s main problem has continuously grown. This demonstrates a greater awareness about corruption among the public, as illustrated in the accompanying graph.

EL SALVADOR / Areas of progress

3. Combatting Corruption

3.2
Scope and Implementation of Legislation to Combat Corruption

The oldest and most problematic secondary legislation in recent years is the 1959 Law on Illicit Enrichment of Public Officials and Employees. There is a delay regulating actions that may constitute acts of corruption, especially regarding asset declaration and illicit enrichment. The outdated law still levies fines and infractions in colones, a currency that El Salvador has not used since 2001. The law establishes fines which range from $11.43 to a maximum of $1,142.86. El Salvador made strides in establishing regulations allowing authorities to seize illegally obtained assets and re-purpose them for state use. In 2017, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court overruled a reform adopted by the Congress that sought to put in place a 10-year statute of limitations for asset seizures and recovery.

EL SALVADOR / Areas of progress

3. Combatting Corruption

3.3
Advancements in Criminal Investigations

Between 2014 and 2017, the government received complaints for 5,004 corruption related cases. Of these cases, 565 resulted in a dismissal, with the court suspending criminal proceedings due to a lack of evidence. Between 2014 and 2015, the Public Prosecutor’s Office opened investigations into 846 cases involving crimes related to the administration of justice, 452 of which went to trial. Prosecutors obtained a conviction in 86 cases. During the 2014-2017 period, 140 cases did not advance in court due to lack of evidence and resulted in some type of dismissal. During the same period, authorities initiated investigations of 6,064 cases of alleged corruption in public administration, 1,723 of which went to trial. There were 538 convictions and 145 acquittals. The crimes with the most number of acquittals are trafficking of prohibited objects in prison (92), bribery in exchange for committing criminal offense (12), peculation (7), and arbitrary acts (7), which together represent 81.4% of acquittals. No convictions were obtained for crimes of exaction, embezzlement, and illicit enrichment. The Monitor was unable to obtain data from the judiciary, since, according to the Office of Information and Response of the Judiciary, the national trial courts stopped producing statistics of convictions and acquittals by type of crime.

EL SALVADOR / Areas of progress

3. Combatting Corruption

3.4
Functioning of Oversight Bodies

From 2014 to 2017, a total of 2,050 civil servants and public employees were investigated for violations of the Government Ethics Law. Of these, the courts only issued penalties for 7.3 percent (149 people). The Court of Accounts, the entity charged with auditing public funds, is one of the public agencies with the least amount of information publicly available concerning the investigations and procedures it carries out. The information available shows that the court received 682 complaints of irregularities between 2014 and 2017, mostly involving administrative and financial issues or irregularities concerning internal oversight of staff. 

EL SALVADOR
Areas of progress
4.

Tackling Violence and Organized Crime

4.1

National Law in Accordance with International Standards

4.2

Investigative Capacity and Prosecution of Criminal Networks and Organized Crime

4.3

Effectiveness of Investigations of Criminal Networks and Organized Crime

EL SALVADOR / Areas of progress

4. Tackling Violence and Organized Crime

4.1
National Law in Accordance with International Standards

El Salvador has adopted comprehensive specialized criminal legislation to combat violence and organized crime. Between 2014 and 2017, two new laws were enacted. The Special Law against Human Trafficking went into effect in 2016 and established an institutional protection structure, defined the functions of security and justice institutions in this area, and determined budget allocations for them.

The Special Law against Extortion, approved in 2015, defined types of crimes and additional procedural guidelines, and included extensive regulation on the use of telecommunications for investigating and prosecuting crimes of extortion.

However, despite this broad legislation, the legislative process does not follow a comprehensive analysis of the different forms of violence that affects the public. Rather, it appears that they are the result of isolated legislative efforts to bring about swift responses to crime.

