U.N Council for Human Rights said on Monday.

The exemption was first approved in March 2022, and only for one month, but has since been renewed, generating a wave of mass incarceration.

The experts called for the measure to be immediately lifted and for the government to do so review the sweeping new powers was introduced to tackle the country’s gang problem.

To trample on rights

“The state of emergency was declared after a series of gang-related murders. Despite its duty to protect citizens from such horrific acts, the government cannot trample on the right to a fair trial in the name of public safety,” they said i a statement.

The UN experts urged the authorities to ensure that people are not arrested only because of suspicion of gang affiliation or association without sufficient legal authorization.

Detainees should also be afforded all the basic safeguards required by international human rights law and due process guarantees.

Many arbitrary detentions

They noted that as of September 2022, official figures indicated that around 58,000 people had been imprisoned. An executive decree issued six months later put the number on “more than 67,000”.

Information received indicates that many of these detentions are arbitrary, and some constitute short-term enforced disappearances, according to the experts.

“The prolonged state of emergency, together with legislation that allows it greater surveillance, wider prosecution and faster determination of guilt and punishment carries with it the risk of mass violations of the right to a fair trial,” they added. “Those caught in the government’s dragnet in El Salvador must get their rights.”

They expressed concern about the government’s reliance on the term “permanent flagrant felony” to influence non-arrest arrests of people suspected of being gang members.

Mass interrogations, “faceless judges”

The first trials were reportedly held groups of up to 500 people. Furthermore, public defenders have received some three to four minutes to present the cases with 400 to 500 prisoners at a time, and mass trials have also been reported.

“Mass interrogations and trials – often conducted virtually – undermine the exercise of the right of defense and the presumption of innocence for detainees,” the experts said.

“The excessive use of pretrial detention, the prohibition of alternative measures, trials in absentia, and the possibility of using methods such as ‘faceless judges’ and reference witnesses undermine all guarantees of due process.”

Families were also affected

Thousands of families have also been hit hard financially, the experts added, as they have had to entail additional costs to defend their relatives and provide for their well-being, health and safety.

They said the measures threaten to criminalize people who happen to live in the poorest areas and have been themselves target of gangs before.

The experts warned that the level of disruption and interference in the justice system risks limiting access to justice for all Salvadorans.

“It leads to unnecessary delays in both civil and criminal cases, has one adverse impact on due process guaranteesprotection against torture and the right to life, and may lead to increased overcrowding in places of detention,” they said.

About UN experts

The three experts who issued the statement are Margaret Satterthwaite, Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers; Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while combating terrorism, and Morris Tidball-Binz, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.

They receive their mandate from the UN Human Rights Council, which is based in Geneva.

Special Rapporteurs and other independent experts are not UN staff and are not paid for their work.