Human Rights Officer Denounces Attorney General for Secrecy Surrounding New Phone Tapping Center

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El Salvador’s new phone tapping center - the fruit of tireless lobbying efforts by the US Embassy - remains a mystery more than a year and a half since its approval, as the Attorney General refuses to disclose basic information. In March of 2010, after years of pressure and offers of financing from the United States Embassy, El Salvador´s Legislative Assembly reformed its constitution to legalize phone and email tapping for criminal investigations and approved the creation of a Telecommunications Intervention Center to be administered by the Attorney General´s office. The US government committed to equipping the center and training its personnel. Frustrated by the lack of information surrounding the center, El Salvador´s Human Rights Ombudsman Oscar Luna denounced Attorney General Barahona for a complete lack of transparency with regards to the center´s progress and requested a formal Legislative Assembly inquiry.  Luna also reported to the Assembly that Barahona had ignored his repeated attempts to develop a human rights protocol for the center with the Attorney General´s office. When called before the Legislative Assembly on October 24, Barahona blamed delays in opening the center on a lack of resources, claiming the US government had not made the promised resources available yet. He also said a building had been secured and that he had named a director, but refused to give the director´s name because of security concerns. Barahona’s lack of communication and apparent disregard for human rights justifies earlier concerns raised by the leftist Farabundo Martí Front for National Liberation party (FMLN) during the legislative debate on the phone tapping center. The FMLN pushed hard to ensure that the taps would be highly regulated and only permitted with a warrant from a judge. They also pushed for the center to be supervised by the Ministry of Public Security- then under the leadership of Manuel Melgar who was recently forced out of office by US pressure.  However, the right-wing parties closed ranks to ensure the center would be controlled by the office of the Attorney General. Barahona has been repeatedly denounced for perpetuating El Salvador’s long history of impunity by refusing to investigate political murders – including the assassinations of four anti-mining activists - or prosecute officials of previous administrations for corruption.

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