Violence and repression on the streets and in the home continues amidst the pandemic

The Human Rights Ombudsman of El Salvador reported that the Police and the Army have committed "illegal arrests" and "cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment" to people who violate stay-at-home orders. Photo taken from Twitter account @PNCSV.

May 6, 2020 – After more than a month of nation-wide curfews and stay-at-home orders as a response to COVID-19, violence and repression both on the streets and in people’s homes have continued in Central America and Mexico, putting the entire population at risk.  Human rights violations are taking place through oppressive government practices as well as a lack of response to the needs brought on by the public health crisis.


While violence and lack of safety have been a part of the reality of the Mesoamerican region for decades, the new context of the public health crisis has unleashed a wave of authoritarian actions designed to limit or control the actions of people and organizations. Human rights violations are taking place in the streets and behind closed doors while the population is ordered to stay at home. The combination of the COVID-19 pandemic and violent government responses pose a double safety threat for people in Central America and Mexico.  Meanwhile, states lack the resources to protect people on the streets or in their homes. 


Different manifestations of violence continue to plague El Salvador. The number of homicides recently increased in a matter of four days, the highest it’s been since El Salvador’s quarantine began. International news reports have documented how gang members in overcrowded prisons in El Salvador lack physical distancing and access to sanitation, conditions that could increase the outbreaks of COVID-19 and could severely jeopardize the population at large. Regional and international non-governmental organizations, as well as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, responded by insisting that the human rights of those incarcerated are respected and by expressing their concern around Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele’s orders to use excessive force, which could constitute extrajudicial executions and abuses of power.


Concerns around the behaviors of police were validated when a former police chief in Honduras was charged for helping politicians involved in drug trafficking, specifically the President of Honduras Juan Orlando Hernández and his brother Tony Hernández (recently found guilty in a US court for drug trafficking).


Women are also experiencing an increase in violence. In the last week of April alone, Mexico’s emergency services received 26,171 calls related to violence against women. Meanwhile in Honduras, authorities received more than two thousand domestic violence allegations from women. In El Salvador’s upswing in homicides, there were eight femicides, three attempts at femicides and two transfemicides. Violence faced by women often includes an intersection with other factors. For example, women with disabilities face physical barriers that may prevent them from accessing care programs for victims of violence.


The fight against violent and repressive acts must remain a priority amidst the pandemic. Civil society organizations and agencies at the United Nations are working to develop tools to respond to the violence taking place at the state level and in society as a whole.

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