[WHRD Alert] EL SALVADOR / Searcher/defender Verónica Delgado arrested and criminalized in state of exception

Last March 11th, the National Civil Police arrested defender Verónica Delgado in her own home. Three days after her arrest, on Friday, March 22nd, the judge in her case ordered probation with alternative measures, but she continues to be deprived of her freedom. Verónica is being criminalized under alleged charges of “unlawful association” This is happening  in the context of the state of exception imposed by the government as of March 2022, which allows security forces to operate arbitrarily.

Verónica is a defender of the right to truth, justice and reparations. She is a member of the “Special Search Unit,” which is looking for her daughter Paola Jimena Arana, who disappeared on  May 26, 2022, when she was 17 years old.  Verónica’s arrest took place two days after she, along with other members of the Unit, participated in the march to commemorate International Women’s Day in San Salvador, where they displayed photographs of their disappeared family members. 

Verónica lives in Lourdes, Colón, which has been highly stigmatized due to the presence of gangs in the area. The disappearance of her daughter took place three days after the teenager was detained in a raid along with other young people during the first month of the state of exception. Since then, the Unit has not stopped looking for her.  

In the conditions of the current regime of exception, many mothers and family members have become defenders of the right to truth, justice, and reparations. Their processes of collective organization and their labor have become fundamental to gaining access to human rights. They are the ones who denounce and lend visibility to the long list of arbitrary measures and human rights violations that are taking place by giving names and faces to the victims: daughters, sons, sisters, brothers, life partners, etc. And so it is especially alarming that they themselves are being criminalized and stigmatized as “gang members” and their organizations falsely accused of being  “defenders of criminals.” 

The complexity of the grave problem of security in El Salvador can’t be approached from a strictly punitive point of view , and much less from a perspective that fails to guarantee the most basic rights of the people to defend themselves against the arbitrary measures that arise in a regime of exception and are now being perpetrated systematically, as many different human rights organizations have denounced. No less alarming is that this regime may be used to legitimize the criminalization of persons and organizations devoted to the defense of human rights. 

We of IM-Defensoras demand the immediate release of Verónica Delgado and hold the Salvadoran government responsible for any violation of her physical or personal integrity that may occur. 

We demand that the State guarantee the ability of human rights defenders, both persons and organizations, to perform their work in conditions of security without being exposed to stigmatizing statements; in a state of exception such work is fundamental in the defense against arbitrary measures. 

We call on the international community to join in the demand to support freedom for Verónica Delgado and to stay abreast of the situation in El Salvador. 

We also invite people inside and outside of the country to stand in solidarity with the searching mothers and the Special Search Unit, and to demand an end to the criminalization of their efforts to find their disappeared family members.  

More alerts: