Rights group concerned about constitutional reform in El Salvador

Amnesty International expressed concern on Friday about rights guarantees under a constitutional reform in El Salvador, where the president is waging a brutal war against criminal gangs.

The Central American country’s unicameral legislative assembly – dominated by allies of President Nayib Bukele – on Monday approved a reform of the country’s founding law that will make it easier for him to make other constitutional changes.

In the past, constitutional reforms had to be proposed and approved by a majority of more than fifty votes in the sitting assembly, and then ratified by two-thirds of a new chamber after new elections.

Monday’s vote changed that, and any proposed constitutional change can now be ratified by three-quarters of El Salvador’s 60-member legislature, where Bukele’s party has 54 seats.

Amnesty expressed concern that the reform could have a “negative impact… on respect for human rights in the future.”

It could also “dramatically narrow the space for debate… and limit people’s participation in matters of public interest.”

Bukele launched a war on gangs in March 2022, declaring a state of emergency and suspending the need for arrest warrants and other civil liberties.

Human rights groups have criticized Bukele’s methods, but a majority of citizens have welcomed the sharp drop in homicides in the violence-wracked country.

In February, voters approved elections that brought Bukele to power for another five years, with an increased majority in the legislature.

Last month, Bukele’s security minister said three-quarters of the country’s gang members have been arrested since the crackdown began two years ago.