El Salvador plans mass trials for gang members arrested in crackdown
The measure would allow prosecutors to try up to 900 individuals at the same time, as long as they belong to the same criminal group or are from the same region of the Central American country
July 27, 2023 8:40am
Updated: July 27, 2023 8:40am
El Salvador’s Congress on Wednesday approved holding mass trials for the thousands of individuals arrested in the nationwide crackdown on gang members.
Lawmakers approved the measure, which seeks to boost order and efficiency, with 67 votes in favor and six against.
The measure would allow prosecutors to try up to 900 individuals at the same time, as long as they belong to the same criminal group or are from the same region of the Central American country, according to Justice Minister Gustavo Villatoro.
Additionally, the legislation increases prison sentences for those who are found to be gang leaders from 45 years to 60.
On March 27, 2022, Bukele requested special powers to crack down on gangs after there was a surge in homicides in which 62 people were killed in 48 hours. The measures, which were initially only meant to last a month, have been extended to more than a year.
The special powers temporarily suspended constitutional protections and freedom of association in the Central American country and allowed police to arrest and jail anyone under suspicion of being a gang member, even if the evidence is questionable.
So far, around 71,976 people have been arrested for alleged ties to gangs. However, many of the suspects do not even have the right to consult a lawyer and more than half of them are still awaiting formal charges.
Critics, however, claim that the mass trials are denying individuals their right to due process. Only about 30% of those detained have clear ties to organized crimes, according to the human rights group Cristosal. While the legislators claim that those who are found not to have ties to gangs will be released, opponents of the mass trials say the measure would not allow the suspects to prove their innocence.
The measures as “a scheme designed to carry out the government’s plan to keep all those detained without a firm conviction,” said Johnny Wright Sol, a member of the Nuestro Tiempo party.
“Doing these kinds of mass convictions just as they’ve done with captures is violating due process and violating the individual rights of all those accused,” he said.
"For living in a place stigmatized by gangs, despite not necessarily being gang members themselves," said Ingrid Escobar, spokesperson for Humanitarian Legal Aid.