El Salvador: Proposed law undermines civil democratic space

Transparency International is deeply concerned about the imminent approval of the ‘foreign agents bill’ put forward by the government of President Nayib Bukele in El Salvador that would severely handicap the work of civil society organisations (CSOs) and independent media. 

We call on the El Salvador’s Legislative Assembly to reject the draft bill that stands for approval and guarantee that all laws respect human rights and fundamental freedoms of the people of El Salvador. This draft bill is a blatant attempt to control and limit the work of CSOs, which benefit citizens with access to basic rights including healthcare, education, fight against corruption, prevention of violence, among other issues. 

The new law would require entities and people who receive international funding or support to register as a ‘foreign agent’ with the Interior Ministry. ‘Foreign agents’ will be barred from carrying out “political activities” that aim to alter “public order” or that “endanger or threaten national security or the social and political stability of the country.” Transparency International is concerned that, in practice, this law will provide the government with unparalleled discretionarily to control and limit CSOs’ activities in El Salvador as well as to target critical NGOs, activists and human right defenders. 

The bill would also impose a 40 per cent tax on to all foreign transactions, including donations, even if receivers are non-profit organisations. Failure to register or to comply with any provision of the ‘foreign agents bill’ would result in cancellation of an organisation’s legal status, fines of up to US$250,000 or even two to five years in prison. 

Transparency International’s Salvadorean chapter Fundación Nacional para el Desarrollo (FUNDE), would fall under the new regulations, and together with other civil society groups in El Salvador have strongly condemned the proposed bill. The issue of systematic intimidation of civil society organisations and independent media in El Salvador has been described as ‘worrying’ by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR)  in its latest report on human rights issues in the country.  

The preliminary draft of this law takes after legislation passed in other countries, such as Russia, Hungary, India, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. These laws have been strongly condemned by the international community due to their direct impact on human rights and fundamental freedoms.  

Quotes 

“This bill comes after a series of measures to crack down on democracy in El Salvador, including attempts to persecute and systematically harass civil society groups. As we have seen in other countries, these types of laws have a very clear purpose – to silence any organisation or group that speaks truth to power. Our national chapter, FUNDE, has been a key player in the fight against corruption and promoting democracy and human rights in El Salvador. We are deeply concerned about how this will affect their ability to carry on this crucial task as well as the work of many social organizations and movements in the country.” Delia Ferreira Rubio, Chair of Transparency International. 

Notes to editors 

  • El Salvador has stagnated on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) for the past eight years, earning a below-average score of 36 in 2020. 

  • According to Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer for Latin America and the Caribbean, 45 per cent of El Salvadoreans thought corruption was on the rise in their country. Government officials were named as most corrupt by 47 per cent of the respondents. At the same time, 73 per cent of El Salvadoreans said ordinary citizens can make a difference in fight against corruption. 

  • Transparency International issued a statement in May 2021, on crackdown on lawmakers in El Salvador. 

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