A reduction of violence in El Salvador

342.- comando-elite-1-e1461189843981The “Territorial Control Plan” is, according to the Salvadoran government, responsible for the country’s progression from being one of the most violent countries in the world to, in January 2020, recording its lowest number of homicides since the Civil War.

The country’s President, Nayib Bukele, is confident his plan will get the financial green light as the only way to ensure the numbers continue to decrease. Many analysts, however, say the historic reduction in violence is unlikely to be the result of a security strategy that, in their opinion, offers nothing new beyond the strategies put forward by previous governments.

Despite this, the official figures clearly indicate a significant decrease in the number of homicides in El Salvador, where the rate per 100,000 inhabitants fell from 51 in 2018 to 35.8 in 2019. And the downward trend has been even more pronounced since President Bukele took office in June 2019 and announced his plan to improve the country’s security. Since July, the monthly homicide rate has remained below the 200 mark. A record low was recorded in January with 119 homicides and a daily average of 3.8, – 60% less than in January 2018 -.

Several analysts attribute the reduction in violence to factors unrelated to government policy. They believe it’s more likely the gangs have forged a pact to stop the killings in order to avoid confrontations with security forces, leaving them free to maintain control of their territories and continue to engage in extortion. Other researchers think the reduction in homicides is a mirage; the result of a gang-initiated goodwill gesture towards the new Executive. This tactic, employed by gangs in the past, effectively attempts to blackmail President Bukele with the unspoken threat of rising homicide statistics should they wish to make their voice heard or demand a concession.

The “Territorial Control Plan” is divided into seven phases, two of which have already been implemented. Phase 1 involved the deployment of hundreds of police officers and members of the armed forces onto the streets. The prevision for phase 2 includes reconstructing the social fabric and training young people. Phase 3 is pending the approval of a US$109 million dollar loan from the Central American Bank for Economic Integration to fortify El Salvador’s security forces. Phases 4 to 7 have not yet been made public.

The government believes the continual presence of the security forces in the most problematic conflict zones is crucial. Previously, they had been present for 72 hours at most, and once they retired, the criminal world sprang into action once more.

Financial sustainability is one of the most significant challenges for the strategy, which also promotes community engagement as a way of ensuring the latest figures can be maintained.

There is, after all, a limit to what the security forces can achieve in terms of repressing the violence. Without active participation from the community, the results will be difficult to sustain over time. Some analysts are in favour of investing in social reform and employment projects, which they say would help to reduce the homicide rate and not just the rate of criminal prosecution.

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The Government of El Salvador is adopting specific strategies to tackle gangs

339.- Mara_Salvatrucha_MS13Nayib Bukele, President of El Salvador, has announced the implementation of specific strategies aimed at reducing violence in the country, which continues to have one of the highest recorded homicide rates in the world at 50.3 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2018.

Although there has been criticism from within government of earlier ‘iron fist’ policies to deal with gangs, it was explained that the government is shifting to new models in the fight against crime, seeing it as a social problem resulting from lack of opportunity and poverty. Even so, there has so far been no mention of prevention or rehabilitation policies, rather the talk has been about attacking the gangs in two areas that the current government sees as key: prisons and the centres of big cities.

The first thing the government wants to do is attack gang finance. The government wants to cut off the gangs’ income so that they have no finance. It is thought that the gangs finance round 80% of their activity through extortion rackets. In parallel, the government wants to stop money laundering through the businesses that enable the gangs to operate.

A second front is to recover control of the centres of big cities, which are thought to be where the gangs run most of their extortion rackets. Government sources are of the view that previous policies focused on small rural communities were misconceived.

To take back those historic city centres, the government will deploy CCTV and put more police and soldiers on the streets. There will be an investment of $15 million in improving pay and conditions for the forces of law and order.

The third strand in the fight against the gangs is to cut communication with prisons, since some 80% of orders for killings and extortion are thought to be issued from prison. The plan is to cut off messages from prisons. Implementation requires new prison staff in order to circumvent bribery and extortion within prisons themselves.

The security plan being implemented by the Salvadorian government does not envisage any role for dialogue with the gangs. What’s more, it has been stressed that a government should not talk to “criminal groups”.

There are gang experts who believe that ‘iron fist’ policies cannot work on their own without a plan that addresses the socio-economic roots of violence in the country. There is no point in locking up thousands of gang members because they are part of the social fabric of El Salvador.

