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14 Jan 2024


El Salvador: Arrests of five water defenders lack evidence and due process of law and may be linked to government's mining interests, says report

Mesa Nacional frente a la Minería Metálica en El Salvador

"International organizations pen letter, report supporting Salvadoran anti-mining activists", 14 January 2024

...International non-government, academic and civil organizations published a report that presents evidence of the weakness of the case against a group of Salvadoran water defenders known as the ‘Santa Marta 5.’

The report follows the publication of an open letter sent to the Attorney General of El Salvador and signed by 185 academics and lawyers and 13 legal and related organizations from 21 countries requesting President Nayib Bukele’s administration to drop the case...

The men arrested—Miguel Ángel Gámez, Alejandro Laínez García, Pedro Antonio Rivas Laínez, Antonio Pacheco, and Saúl Agustín Rivas Ortega— are members of the Association of Economic and Social Development (ADES) and played a central role in the events that led the Salvadoran government to pass the historic, first-ever national prohibition on metal mining in 2017 aimed at protecting El Salvador’s scarce water supply. They were released to house arrest in September 2023, but the charges remain, and they are scheduled to go on trial later this year.

According to the report, the arrests lack evidence, lack due process of law, and are in violation of the National Reconciliation Law of 1992...[T]he only evidence provided by the Attorney General to lay the charges was the testimony of a protected witness who accused the men of the murder but admitted, when questioned by the defendants’ lawyer, that he had no firsthand knowledge of the alleged crime.

The report emphasizes that, as there is little basis to accuse the five men and they are covered by the 1992 amnesty, the charges against them should be dropped. It also notes that the reason why the Attorney General hasn’t done so is likely because they are fierce mining opponents and the Bukele administration is showing strong signs that it wants to restart mining in the country...