EL SALVADOR / Areas of progress

4. Tackling Violence and Organized Crime

4.2
Investigative Capacity and Prosecution of Criminal Networks and Organized Crime

El Salvador has an institutional structure to carry out investigations and prosecute criminal acts related to violence and organized crime. This structure includes 12 special units within the National Civilian Police (PNC) and six special units in the Office of the Prosecutor General of the Republic (FGR), of which the majority are related to crimes defined by the special laws against human trafficking and extortion. The Judiciary also has specialized courts. The first one, created in 2007, deals with organized crime and complex offences. The second, created in 2014, oversees matters of asset recovery and forfeiture. By the end of the 2017, the latter was still not fully implemented. In 2016, a special court was created to attend to crimes of violence and discrimination against women. These courts became operational in late 2017.

Of the three entities analyzed, the FGR reports having had the most qualified personnel, increasing from 69 attorneys in 2015 to 75 in 2017.



The establishment of these specialized courts is an effort to guide resources and capacities to streamline criminal processes that are of special interest. Despite these efforts, there were obstacles associated with a lack of judicial independence, poor prosecutorial work, and lack of capacity among courts to expand investigations and, in turn, effectively prosecute cases.

EL SALVADOR / Areas of progress

4. Tackling Violence and Organized Crime

4.3
Effectiveness of Investigations of Criminal Networks and Organized Crime

The following table highlights the type of offense of organized crime, among which those related to threats registered the highest number of admitted cases (61,810), followed by those related to homicide (31,519 cases), drug-related crimes (20,032), and kidnapping and deprivation of liberty (14,015). Notably, there was a high number of admitted cases that were later archived provisionally or definitively—some 9 out of 10 cases for threats and nearly 9 out of 10 cases for kidnapping and deprivation of liberty. Similarly, 8 out of every 10 cases of homicide were archived and three quarters of drug cases were closed. The cases of extortion and drugs registered the highest percentage of prosecuted cases that ended with a conviction. In extortion cases, 66.6 percent of prosecutions resulted in a conviction.



When it comes to compiling and reporting information on sentences disaggregated by types of crime, difficulties involving statistical output persist within the Judiciary. This is mainly due to delays in the processing of information in judicial offices.

EL SALVADOR
Areas of progress
5.

Strengthening of Civilian Police Forces

5.1

Functioning of Police Career Systems

5.2

Allocation and Use of Budgetary Resources

EL SALVADOR / Areas of progress

5. Strengthening of Civilian Police Forces

5.1
Functioning of Police Career Systems

In 2016 and 2017, the police force amounted to approximately 26,000 members, 85% of whom were men and 15% women. The average age of police officers was 42 years old.

According to the information provided by the National Civilian Police (Policía Nacional Civil, PNC), the police have approximately one police station for every 58 square kilometers in the country. These stations are made up of low-level officials, and generally have a very low number of police officers and weak infrastructure.

Notably, the National Academy of Public Security trains a large number of security officers for private companies. Just between 2014 and 2017, the academy graduated a total of 6,521 individuals to carry out work for private entities, a significantly larger number than the 2,045 police officers who graduated in the same period.

EL SALVADOR / Areas of progress

5. Strengthening of Civilian Police Forces

5.2
Allocation and Use of Budgetary Resources

The proportion of the budget allocated to the PNC, in comparison to the Ministry of Justice and Public Security’s total budget, is very high. Between 2014 and 2017, the PNC represented more than 60% of the Ministry’s total budget allocation. Of these resources, the highest amount allocated to the PNC in a single year was $290 million in 2015. 

Personnel salaries account for a large portion, some 80%, of the PNC’s budget.

EL SALVADOR
Areas of progress
6.

Limiting the Role of the Armed Forces in Public Security Activities

6.1

Development and Implementation of a Concrete Plan

6.2

Conduct of Military Forces

EL SALVADOR / Areas of progress

6. Limiting the Role of the Military in Public Security

6.1
Development and Implementation of a Concrete Plan

Between 2014 and 2017, the El Salvador’s executive branch used its regulatory powers to design a legal framework that ensured the continuous participation of the military in public security functions.

