President Nayib Bukele, hell-bent on winning his war against violent street gangs, has moved thousands of alleged gang members to El Salvador’s largest prison. The 40,000-person capacity ‘Terrorism Confinement Center’ (CECOT) is located in Tecoluca, 74km southeast of the capital San Salvador.
In photos and videos shared by Bukele, tattooed inmates are shackled, shoeless and barefoot as they are led in herds to their cells. Some have tattoos of their gang affiliations.
Human Rights Violations
Thousands of tattooed inmates have been moved to el salvador prison under President Nayib Bukele’s hard-line anti-gang policies. The high-volume prison was built ostensibly to house members of the MS-13 and two factions of the gang Barrio 18 that terrorize El Salvador, but it has reignited serious concerns about the country’s human rights record.
A new report from Amnesty International found that arbitrary detentions and violations of due process, torture and ill-treatment were widespread in El Salvador since March. The group cited government data that revealed at least 18 people had died in state custody and that the country’s prisons were three or four times over their capacity.
While the government’s policies are aimed at arresting and incarcerating gang members, it is also targeting marginalized groups like transgender people. For example, human rights groups Concavitrans has documented 28 cases of LGBTQ individuals arrested and incarcerated during the state of emergency. These individuals have been denied family visits and medical care, according to the group’s director Bianka Rodriguez.
The Government’s War on Gangs
After years of killing, extorting and recruiting, the government has waged a war on gangs. Its security policies are backed by 95% of Salvadorans, according to pollster CID Gallup.
The president, Nayib Bukele, declared a state of emergency on March 27 in response to gang violence that killed 87 people during a weekend. He has extended the emergency many times, a move that has eviscerated democratic checks and balances.
In the meantime, gangs remain active in some areas of El Salvador and still kill, disappear, or rape those who resist their activities. They are also responsible for the deterioration of the human rights environment in the country.
The government’s tough anti-gang measures, including mass arbitrary detentions, enforced disappearances, and ill-treatment in prison, have led to widespread violations of human rights. They have eroded the capacity of the judiciary to protect the rights of gang victims and their families. They are a disservice to the Salvadoran people and to El Salvador’s democracy.
The Inmates’ Deplorable Conditions
Tattooed, barefoot men with shaven heads are led into the infamous el salvador prison. It’s the first time a mass of inmates has been moved to this new mega-prison, the centrepiece of President Nayib Bukele’s self-declared war on gang violence.
The facility is a deplorable violation of international prison standards. It has fewer than 80 metal bunks for every 100 inmates, with no mattresses.
Inmates also have to share sinks and toilets, and eat in dining halls that are only for guards’ use. Human Rights Watch says it’s likely the inmates will contract infections due to poor hygiene.
Bukele’s anti-gang policies have led to widespread human rights violations, including the incarceration of tens of thousands of people without due process or family visitation, according to HRW and Cristosal. The government’s use of lethal force and arbitrary arrests may amount to torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
The first 2,000 members of a new super-prison in El Salvador, built to house 40,000 suspected gang members targeted by President Nayib Bukele’s “war on crime”, arrived on Friday.
The facility, in Tecoluca, 74 kilometers (46 miles) southeast of the capital San Salvador, comprises eight buildings made of reinforced concrete. Each one has 32 cells of about 100 square metres designed to hold “more than 100” inmates, Public Works Minister Romeo Rodriguez says.
At dawn, armed guards in balaclavas loaded them onto buses, hands and feet in shackles, and hurriedly transported them to the prison in a convoy that included helicopters.
They are now incarcerated in the largest mega-prison in the Americas, built on Bukele’s orders after he declared a “war” on gangs last March. The government has suspended some constitutional protections and pushed an all-out offensive against gangs that human rights organizations say has led to serious human rights violations.