REPORT ON THE
SITUATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS
THE RIGHTS OF ASSEMBLY AND OF ASSOCIATION
person has the right to assemble peaceably with others in a formal public
meeting or an informal gathering, in connection with matters of common interest
of any nature.
person has the right to associate with others to promote, exercise and protect
his legitimate interests of a political, economic, religious, social, cultural,
professional, labor union or other nature.
The rights of assembly and of association are guaranteed under Title X of
the Constitution under the heading of: Individual Rights (Article 150 through
Specifically, paragraph 1 of Article 160 provides that:
“The inhabitants of El Salvador have the right to assemble and to meet
peacefully without arms, for any lawful purpose.”
In various other articles of the Constitution, as for example the second
paragraph of Article 24, it is provided that “these are rights of citizens: to
associate together to form political parties in accordance with the law and to
join those already formed:
Paragraph 1 of Article 191 of the Constitution establishes that:
“Employers, private employees and workers, and employees and workers in
government, autonomous or semi-autonomous institutions, without distinction as
to nationality, sex, race, creed, or political belief, have the right to
associate freely for the protection of their respective interest, by forming
professional associations or trade unions.” The third paragraph of that
article provides the following: “The
conditions adopted for the basis and form of the Constitution and functioning of
professional and trade union organizations must not restrict the freedom of
Article 192 stipulates that “Workers have the right to strike and
employers the right to suspend work.”
These rights of entrepreneurs or employers and of laborers or workers are
confirmed and governed by the Labor Code. That
code establishes the rights of association in book Two, Tittle One, Chapter I,
entitled the Right of Professional Association and its Protection.
Article 204 of the labor Code provides the following: The following
individuals have the right to associate freely in order to protect their common,
economic and social interests by forming professional associations or labor
unions, without distinction as to nationality, sex, race, creed, or political
Private employers and workers;
Workers in autonomous or semi-autonomous government institutions.
worker’s right to strike and the employer’s to suspend work are upheld and
governed in Sections 7, 8, 9 and 10, Articles 527 through 566 of the Labor Code.
Article 160 of the Constitution, which concerns the rights of association
and of assembly are, under the terms of Article 175 of the Constitution.
Among the few constitutional guaranties that may be suspended
“in the event of war, invasion, rebellion, sedition, catastrophe,
epidemic, or other general disaster, or serious disturbance of the public
order… except for meetings or assemblies for cultural or industrial
Chapter I of this report, entitled the legal Norms Relating to Human
Rights contains the entire text of the Law of Defense and Guaranty of Public
Order. It should be pointed out
that paragraphs 6, 8, 13 and 14 of Article 1 of that Law contain certain
provisions that have a special bearing upon the rights of assembly and of
In El Salvador, many groups regard the Law of Defense and Guaranty of
Public Order. As a genuine threat
to free exercise, of the rights of assembly and of association, as it opens up
the possibility that such rights may be neglected in practice.
Without having to resort to the procedure requiring a declaration of
state of siege as provided for in the Constitution, and which must meet the
It has been alleged that Decree No. 407, because of the extraordinarily
broad, generic and ambiguous way. It
describes the crimes that it covers, can be used by officials and authorities to
threaten or curtail free exercise of political, union and religious freedom and
the rights of assembly and of association, beyond the specific purposes of the
law in question.
Expressions of these rights in practice
In a meeting with the Special Committee, representatives of the
Opposition national Union (U.N.O.), the coalition of opposition parties
(Christian Democratic Party (P.D.C.), Revolutionary national Movement (M.N.R.),
and Nationalistic Democratic Union (U.D.N.)), which in 1977 nominated as its
Presidential candidate Colonel Ernesto Claramount, stated, among other things,
that members of the U.N.O. have been persecuted and have been imprisoned and
tortured; that a number of those present had been arrested and mistreated and,
therefore, there is a deep-seated fear of participating in political activities;
that the repression has also revealed itself in instances of violence such as
those that occurred while troops broke up the demonstration in the Plaza
Libertad; that the repression is very harsh and has spread into the rural areas,
citing as one of many examples, the events in Aguilares; that during elections,
the repression becomes more acute, that the Church is openly and brutally
persecuted and that there are many individuals who have been expelled from the
country, a list of whose names incomplete, so they said they turned over to the
Special Committee; that during the last elections there was fraud; that the
candidates of the Government parties and coalitions prevailed, since they had
the backing of the powers in office.