Military involvement in the country’s internal affairs was not solely restricted to public security; military personnel were also assigned to surveil the perimeters of prisons and schools.

Official data from the Salvadoran Ministry of National Defense show that, between 2014 and 2017, the number of military personnel assigned to public security tasks increased by 75%, rising from 7,900 in 2014 to 13,827 in 2017.

EL SALVADOR / Areas of progress

6. Limiting the Role of the Military in Public Security

6.2
Conduct of Military Forces

According to public opinion surveys carried out by the University Institute for Public Opinion (Iudop), citizens’ perceptions of the military is generally favorable. Approximately 4 out of 10 Salvadorans either trusted somewhat or a lot in the military during the 2014-2017 period.

EL SALVADOR
Areas of progress
7.

Protecting Human Rights

7.1

Investigation and Conviction of Human Rights Violations

7.2

Protection Mechanisms

7.3

Hate Speech

EL SALVADOR / Areas of progress

7. Protecting Human Rights

7.1
Investigation and Conviction of Human Rights Violations

Across all categories of human rights violations, the prevailing trend is the low proportion of cases that are prosecuted, and even smaller proportions that end in conviction. Between 2014 and 2017, the Public Prosecutor’s Office's most frequently initiated cases involve unlawful entry, deprivation of liberty and unlawful searches and investigations. Of these three crimes, only 8.5 percent of the cases were taken to court. Regarding cases of crimes against humanity, twice the number of cases were initiated for torture than those initiated for forced disappearances, and only a fifth of the crimes involving torture or forced disappearances were ever prosecuted. During the 2014-2017 period, the information compiled points to various instances of extrajudicial executions. The increase in confrontations between police and gang members has resulted in a greater proportion of deaths at the hands of the police. However, in the case of El Salvador, extrajudicial execution has not been defined in the criminal code. Consequently, the Public Prosecutor’s Office does not provide specific data on the alleged commission of extrajudicial executions. An analysis of press articles carried out by Iudop identified 111 events in 2016 that displayed characteristics of alleged extrajudicial executions, in which 278 fatalities were reported. Of these, 50.4 percent were deaths from confrontations between alleged gang members and police and members of the army, 26.1 percent from confrontations between combined forces and alleged gang members, and 21.6 percent deaths caused by alleged death squads. The chart below shows the ratio of civilians to police officers killed during incidents of “unlawful aggression” from 2014 to 2017 recorded by the University Observatory for Human Rights.

EL SALVADOR / Areas of progress

7. Protecting Human Rights

7.2
Protection Mechanisms

The appropriate Salvadoran institutions- such as the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the Human Rights Ombudsman- lack an official corresponding registry as well as special units charged with handling rights violations of human rights defenders. They also lack specific protocols and guidelines to respond to these kinds of violations.

Because El Salvador lacks a national protection mechanism to guarantee the safety of human rights defenders, when a violation against defenders occurs, the incidents are registered and treated like common crimes. This results in an extremely low level of effectiveness in responding to complaints filed by defenders.

EL SALVADOR / Areas of progress

7. Protecting Human Rights

7.3
Hate Speech

The Monitor was unable to find quantitative data on attacks and defamation campaigns against defenders. According to data from secondary sources, members of the LGBTI community have faced violence by state agents, criminal groups and society in general. 

Youth defenders have been victims of harassment and stigmatization by state security forces, while indigenous communities and environmental defenders have been the target of intimidation and harassment by sectors involved in the exploitation of natural resources.

EL SALVADOR
Areas of progress
8.