But politicians believe that the public are more concerned about crime and the government is trying to show that they are determined, which is what Salvadorians are thought to want. Nevertheless, there are political commentators who think there is room for a twin strategy: implement the existing strategy with a high-profile tougher approach to crime and when the gangs react put forward alternative proposals.

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The Organisation of American States will support prison reform in Honduras

338.- 42025187020_31480db52d_bThe Government of Honduras and the Secretary General of the Organisation of American States (OAS) have agreed to develop a penitentiary strategy to strengthen the capacities of the National Penitentiary Institute (INP) of Honduras.

The strategy will be rolled out over nine months and take a human rights approach to the care provided by the INP.

The agreement includes a restructuring of the prison system with integrative policies aimed at contributing to the social reinsertion of detainees in Honduras.

The OAS takes the view that “if you aspire to build societies free of violence and organised crime, you need to have penitentiary centres that educate and offer the opportunity to rehabilitate and reintegrate people who committed crimes into society”.

“A large part of the prison population will, at some point, recover their freedom, and we need them to be prepared to reintegrate into society”.

The strategy on which the OAS and Honduras will work – for a period of 9 months – will incorporate a human rights approach to the care provided by the system during the custody of detained persons.

The lines of action outlined by the OAS include:

– Improvement of the administration and management of the infrastructure of the prison system

– Security, control and life inside prison

– Integral rehabilitation and reintegration

– Post penitentiary assistance

– Transparency and accountability

The agreement was signed in the framework of the Fourth Meeting of the Authorities Responsible for Penitentiary and Prison Policies of the Americas.

It should be noted that according to its official figures, in 2019, Honduras recorded 3,996 homicides, 7.1% more than the 3,732 recorded in 2018.

The report also states that more than 80% of homicide victims in the country are economically active people between 18 and 50 years of age and that close to 6.5% are under 18.

Violence caused by organised crime and drug trafficking is one of the main problems in the country, which is one of those used by drug smugglers to move contraband from South America to the United States.

The Governments blames drug trafficking and extortion-related disputes between the rival Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) and Barrio 18 gangs for the majority of the homicides.

With regard to femicide, organised crime is responsible for 70% of violent female deaths in the country, and out of the 271 female assassination cases recorded in 2019, more than 90% remain unpunished. Partners or ex-partners cause the remaining 30% of deaths. A country of 9.2 million inhabitants, where one woman is killed every 18 hours.

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Prison population plummets in the Netherlands

328 PRESONSThe Netherlands has closed 23 prisons in five years and has the third-lowest incarceration rate in Europe, with 54.4 incarcerations for every 100,000 inhabitants. The prisons have been converted into temporary asylum centres, housing and hotels.

The Dutch judicial system’s success in reducing its prison population can be partly attributed to rehabilitation programmes for people with mental health problems.

Certain people undergoing psychiatric treatment are the beneficiaries of a growing trend in the country; avoid sending people to prison unless it’s absolutely necessary. One of the key aspects of this is a successful programme of care in the community for people with psychiatric problems.

The programme has two aims: to prevent another crime, and to alleviate psychiatric suffering and the social problems that accompany it. The programme regularly deals with patients suffering from psychotic vulnerability, autism or severe learning difficulties which are often combined with serious personality disorders, addictions, financial problems, housing and family-related issues. They are frequently traumatised.

According to the Justice Ministry’s WODC Research and Documentation Centre, the number of prison sentences imposed in the country has fallen from 42,000 in 2008 to 31,000 in 2018. Furthermore, the country has seen a two-thirds drop in jail terms for young offenders, and registered crimes also fell by 40% during the same period, to 785,000 illicit in 2018. Another contributing factor is the increased use of non-judicial penalties such as fines or the use of court-ordered mediation.

There’s also a psychological rehabilitation programme known as TBS. TBS forms part of the criminal justice system but deals specifically with people who can be held not accountable or only partly accountable for their actions.

People eligible to be considered under TBS must have committed a crime which carries a minimum prison sentence of four years and have a high chance of re-offending. The programme concentrates on their reintegration into society. If this is not deemed possible, or they refuse to cooperate, they can be transferred to a high-security prison.

The criminal justice system takes the view that although prison sentences may appear to be the most logical and efficient way to improve security, the truth is that it only helps to create even more dangerous criminals. With this in mind, it believes that less aggressive methods are capable of achieving longer-lasting results and make it easier for people who have committed a crime to reintegrate into society successfully.

