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Recommendations for U.S. Policy towards El Salvador

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Authors: Lisa Haugaard, Angelika Albaladejo

Editor’s Note: These recommendations on U.S. policy accompany the eighth and final article in our series on violence in El Salvador. See “How U.S. Policy & Aid to El Salvador Can Help Not Hurt” for an overview of key issues related to U.S. economic and military aid to Central America, with a focus on El Salvador, as well as the U.S. response to increased migration from Central America as the result of violence.

The United States should ensure that its aid and diplomacy towards El Salvador supports a balanced, rights-respecting approach to El Salvador’s citizen security crisis.

U.S. assistance should emphasize:

  • jobs, schools, and programs for at-risk youth, including education that is effectively connected to employment;
  • violence prevention, health, and education programs in high-crime communities;
  • strengthening the justice system;
  • reintegration and rehabilitation programs for ex-gang members;
  • strengthening of accountability mechanisms within the military and police; and,
  • accompanying aid to these areas with diplomacy to encourage the Salvadoran government to invest in and fully implement the comprehensive strategy developed in Plan El Salvador Seguro.
  • USAID should in addition establish a regular consultation process with a broad range of Salvadoran civil society organizations, not limited to its grantees, regarding the direction of U.S. assistance programs.

U.S. policymakers should ensure the strategy to support citizen security in El Salvador:

  • does not encourage military forces deployed in law enforcement;
  • encourages the strengthening of internal and external controls on the Salvadoran National Police;
  • vigorously applies the Leahy Law to exclude those implicated in gross human rights violations from receiving training;
  • does not block the possibility of dialogue with the gangs;
  • does not preclude the possibility of careful and transparent dialogue with the gangs; and
  • encourages the Salvadoran government to broadly consult civil society organizations regarding measures to address violence, including but not limited to regularly convening the National Council for Citizen Security and Peaceful Coexistence.

U.S. diplomacy should specifically seek to stop any increase in extrajudicial executions by members of the police or military by:

  • encouraging the prompt and effective investigation of alleged extrajudicial executions;
  • discouraging the development of “green lights” for security forces to commit abuses, whether by statements by high-level public officials or changes to police directives or the penal code to shield officials from investigation;
  • urging the government to fully implement any U.S. aid that aims to strengthen internal and external oversight of the security forces; and
  • reaching out broadly to civil society organizations that may be documenting such cases, including community organizations in high-crime areas and LGBTI organizations, as well as traditional human rights groups.

U.S. policy should encourage protection of the LGBTI community, including strong attention to transgender women and men, by:

  • continuing the positive public statements by the U.S. ambassador and visiting U.S. government officials;
  • encouraging investigation and prosecution of key cases of abuse against members of the LGBTI community; and
  • funding LGBTI organizations documenting cases and advocating to protect their community.

U.S. policy should support the protection of women in El Salvador by:

  • encouraging the Salvadoran government to further implement the “Comprehensive Special Law for a Life without Violence for Women” by ensuring proper investigation, prosecution, and punishment in cases of violence against women;
  • providing robust support for special attention programs for women victims of violence, including community-based self-help programs and special protection units;
  • continuing to fund and consider expanding the USAID multi-institutional assistance centers for victims of gender-based violence aimed at reducing impunity;
  • encouraging the Salvadoran government to provide victims’ services within communities, particularly those affected by violence, rather than concentrating services in distant department centers; and
  • encouraging the Salvadoran government to develop stronger mechanisms in consultation with civil society for the protection of women human rights defenders and civil society organizations documenting cases of violence against women, providing direct services to victims, and advocating for their communities.

The U.S. government should protect internally displaced persons in El Salvador by:

  • encouraging the Salvadoran government to recognize the extent of the internal displacement problem;
  • providing funding for victims’ protection, including shelters for women and for youth, in addition to victims and witness relocation programs; and
  • encouraging the Salvadoran government to consult with the civil society Roundtable on Internal Displacement on policies to aid victims of internal displacement and to prevent displacement.

The U.S. government should ensure that its immigration policies do not exacerbate the vulnerability of populations at risk of violence in El Salvador by:

  • implementing the President’s executive actions on immigration;
  • fully recognizing the scope of the refugee crisis facing El Salvador, and sufficiently expanding refugee admissions from El Salvador, and ensuring full access to asylum screening;
  • funding the UNHCR for its important work on protection in Central America, and protecting migrant rights and access to asylum throughout the migrant route;
  • ensuring adequate screening for asylum in the United States and encouraging the Mexican government to do the same;
  • encouraging U.S. asylum officers to take into consideration the UNHCR’s eligibility guidelines for assessing the international protection needs of asylum-seekers from El Salvador;
  • re-evaluating the eligibility requirements, effectiveness, and operations of the in-country processing program in order to increase reach and improve overall regional child protection;
  • supporting well-trained, well-resourced and accountable child protection systems in El Salvador;
  • encouraging the Salvadoran government to provide adequate reintegration programs for Salvadoran nationals that have been deported, with consideration of particular needs of children;
  • working carefully with Salvadoran officials to make sure they receive adequate advance warning and information regarding criminals deported back to El Salvador;
  • consulting with civil society organizations for the design and implementation of the new refugee resettlement program; and
  • granting an extension of Temporary Protected Status for Salvadorans in the United States.