Improving Transparency

8.1

Scope and Implementation of Public Information Access Laws

8.2

Budget and Spending Transparency

8.3

Disclosure of Public Officials’ Statement of Assets

EL SALVADOR / Areas of progress

8. Improving Transparency

8.1
Scope and Implementation of Public Information Access Laws

The Institute for Access to Public Information, an entity in charge of overseeing the correct interpretation of the Access to Public Information Law (LAIP, by its Spanish acronym), created a central transparency portal—a repository for information that government bodies are required to make public—featuring information from nearly 300 institutions. In another step forward, the Institute for Access to Public Information (IAIP by its Spanish acronym) developed a methodology for evaluating the quality of the records released by institutions in response to information requests. Nearly half of the country’s municipalities haven’t publicized information that, as is required under law, needs to be publicly available in the central transparency portal. 

EL SALVADOR / Areas of progress

8. Improving Transparency

8.2
Budget and Spending Transparency

The Monitor focused on the level of compliance with transparency laws and norms at five institutions: the Attorney General’s Office, the Supreme Court of Justice, the Ministry of National Defense, the Ministry of Justice and Public Security, and the National Police Force. While all of the institutions have made financial information available to the public in their respective transparency portals, in several cases this information is incomplete. There are information gaps in areas such as salaries, hiring and procurement practices, subsidies and tax incentives, and public funds allocated to private entities. The accompanying table shows the types of financial information that El Salvador’s National Police Force has made publicly available over the years.

EL SALVADOR / Areas of progress

8. Improving Transparency

8.3
Disclosure of Public Officials’ Statement of Assets

In 2015, the Salvadoran Congress passed a Probity Law, which, among other provisions, requires public officials to submit a declaration of their assets upon entering and leaving public office. The law also created a specialized agency within the Supreme Court to oversee its implementation, its regulations, and other normative instruments. The IAIP asserted that the agency needed to make the asset declarations public. In 2017, however, the Supreme Court declared the asset declarations and reports for the probity agency classified, and went even further by declaring any investigation process for illicit enrichment secret until a trial concluded and resulted in a conviction, or until seven years had passed since the court decided against opening a trial.

GLOSSARY

The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), the Myrna Mack Foundation (FMM) of Guatemala, the University Institute for Public Opinion (Iudop) of the José Simeón Cañas Central American University (UCA) of El Salvador, the University Institute on Democracy, Peace and Security (IUDPAS) of the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH) have developed a series of indicators to assess the progress in Central America in eight key areas. That progress will reflect both the commitment of Central American governments and the effectiveness of international assistance. The indicators include a combination of quantitative data and qualitative analysis in order to gain a more in-depth understanding of the changes taking place in each country. Data sources include official documents and statistics, surveys, interviews, and reviews of existing laws and regulations that will be systematically compiled.

WOLA, the Myrna Mack Foundation, Iudop, and IUDPAS developed these indicators in a months-long process that included review of international standards, consultation with experts, and consensus among all partners about the key issues to address.
Our goal is to provide an instrument that can help identify the areas of progress and opportunities for improvement shortfalls for of the policies and strategies being implemented on the ground in a form that is useful for policymakers, donors, academics, and the public. At the same time, we hope to provide analysis that can contribute to the evaluation of trends over time both within and between the countries of the Northern Triangle.

1
Strengthening the Capacity and Independence of Justice Systems

Capacity of the Justice System: Number of criminal justice officials, geographical coverage, workload, effectiveness, and public trust.

Internal Independence: Existence and implementation of a public, merit-based selection process free from external influence, a results-based evaluation system, and an effective disciplinary system.

External Independence: Size of budget allocated for the judicial sector and implementation of national and international protection measures for justice officials.

2
Cooperation with Anti-Impunity Commissions

Political Will and Level of Collaboration: Commitment of the state to collaborate and enable the work of the CICIG in Guatemala and the MACCIH in Honduras, demonstrated by the progress of emblematic cases, the approval of legislative reforms, and support for domestic counterparts working with these commissions.

3
Combating Corruption

Level of Public Trust: Degree of public trust in state institutions involved in efforts to prevent, identify, investigate, and punish corruption.

Scope and Implementation of Legislation to Combat Corruption: Classification of new crimes in criminal codes and reforms of existing anti-corruption laws to adhere to international standards.