It concludes that life in prison is institutionalised, tightly controlled, and therefore nothing like life in the real world. Younger people also tend to be the ones that suffer the most in prison.

Changing our perspective on imprisonment as the standard solution for crime allows us to research more effective preventative measures.

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Ecuador: The Más Seguridad (More Security) plan looks to a consistent strategy

The Más Seguridad plan, which was suspended 11 years ago, has been renewed. On the 15th of August, principal security forces signed an interdepartmental agreement on the matter.

The meeting, chaired by the Mayor of Guayaquil, Cynthia Viteri, was attended by high-ranking representatives from the National Police, the Integrated Emergency Services ECU911, the National Telecommunications Corporation (CNT), the Guayaquil Corporation for Citizen Safety(CSCG), the Guayaquil Metropolitan Police, the Guayaquil Fire Department, the Municipal transit Agency (ATM), the Armed Forces, and the Municipal Department of Justice and security.

The reprised programme will be implemented with the support of the Ecuadorian Ministry of the Interior, the Crown Prosecution service, and the private sector. It is hoped that this interdepartmental collective will enable the organisations responsible for citizen safety, public order, and other areas, to work together for the common good. The objective is to promote a culture of prevention and citizen participation, monitor policy, and carry out regular assessments and reporting.

In the interest of improving safety, Guayaquil has volunteered resources, equipment, and personnel. Eight million US dollars have been earmarked for the purchase of 120 surveillance cameras. One of the strategies is to combine the government’s 1,100 cameras operated by the CSCG with the 500 operated by the Integrated Emergency Services ECU911.

Also anticipated is the purchase of 600 panic buttons for the “Amiga ya no estás sola (Friend, now you’re not alone)” plan, along with 600 bodycams (500 for the Metropolitan Police and 100 for the Tourism Police).  Finally, investments will be made for a new call-centre and a centre for facial recognition and video analytics.

The Ministry of the Interior underlined the fact that the plan is intended as a shock treatment for violence, drug trafficking, illegal mining, child pornography, femicide, possession of arms, etc. In Ecuador last year, more fatalities occurred in social circumstances than in criminal ones.

The plan will concentrate on areas or neighbourhoods with the highest incidences of criminal activity, such as the Modelo and 9 de Octubre districts, two of the busiest commercial areas in Guayaquil.

The Ministry of the Interior’s statistics show that this central commercial area has the highest rate of shoplifting. Between January and March 2019, there were 284 reported cases, constituting a 10.08 % increase on the figures published for the same period in 2018.

The Más Seguridad plan includes the establishment of integrated workgroups where businesses, journalists, academics, politicians, etc. can debate and put forward solutions and suggestions for improving security.

The workgroups will draft their ideas on how to improve the security services and judicial system, on the correct processing of information about crimes, overall support for victims, and peaceful coexistence.

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The United States and El Salvador sign an agreement on security and migration

El Salvador - USAThe United States and El Salvador have signed a cooperation agreement on security and migration. Under the terms of the agreement, El Salvador has committed to working with the United States to improve border controls and exchange information on organised crime.

The United States Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan and the Foreign Minister of El Salvador, Alexandra Hill, signed the deal following a meeting in which they discussed issues surrounding youth gangs, migration and economic development.

It’s hoped that improvements to El Salvador’s border controls will not only reduce the flow of illegal migrants but also help to tackle the operations of youth gangs and the illegal trafficking of minors.

Another important aspect of the agreement is that the United States has committed to cooperating in the fight against youth gangs and crime, which in the broadest sense of the terms can be understood to include human trafficking, organ smuggling, kidnapping of people for the purposes of selling them into slavery, etc.

El Salvador has committed to sharing biometric data and real-time information on the movements of suspects through both its air and land borders. This could include anyone attempting to enter the country with falsified documents or those wanted for committing crimes by other countries, often related to crimes associated with drug-trafficking.

For their part, the North-Americans recognised efforts made by the Salvadoran authorities to combat and reduce the flow of illegal migration. Furthermore, they explained that help from the United States will be provided on different fronts and will include assisting the police to improve their operational capabilities and increasing access to work visas for Salvadorans.

Despite this, the North-American representatives made clear the agreement does not constitute the establishment of El Salvador as a safe third country, as in the cases of Mexico and Guatemala.