At the beginning of 1978, it seemed that there was more freedom within
political parties to participate in the parliamentary and municipal elections
held last March; however, the opposition, according to public statements,
decided not to participate in the electoral process.
The opposition justified its nonparticipation by alleging that it was
impossible for it to organize in rural areas, because of hostility on the part
of the authorities, a lack of confidence in the electoral process, and finally,
the disproportionate representation of the official party on the Central
A few days after their meeting with the Special Committee, the U.N.O.
members held a public demonstration in front of the Hotel Camino Real, where the
offices of the Special Committee were located.
Representatives of the business community or employers (Chamber of
Commerce and Industry of El Salvador; Salvadoran Industrialists Association;
Agricultural agencies Coordinating council and the National Federation of Small
Businesses). In a lengthy document
that they presented jointly to the Special Committee, did not claim the
existence of violations of their rights to associate or assembly, freely in the
defense and protection of their legitimate interest and claimed to have free
access to all communications media. In order to express and disseminate their
thoughts or spread their ideas; but theses same representatives complained of
what they called a progressive breakdown in respect for the law, which they
claim started approximately ten years ago and seriously affects private business
National Bar Association
During a meeting with the Special Committee held at the headquarters of
the Bar Association, its representatives agreed that there were no limitations
on the rights of Salvadoran lawyers in the exercise of their duties.
They also stated that the situation regarding respect for individual
freedoms had stabilized considerably since July 1, 1978, the date on which the
current President, General Romero, took office.
Students and Educators
As for the students sector, for example, it is alleged that hundreds of
university, high school and vocational education students have been arrested for
personal acts of for their participation in various demonstrations, public
events or meetings, even though, as was said later, most have been released.
Information received alleges that since 1972, the year in which
government authorities used detachments of armed forces to take over the
University of El Salvador, the Government has appointed its administrative
officials and that police control or security was established within the grounds
of the university. /
Since that time the most important events that have been denounced can be
summarized as follows:
According to one denunciation, on July 25, 1975, a demonstration by
university and high school students protesting the takeover of the Centro
Universitario de Occidente, in the Department of Santa Ana, was dissolved by the
use of violence.
On July 30, 1975, what the claimants regard, as the most serious instance
of repression on the part of the authorities took place, so called, because of
the means used to break up the student demonstration held to protest the events
in Santa Ana. And to defend the
autonomy of the university. The
denunciations and information received by the Commission reported many dead and
wounded (the Government report did not acknowledge even one death.) /
On October 24, 1976, another student demonstration held on the campus of
the University was also broken up through the use of violence by police forces
maintaining order on the University grounds.
These events led to an indefinite cancellation of classes, beginning on
November 28, 1976.
The Board of Regents appointed by the Government in May of 1977 was told
to fire forty professors who were accused of supporting the students.
For their part, the authorities of the National University told the
Special Committee that University activities are now normal, in contrast to the
previous situation, when groups of said authorities said to be extremists
maintained an atmosphere of conflict that seriously disrupted the peace of the
University. (In the Introduction to this report there is a detailed
description of the interview held by the Special Committee with the authorities
of the National University).
The National Association of Salvadoran Educators (“ANDES 21 de junio”)
presented to the Special Committee a document in which it denounced a police of
government repression prejudicial to the Association and its members, and
repression that manifested itself in numerous cases of detentions and
In the document in question, they point out that between February and
December of 1977 21 teachers were arrested; of these Manuel Alberto Rivera and
Efraín Arévalo Ibarra continued to be deprived of their freedom.
The educators also stated that as a result of the demonstration
demanding, the release of political prisoners and repatriation of exiles held on
January 29, 1977. By the Revolutionary Peoples Bloc, of which NADES is an
affiliate, together with the relatives of certain political prisoners the
denunciation of the repression and captures was widely disseminated to the point
that “now no one doubts the existence of hundred of political prisoners that
the military tyranny has hidden.”
ANDES stated in that same document, that the reason it had not attended
an interview convoked by the Special Committee, was that the latter had come to
El Salvador at the Government’s invitation and that; Therefore its visit would
give legitimacy to the current regime, instead of assuming an impartial role.
They went on to state that the association was interested in combating
the Government through other means, by stepping up the organized and combative
fight of the people.
Later, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights received from the
World Confederation of Organizations of the Teaching Profession (WCOTP), and
institution that includes millions of educators, a copy of the communication
that it had sent to the President of El Salvador, which reads as follows:
order the release of Professor Manuel Rivera Efraín Arévalo and Hipólito Martínez.
