Officers of El Salvador's national police are allegedly running "clandestine jails" where they illegally hold suspected gang members, another indication of the extreme anti-gang methods being employed by security forces already implicated in death squad activities.
The allegations were made by Arnaú Baulenas of the Central American University's Institute for Human Rights (Instituto de Derechos Humanos de la Universidad Centroamericana - IDHUCA), and were reported by the EFE news service on September 19.
Baulenas said that IDHUCA had documented several cases in which young individuals were arbitrarily detained and kept without any justification or record of the detention, sometimes for months.
In addition, Baulenas alleged that police regularly torture suspects, and said that his organization had evidence of 10 cases of extrajudicial killings by police. As InSight Crime previously reported, IDHUCA has brought some of these cases in front of international judges along with another human rights watchdog.
"It looks like a repetition of certain patterns of conduct" seen during the 1980 to 1992 civil war, Baulenas warned.
Meanwhile, President Salvador Sánchez Céren announced on September 18 a large military deployment in the capital city San Salvador to "guarantee that citizens feel safe and can go about their activities." The militarized measure, widely seen as a show of force against the gangs, is coupled with road checkpoints and arbitrary identity checks, according to some witnesses.
InSight Crime Analysis
The reports of "clandestine jails" run by police as well as torture of suspected gang members serve as a reminder that clashes between security forces and gangs in El Salvador have begun to resemble a low-intensity conflict, which has brought with it the types of human rights abuses often seen in warzones.
The allegations of torture and police black sites come on the heels of an investigation by Salvadoran news outlet Factum that exposed the inner workings of a police death squad linked to several extrajudicial killings.
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Despite mounting evidence of serious abuses, El Salvador's government has so far shown little interest in reigning in the security forces. Indeed, the recent militarized deployment in San Salvador suggests that authorities intend to continue their aggressive anti-gang tactics.
Extreme and unlawful behavior like torture and extrajudicial killing is actually condoned by large portions of Salvadoran society, and many members of the security forces consider these tactics justifiable given the threats they face from the gangs.