McAleenan concluded that they would continue meetings with representatives of the private sector and that they are open to discussing tariff tables, with the intention of making them more favourable to foreign investment.

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Maximum alert in El Salvador’s prisons

The President of ’El Salvador, Nayib Bukele, at the beginning of July, decreed  maximum alert, indefinitely,  in the country’s prisons as a means of pressure to get “gangs” to put an end to homicides.

The case is that alleged members of Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) murdered another police officer. Furthermore, at this time, at the end of June, members of MS13 detained a bus with 40 people on board, robbing them and raping two women.


With the death of the latest police officer, 23 officers of the National Civil Police have been murdered in 2019, as well as the murder of 12 soldiers and two prison officers, all of which were carried out by “gangs”.

Hence, one of the measures involved in this state of emergency is that of keeping inmates inside their cells 24 hours a day. Moreover, over a thousand gang members were transferred to more secure prisons from an exclusive prison complex that was exclusively for members of the Barrio 18 gang. Accordingly, the policy, due to the existing rivalry, of placing members of the rival “gangs” Barrio 18 and MS13 comes to an end. This way, the idea of a prison being used for one particular gang is rejected, as the gang ended up imposing their own rules.

At the same time, the government has obliged telephone companies that operate in the country to cut off all prisons to stop communication with the gang outside, to whom they give orders.

With these prison transfers, the idea is to try to abort the orders of gang leaders in their areas and dismantle possible criminal atrocities.

One of the measures required by the President of the country is to meet the request for over 30 million dollars to finance the security plans to deal with the “gangs”. There has been an attempt to pass this budget allocation after the first stage of a plan to recuperate areas controlled by “gangs” in 16 municipalities, including the capital, where there was an attempt to attack the finances of these criminal groups.

It has also been announced that special police forces and armed forces will be sent to pursue gang members.

El Salvador is one of the world’s most violent countries with its homicide rate per 100,000 inhabitants, which over recent years has peaked at 103 deaths, mainly attributed the activities of the “gangs”.

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Chile presents the Plan Calle Segura (Safe Street Plan) that extends preventive identity controls

The President of Chile, Sebastian Piñera, presented the so-called Plan Calle Segura to the National Congress, aimed at preventing crime in the public spaces of cities and that extends preventive identity controls and authorises it to apply it from the age of fourteen.

One of the justifications for going ahead with this plan is because it is considered that the primary concern of Chileans is crime and drug trafficking and so this must be addressed.

As part of the plan #CalleSegura an intense Agenda of Public Security was put into place, including the modernisation of the police and the investigations police service, a greater police presence in the streets with over 3,000 officers, an important investment in technology with cameras and drones and the so-called Antiportonazos Law.

This law must allow officers to carry out controls in the streets with greater ease, including the inspection of clothes, backpacks and accessories when it is appropriate to prevent, in accordance with this law, crimes more effectively. It will also involve anyone over fourteen, given that according to Chilean police statistics, between 20 and 30% of violent crime – theft with violence, ambushes, etc. – are committed by youths.

Despite the low rate of complaints for inappropriate conduct against officers during such procedures, the law also includes measures to prevent abuse and discrimination. And this law comes into being with numerous voices that have questioned the legitimacy and utility of this measure.

One of the most questioned aspects of the new law is that as part of a plan to deter criminal conduct, it is expected that technology –cameras, drones, registration plate readers…- collaborate to control crimes taking place in the street.

Accordingly, with comparative experience and what is stressed by urban criminology, the limits of such types of initiatives are explained, not only in terms of the perception of security, but also with relation to the reduction of crime in urban spaces. Therefore, opting for an investment in technology as government policy can turn out to be insufficient.

Some voices have warned defenders of the Plan Calle Segura that crime control not only involves surveillance of streets and technological control of the environment, as an appropriate and balanced planning of public spaces and cities must also be considered.

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A move towards a crime-free future?

For most people, withdrawal from crime is a process, or rather an event. This project published by the Rand Corporation, produced an easy-to-use questionnaire to be used by those who worked with offenders to acquire intermediate results: positive exchange indicators that can indicate progress towards a crime-free future.

The research shows that, especially for criminals with deeply rooted social and personal problems, withdrawal from crime is not a one-time event. Often, it is a long-term process of fundamental change to their own identity, to their values and lifestyle, which involves periods of abstention caused by a transgression interrupted by relapses.

