El Salvador: Law initiative endangers NGOs, HRDs and media
On 9 November, the Ministry of the Interior and Territorial Development presented the proposal of the "Foreign Agents Law" which establishes the obligation to register as "foreign agent" for all natural or legal persons who “carry out activities which respond to interests, are controlled, or financed, directly or indirectly, by a foreign principal”.
The proposed law prohibits "foreign agents" to carry out activities that have "political or other purposes, with the objective of altering public order, or that put at risk or threaten national security, social and political stability of the country", among others. It also establishes obligations regarding registration, the use of resources and the communication of activities. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) stated that is particularly concerning that the eventual non-compliance with these provisions could result in criminal and administrative liability, in addition to the cessation of activities and the cancellation of legal status Additionally, the IACHR urged the Salvadoran state not to pass the proposed law, since its application could restrict the operation and activities of individuals and civil society organizations working in the defense of human rights and independent journalism, whom sometimes receive financial resources from international cooperation entities.
The bill also establishes the application of a 40% tax on any financial transaction or donation coming from abroad that is not among the exceptions expressly included in the law.
With this legislation, it is not only civil society organizations that will be affected, but also the population that receives their assistance.
About the context in El Salvador.
Since the beginning of its mandate in 2019, the government of President Nayib Bukele has increasingly taken actions aimed at stigmatizing and silencing those who question the politics of the government and defend human rights.
The climate of attacks and harassment against activists and organizations, particularly those who demand more transparency and accountability from the government, has increased, especially since the beginning of COVID-19. High-ranking government officials, including President Bukele, have used their social media accounts to dismiss the work of human rights organizations, accusing them of being “criminals”, “seeking the death of more people”, and of being “front organizations” and part of the political “opposition”.
Members of human rights organizations have reported that this type of harassment creates a hostile environment in which defending the human rights has become increasingly dangerous and that the spaces for regular and effective dialogue between government bodies and human rights organizations are now almost inexistant.
As with human rights defenders, journalists have also reported an escalation of attacks and harassment from authorities.