Nayib Bukele AFP

El Salvador's Minister of Justice and Security Gustavo Villatoro announced Thursday that the number of homicides in the country declined by nearly 70% in 2023, crediting President Nayib Bukele's administration for declaring a state of emergency to fight criminal groups.

In 2022, the country experienced a staggering 495 murders; however, this number witnessed a significant drop in 2023, reaching a low of only 154 murders. The minister highlighted that the country's homicide rate stands at 2.4 per 100,000 people, making it the lowest in America, excluding Canada.

Talking about the killings that happened before 2022, Villatoro said that 1,000 people were murdered in 2021 and 2020 and more than 2,000 people were killed in 2019, Reuters reported.

However, it was the Bukele-led administration that cracked down on the gangs responsible for violence and other crimes, including extortion and drug dealing in the country. Bukele's presidential term began in 2019.

While murders have reduced in El Salvador, there are human rights groups in the country that called out the crackdown as it includes torture, deaths in custody, and arbitrary detentions.

The state of emergency allowed the police to arrest and jail suspected gang members while taking away their right to get a lawyer and court approval for preliminary detention. Since the implementation of the emergency, the forces have successfully arrested almost 75,000 suspects and released 7,000.

Human rights groups, on the other hand, have reported 190 deaths and more than 5,000 cases of abuses by the officials. Furthermore, the Central American University's (UCA) Observatory of Human Rights group has claimed that violent deaths are "highly underreported" and data shared by the government is not true.

According to the group, the official data didn't disclose the number of suspects who became casualties of confrontations with security officials, while the number of people who died in state custody is also not mentioned.

El Salvador's parliament approved the state of emergency in March 2022, which suspended constitutional protections in the Central American country.

Ernesto Castro, the congress's president, said at that time, "We approve the exceptional regime, which will allow our government to protect the lives of Salvadorans and confront criminality head-on," as per Al Jazeera.

The move came after police reported 62 murders in a single day on March 20, which made it the most violent day in the last 30 years.

El Salvador
Gang members -- who once controlled 80 percent of El Salvador, the government says -- sit in an overcrowded cell at the Quezaltepeque prison on September 4, 2020. AFP

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