El Salvador | Freedom House

Freedom in the World

Freedom in the World 2017

El Salvador


Freedom Status: 

Freedom in the World Scores

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Quick Facts

San Salvador
Press Freedom Status: 
Partly Free

Violence linked to criminal gangs remains a grave problem, and there is increasing concern about the influence such groups have in politics. The country has a lively press and civil society sector, though journalists risk harassment and violence in connection with work related to gang activity or corruption.

Key Developments: 
  • The online news outlet El Faro publicized videos showing members of the country’s two largest political parties making deals with gangs to buy votes ahead of the 2014 presidential election.
  • In March, a radio journalist known for reporting on gang activity was murdered.
  • In July, the Supreme Court repealed a 1993 amnesty law that had barred the prosecution of crimes and human rights violations committed during the 1980–92 civil war, saying the government had an obligation to investigate war crimes and to provide reparations.
Executive Summary: 

Due to rampant gang-related violence, El Salvador is considered one of the most dangerous countries in the world. While the homicide level fell in 2016 compared to the previous year, police still recorded 5,278 homicides, amounting to a rate of approximately 80 per 100,000 people. (In 2015, 6,656 homicides were recorded.) Authorities intensified their militarized response to the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18 gangs during the year, and faced criticism from rights activists for the deadly confrontations between security forces and suspected gang members that frequently erupted. Some public officials have been implicated in gang activity.

Journalists whose work focuses on gangs and corruption continue to face harassment and violence. Nicolás García, a radio journalist who reported on gangs, was murdered in March 2016, reportedly after experiencing harassment from MS-13 members who had insisted that he assist them by providing information on police activity.

Several electoral reforms were passed in 2016 in an effort to simplify the cross-party, or “voto cruzado,” and proportional representation voting rules, which had created some confusion in the 2015 elections.

Separately, in July, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court ruled that a 1993 general amnesty law barring the prosecution of human rights violations committed during the civil war was unconstitutional. In its ruling, the court stated that the government had an obligation to investigate war crimes and to provide reparations.

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