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13 December 2021

Joint Statement on EL SALVADOR: Civil society at risk

Geneva-Paris-Mesoamerica, 13 December 2021 - A coalition of seventeen human rights organisations denounced the draft Law on the Regulation of Foreign Agents as a way to close down civil society space in El Salvador. The state must guarantee the rights to freedom of association and to defend human rights, they said.

The draft Law on Foreign Agents, currently under discussion in the Legislative Assembly of El Salvador awakens familiar ghosts in the region and in the world where such laws are becoming the multifunctional tool of authoritarian regimes. With a text similar to the restrictive Law on the Regulation of Foreign Agents in force in Nicaragua since October 2020, which has encouraged the criminalisation of dissidence in that country governed by an authoritarian regime, the Salvadoran bill includes guidelines aimed at controlling, supervising, cancelling the legal status and criminalising human rights organisations and independent media working in the country if they do not comply with the stipulations of the law.

While discussions and imminent approval of the Foreign Agents Law were put on hold on 23 November 2021 in the face of deep concern expressed by international human rights organisations and the diplomatic corps accredited in El Salvador, the President of the Legislative Assembly, Ernesto Castro, announced that the country needs such a law and that there are limits to what international pressure can change.

Laws such as the one proposed by the State of El Salvador are contrary to international human rights treaties as they violate freedom of association and the right to defend human rights. The draft Law for the Regulation of Foreign Agents is a serious indicator of the imminent closure of civil society spaces in El Salvador and represents a threat to the work of promoting citizen participation and freedom of expression, pillars of a democratic system.

In this regard, the undersigned organisations recall that the right to defend human rights is widely recognised by international protection bodies. In particular, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) has established that human rights defenders make an essential contribution to strengthening the rule of law, challenging impunity and activating the mechanisms that keep democratic systems alive.

Therefore, the undersigned organisations join the call made by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), as well as the communication made by various United Nations experts, and urge the legislative authorities to refrain from approving the proposed law, in compliance with their human rights obligations.
signatory organisations:

- Organización Mundial Contra la Tortura (OMCT), en el marco del Observatorio para la Protección de los Defensores de Derechos Humanos
- FIDH, en el marco del Observatorio para la Protección de los Defensores de Derechos Humanos
- Action Solidarité Tiers Monde (ASTM)
- Asociación de Investigación y Especialización sobre Temas Iberoamericanos (AIETI)
- Centro por la Justicia y el Derecho Internacional (CEJIL)
- Civicus
- Comisión Española de Ayuda al Refugiado (CEAR) – Euskadi
- CooperAcció
- Diakonia
- ForumCiv
- Front Line Defenders
- IM Sweden
- Iniciativa Mesoamericana de Mujeres Defensoras de Derechos Humanos (IM-Defensoras)
- Mundubat
- Oficina en Washington para Asuntos Latinoamericanos (WOLA)
- Red Salvadoreña de Defensoras de Derechos Humanos
- Servicio Internacional Cristiano de Solidaridad con los pueblos de América Latina “Óscar Romero” (SICSAL)