HomeNewsBriefEl Salvador Supreme Court Labels Street Gangs as Terrorist Groups
BRIEF

El Salvador Supreme Court Labels Street Gangs as Terrorist Groups

BARRIO 18 / 26 AUG 2015 BY ARRON DAUGHERTY EN

El Salvador’s top court has reclassified the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) and Barrio 18 street gangs as terrorist organizations, in what appears to be an official declaration of war and a green light for the further militarization of domestic security.

On August 24, El Salvador’s Supreme Court declared the MS13 and Barrio 18 — along with any other criminal organizations that violate the fundamental rights of the population or seek to usurp state power — to be terrorist groups, reported the AP. The Supreme Court based its ruling on the gangs’ systemic and organized use of violence, such as a recent gang-enforced transportation strike.

In the same ruling, the judges rejected multiple lawsuits seeking to declare elements of El Salvador’s anti-terrorism laws as unconstitutional. The laws provide for harsher sentencing of MS13 and Barrio 18 members, including 10 to 15 year prison terms for gang leaders convicted under terrorism charges.

In addition to gang members, the court’s ruling categorized gang “collaborators, apologists, and financiers” as terrorists, according to La Prensa Grafica

The move comes as El Salvador’s security crisis continues to worsen and police-gang confrontations increase. August — with 539 homicides through its first 20 days — has a higher daily average homicide rate (almost 27) of any month so far in 2015. Furthermore, 44 police have been killed this year, eclipsing the 39 murdered in all of 2014.  

InSight Crime Analysis

While El Salvador’s desperate security situation calls for creative solutions, the Supreme Court’s de facto endorsement of a militarized response is likely to invite abuse, while improving little. 

SEE ALSO: El Salvador News and Profiles

Indeed, labeling gang members and their suspected associates as terrorists adds to the government’s increasingly warlike rhetoric — despite scant evidence that militarized security solutions reduce violence. This further lends itself to the possibility of human rights abuses by authorities.

The nation’s security forces have already been accused of carrying out extrajudicial massacres and brutalizing suspected gang members, making little distinction between gang members and civilians in police round-ups. Salvadoran legislators have also considered giving authorities increased wiretapping powers, and in May President Salvador Sanchez Ceren announced heavily-armed military brigades would be deployed onto El Salvador’s streets.

On top of increasing the potential for abuse, the new terrorist label may also backfire in other ways. For instance, NGOs and international organizations working with at-risk youth in El Salvador’s gang-controlled areas or helping current gang members leave their criminal life may now potentially be labeled as terrorists, thereby inhibiting their important work.

Compartir icon icon icon

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Related Content

BARRIO 18 / 22 FEB 2016

Over 480 gang members or collaborators reportedly infiltrated El Salvador's armed forces and police between 2010 and 2015, but these…

BRAZIL / 13 AUG 2018

Brazil broke its own homicide record in 2017, according to a new report, as killings rose to unprecedented levels due…

BRAZIL / 27 MAR 2018

A new report says that a lack of regulation of private security companies in Latin America is having negative impacts…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

We Have Updated Our Website

4 FEB 2021

Welcome to our new home page. We have revamped the site to create a better display and reader experience.

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Events – Border Crime: The Northern Triangle and Tri-Border Area

ARGENTINA / 25 JAN 2021

Through several rounds of extensive field investigations, our researchers have analyzed and mapped out the main illicit economies and criminal groups present in 39 border departments spread across the six countries of study – the Northern Triangle trio of Guatemala, Honduras, and El…

BRIEF

InSight Crime’s ‘Memo Fantasma’ Investigation Wins Simón Bolívar National Journalism Prize

COLOMBIA / 20 NOV 2020

The staff at InSight Crime was awarded the prestigious Simón Bolívar national journalism prize in Colombia for its two-year investigation into the drug trafficker known as “Memo Fantasma,” which was…

ANALYSIS

InSight Crime – From Uncovering Organized Crime to Finding What Works

COLOMBIA / 12 NOV 2020

This project began 10 years ago as an effort to address a problem: the lack of daily coverage, investigative stories and analysis of organized crime in the Americas. …

ANALYSIS

InSight Crime – Ten Years of Investigating Organized Crime in the Americas

FEATURED / 2 NOV 2020

In early 2009, Steven Dudley was in Medellín, Colombia. His assignment: speak to a jailed paramilitary leader in the Itagui prison, just south of the city. Following his interview inside…