The report, released on Thursday, found that since the end of March almost 2% of the country has been detained, with at least 18 people dying in custody.
More than 36,000 people have been detained since, according to a statement released Tuesday by the Salvadoran government.
Salvadoran authorities “commit widespread and gross human rights violations and criminalize people living in poverty”, under the “pretext of punishing gangs”, said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International.
“Instead of offering an effective response to the dramatic violence caused by gangs and the historic public safety challenges facing the country, they are subjecting the Salvadoran people to tragedy,” she added.
In what appeared to be a preemptive response to the report, which was distributed to embargoed media on Wednesday evening, Bukele said “those organizations should also be concerned about gang victims.”
“Let’s hope that just as they care that we captured criminals, they would care about our children, our elderly, our workers, the innocent Salvadorans who suffered at the hands of those same criminals,” he said. he said during a speech. before the Legislative Assembly.
According to Amnesty, at least 1,190 children have been arrested and detained in youth centers, many of them accused of belonging to an illegal group of terrorist organizations.
In one case, two cousins, aged 14 and 15, were arrested in April while playing outside their home just outside San Salvador. Their families told Amnesty that police accused them of “looking like criminals” and told their mothers they would spend 30 years behind bars, according to the report. The mothers have since been unable to communicate with their children and are unclear about the trial they will face – with a public defender handling the case “barely” pleading on behalf of their clients, Amnesty reported.
The state of emergency suspends constitutional guarantees, including freedom of association, and an alleged offender’s right to a state-sponsored legal defense in court. It also extends pre-trial detention from 72 hours to 15 days and allows authorities to intervene in telecommunications without needing authorization from a judge.
Detainees face difficult circumstances, according to Amnesty, which has documented cases of torture and ill-treatment in detention centers.
Amnesty detailed instances of such alleged abuse in its report.
In one case, a 16-year-old, who was arrested in April and held for 13 days for being an alleged member of an illegal group, was chained to a wall in the detention center, where he said he was beaten by the police. He was later transferred to a juvenile detention center, where he was beaten by gang members, who he said also threw a bag of urine at his head, he added. .
Many detainees are held without due process “purely because the authorities consider them to have been identified as criminals in President Bukele’s government’s stigmatizing speeches, because they have tattoos, are accused by a third party of having suspected gang ties, are related to someone who belongs to a gang, who have a criminal record of some kind or simply because they live in a gang-controlled area, which are precisely the areas with a high level of marginalization and that have historically been abandoned by states,” according to Amnesty.
El Salvador has a long history of organized crime groups battling security forces and each other to control territory and drug routes across Central America. The small Central American country – roughly the size of Massachusetts – led the world in the number of homicides related to the size of its population for several consecutive years in the 2010s.
In February 2020, Bukele sent armed troops to Congress as he demanded lawmakers approve his plan to secure a $109 million loan to combat gang violence. In June, he withdrew El Salvador from a US-backed anti-corruption deal.
And last September, El Salvador’s highest court ruled that the president could serve two consecutive terms, paving the way for Bukele’s re-election in 2024.
Bukele’s hard line remains popular with voters, however, who have hailed an overall decrease in violence during his presidency.
CNN’s Stefano Pozzebon contributed to this report.