The effectiveness of services for criminals is normally evaluated on the basis of the rate of recurrence. However, these results are better measured over long periods of time and require access to reliable data concerning convictions or other offence-related measures. This is not feasible for many interventions, in the short term, for criminals freed by organisations without the time or resources necessary to carry out an analysis of recurrence. Moreover, some interventions, such as cultural programmes in prison or tutorials, have the objective of supporting the withdrawal process, rather than ending the criminal process.

This study aims to identify and develop a tool to measure intermediate results. This would involve changes in skills and thinking directly or indirectly associated with reductions in recurrence, which could indicate that a criminal is making positive changes towards a crime-free future, but has still not managed to do so. For example, intermediate results can include improved problem solving skills, better time management and increased resilience.

The project focused on developing a measurement tool for those who offer tutorial and arts programmes for criminals. In particular, community sector and volunteer organisations.

painting creative artThe project is based on close collaboration and cooperation with a series of suppliers that offer programmes and arts to criminals. With an iterative process of bibliographic research, consultations, valid tests and analysis, the research team produced an academically informed questionnaire of 29 articles, called the Instrument of Measurement of Intermediate Results (IOMI). Along with the OMI, the researchers also developed a cost tool, a guidance tool and a tool for entering data.

The IOMI measuring tool and the other materials that make up the tool kit provide an easy-to-use package that arts suppliers and tutors can use (and possibly many other types of intervention) to assess the impact of its own work relatively quickly and directly.

The IOMI is not a completely validated instrument, but preliminary tests showed clear signs that the instrument has value, internal consistency, stability and the potential to reflect change with most intermediate results it measures”.

The IOMI, in theory, is informed and based on accurate reviews of evidence and on an in-depth consultation with suppliers of programmes of tutorials and arts.

https://www.rand.org/randeurope/research/projects/reduce-reoffending.html

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Stopping the illegal trafficking of mercury and gold to the west of Africa

In August 2017 the Minamata Convention came into effect related to the use of mercury, an element that has a great impact on a world scale and more specifically on 15 states in the west of Africa. In the convention, the states agreed to reduce, and if possible to eliminate, the use of mercury and its by-products, and also the emissions of this caused particularly by mining activity. During the process of extraction of gold in the region, very simple techniques involving little economic investment are used. Mercury is often used to separate the metal from the mineral and generally those people who treat this element are exposed to health problems such as intoxications and burns. The west of Africa is one of the richest areas in gold deposits, and mercury plays an essential part in this activity, as 2-3 million skilled miners use it to extract gold, and the sale of this means great revenue for the country’s economy. Most of the countries that make up the region of the west of Africa have signed and ratified this convention.

Curbing Illicit Mercury and Gold Flows in West AfricaA study published by Global Initiative against transnational organized crime stresses that the use of mercury and its by-products and their emissions have negative consequences for the African countries involved. Almost all the mercury is exported from the west of Africa. Although great amounts are imported illegally, there is a lot of informal trade, undercover and not recorded, which is on the increase. To give an example, nationals from Burkina Faso are considered to be responsible for most of the illegal trade and countries like the Ivory Coast, Senegal and Ghana are the main consumers. Data related to mercury imports are included in the data estimations of mercury consumption, meaning that most mercury flows are illegal. Hence, if quantities of mercury are supplied, the flow of gold is also ensured. In this way, the supply chains both of gold and mercury create a strong circle that is very difficult to break.

The ECOWAS(Economic Community of Western African Countries stresses the need to include different institutions and government actors in order to discuss measures to coordinate mercury flows and combat illegal flows. Togo, for example, stresses the need for cooperation between countries. The Global Initiative study proposes the following recommendations:

  • Improve knowledge of mercury flows.
  • Standardise specific mercury regulating frameworks.
  • Provide an incentive for miners to extract gold without the use of mercury.
  • Focus regional efforts on the hubs of supply lines.
  • Harmonise the regimes of gold exports.
  • Strengthen regulating supervision of gold imports in end-of-destination hubs.

Links of interest:

http://globalinitiative.net/gold_mercury_ecowas/

https://www.verite.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/SSA-Verite-Commodity-Report-Gold.pdf

https://ige.org/archivos/IGE/mercurio_en_la_Mineria_de_Au.pdf

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