Return the headquarters of the Association (ANDES) 21 de junio, thereby
respecting the free exercise of political rights and the autonomy and
sovereignty of a union organization; through this just response, your Government
would crate trust among educators.”
Ernesto Fuentes Rivera, President of the Summit Meeting held in Panamá and
Member of the Committee of the World Confederation of Organizations of the
Teaching Profession (WCOTP).
Fernando Hernández Días, a consultant for the World Confederation of
Organizations of the Teaching Profession (WCOTP).
Cabrera LaMadris, Assistant Secretary of the Confederation of American Educators
As for unions, it should be pointed out that during the meeting between
leaders representing various labor groups and the members of the Special
Committee, the majority of the complaints involved the right to strike.
The labor leaders denounced the serious limitations that they experience
in practice since, among other reasons, the law itself and the procedures allow,
as a general rule. The judges to
declare the strikes “unjustified” or “illegal”; the workers find it very
difficult to obtain permission beforehand or authorization from the authorities.
As for union rights guaranteed internationally, the complaints lodges
were what the Government has not yet ratified Conventions 87 and 98 of ILO,
which concern the freedom of trade unions and respect for collective agreements.
also stated that the right of assembly is limited in practice by the fact that
entrepreneurial groups, together with the Government, have always tried to
establish so-called “white labor unions” to counteract the unions to which
most of the workers belong.
Union representatives that spoke with the Special Committee also
explained that it was especially difficult for them to attract members in the
campesino sector, because of governmental opposition and because the law only
recognized three types of unions: trade unions, industrial unions, and business
unions. Thus, for example, there
was a coffee syndicate, but the Labor Code did not permit a syndicate to
represent the cane cutters; there was no cotton syndicate because the Salvadoran
cotton cooperative had blocked its formation.
Further, union representatives pointed out that death, imprisonment,
disappearance, injury, mistreatment and harassment; have always been more common
among farm workers, as it is the country’s largest sector and because recent
denunciations involved attacks, occupations and massive reprisals against
villages or settlements where campesinos work and live with their families; it
is alleged that these places have been shot at, sacked and burned.
Government authorities said that the Union for Farm Workers (UTC) and the
Christian Campesino Association (FECCAS) have been and are involved in
subversive and terrorist activities, as are campesino organizations as a rule.
The leaders of the U.T.C- and the FECCAS denied this accusation.
Representatives of the Catholic Church also categorically deny that the
activities of Catholic nuns and priests in organizing campesinos are acts of
violence as the Government alleges, as one of the purposes of the church is to
promote the welfare of campesinos and the Church condemns terrorism.
Authorities of the Catholic Church reported to the Special
Committee—and have done so publicly as well—that both the Government and
government-favored organizations systematically and seriously harass nuns,
priest, and the lay people who participate in activities that are part of the
Church’s social action, as for example the matter of organizing the campesinos. Further, because of such activities the church, in general,
and the bishops in particular, are publicly attacked and are linked to terrorism
and the encouragement of subversion. They
said that in rural areas, the atmosphere is always tense because of the unfair
distribution of wealth and of the impotence of the campesino in terms of being
able to improve his situation, because he not only is not allowed to organize
but any attempt to obtain a more just remuneration or to improve working
conditions is put down brutally. They added that the Church is being slandered when it is
accused of being responsible for the unrest in the rural areas.
According to Church spokesmen, it has been harshly attacked for trying to
fulfill its mission. As proof of this, they pointed to the deaths of Fathers
Grande and Navarro, the expulsion of a number of priests, and the threats that
religious authorities constantly received. /
Convention on Human Rights
15, Right of Assembly
The right of peaceful assembly, without arms, is recognized.
No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right, other
than those imposed in conformity with the law and necessary in a democratic
society. In the interest of
rational security, public safety or public order, or to protect public
health or morals on the rights or freedoms of others.
16. Freedom of Association
Everyone has the right to associate freely for ideological religious,
political, economic, labor, social, cultural, sports or other purposes.
The exercise of this right shall be subject only to such restrictions
established by laws as may be necessary in a democratic society, in the
interest of national security, public safety or public order, or to protect
public health or morals or the rights and freedoms of others.
The provisions of this article do not bar the imposition of legal
restrictions, including even deprivation of the exercise of the right of
association, on members of the armed forces and the police.
See Chapter I, page 32.
Art. 204 of the Constitution provide that: “The University of El
Salvador is autonomous in its teaching, administrative and financial
See Chapter II, page 50 et seq.
See the Introduction page 11,and Chapter II, page 50.