Advancements in Criminal Investigations: Number of corruption cases filed, prosecuted, and resolved, as well as the progress made in emblematic cases.

Functioning of Oversight Bodies: Existence and capacity of external oversight bodies or agencies to combat corruption.

4
Tackling Violence and Organized Crime

Capacity Building: Existence and functioning of specialized anti-organized crime units, application of scientific and technical investigative methods, and functioning of judges or tribunals dedicated to the prosecution of organized crime

Advances in Criminal Investigations: The number of organized crime-related cases filed, prosecuted, and resolved, as well as the progress made in emblematic cases.

Crime Reduction: Convictions for homicides, extortion, and against criminal networks, as well as a reduction in serious and violent crimes.

5
Strengthening Civilian Police Forces

Functioning of Police Career Systems: Existence and effectiveness of police recruitment and promotion mechanisms, training processes, and disciplinary systems, as well as the structure of police bodies.

Allocation and Use of Budgetary Resources: Allocation and effective use of public funds and percentage designated for the wellbeing of members of the civilian police forces.

Community Relations: Public trust in the police, police-community relations, and relations with indigenous authorities.

6
Limiting the Role of the Armed Forces in Public Security Activities

Development and Implementation of a Concrete Plan: The design and implementation of a publicly accessible and verifiable plan with goals, timelines, activities, and clearly established indicators; repeal of legal norms authorizing participation of armed forces in public security, and access to information regarding payroll and assigned resources.

Conduct of Military Forces: Complaints, accusations, and sentences regarding human rights violations perpetrated by members of the armed forces and the level of public trust in the armed forces.

7
Protecting Human Rights

Investigation and Conviction of Human Rights Violations: Existence and functioning of specialized investigative units, number of complaints, prosecutions, and convictions, handling of emblematic cases, and degree of security forces’ collaboration with investigations.

Protection Mechanisms: Structure and functioning of domestic protection mechanisms and implementation of international protection measures for human rights defenders who have been victims of attacks or threats.

Hate Speech: Analysis of attacks and smear or defamation campaigns against human rights defenders.

8
Improving Transparency

Scope and Implementation of the ‘Law of Access to Public Information’: Type of information categorized as restricted or of limited access, period of classification, availability and quality of statistics related to security and justice, information requests granted and denied, and related fees.

Budget and Spending Transparency: Access to public information on budget allocations and spending on security, justice, and defense.

Disclosure of Public Officials’ Statement of Assets: Level of official compliance with disclosure norms, and the degree to which such statements are made available to the public.

METHODOLOGY

The Central America Monitor is based on the premise that accurate, objective, and complete data and information are necessary to reduce the high levels of violence and insecurity, and establish rule of law and governance in a democratic state. This will allow efforts to move beyond abstract discussions of reform to specific measures of change.

The Monitor is based on a series of more than 100 quantitative and qualitative indicators that allow a more profound level of analysis of the successes or setbacks made in eight key areas in each of the three countries. More than a comprehensive list, the indicators seek to identify a way to examine and assess the level of progress of the three countries in strengthening the rule of law and democratic institutions. The indicators seek to identify the main challenges in each of the selected areas and examine how institutions are (or are not) being strengthened over time. The Monitor uses information from different sources, including official documents and statistics, surveys, interviews, information from emblematic cases, and analysis of existing laws and regulations.

The indicators were developed over several months in a process that included an extensive review of international standards and consultation with experts. The eight areas analyzed by the Monitor include:

  • 1. Strengthening the Capacity and Independence of Justice Systems
  • 2. Cooperation with Anti-Impunity Commissions
  • 3. Combating Corruption
  • 4. Tackling Violence and Organized Crime
  • 5. Strengthening Civilian Police Forces
  • 6. Limiting the Role of the Armed Forces in Public Security Activities
  • 7. Protecting Human Rights
  • 8. Improving Transparency