Within the framework of a cooperation agreement between El Salvador, the Mexican Secretariat of National Defense (SEDENA, per its Spanish acronym), and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the Salvadoran Ministry of National Defense (MDN, per its Spanish acronym) trained Mexican Army personnel through its “Instructor Training on the Use of Force and Humanitarian Principles” program. During the event, Salvadoran Army Captain Bielman Aníbal Magaña provided guidance to 30 Mexican troops on the best techniques and procedures on the use of force and human rights in public security work. The course was held June 23rd-30th at SEDENA’s Military Camp No. 1-A in Mexico City.
“Through this collaboration, ICRC recognizes the efforts of FAES [Armed Force of El Salvador, per its Spanish acronym] in terms of human rights. It is a compliment to have supported a partner like Mexico,” Salvadoran Army Lieutenant Colonel Luis Orlando Pérez, the head of the Human Rights Department of the Ministry of National Defense (MDN, per its Spanish acronym), told Diálogo. “This confirms that we are on the right path to compliance with international instruments.”
The training course is one of the activities conducted by ICRC in conjunction with the security and armed forces of the Central American region. At the same time, partner nations in the region have developed training and integrated international standards on the use of force over the past three years.
During the course, Mexican military members bolstered their basic theoretical and practical knowledge on the use of force and firearms, force and violence, resistance and aggression, and using non-lethal weapons and technology to safeguard the most precious legal right there is — life. “We should always have a way to be able to control the aggressor with the means and techniques we have been taught,” Lt. Col. Pérez said.
“These types of actions help in criminal control and pacification in the region,” José Misael Rivas Soriano, a security analyst and dean of the Legal and Social Sciences Department of the New San Salvador University, told Diálogo. “Knowledge of humanitarian standards and academic conceptualization are key aspects to allowing the armed forces to properly fulfill their assignments.”
At the start of the course, Lt. Col. Pérez led a conference on the importance of human rights training and the role of the armed forces in public security. Mexican chiefs and officers strengthened their knowledge on the challenges facing FAES in terms of human rights, doctrine, training, lessons learned, and best practices. Attendees participated in a series of analyses to improve the training and application of international standards of humanitarian law and the use of force, a commitment that comprises the Geneva Conventions, which Mexico and El Salvador are parties to.
“Any public servant responsible for ensuring compliance with the law needs to understand and be trained on the application of, and compliance with human rights and the use of force, as well as the use of firearms to avoid infringements during the different activities they carry out,” Lt. Col. Pérez emphasized. “This is the first time that the Human Rights Department of MND is participating on this issue with SEDENA,” he added.
In 1993, the military authority also outlined an institution-based role for FAES in support of public security. According to Lt. Col. Pérez, support was strengthened in 2009 due to the social problems facing El Salvador, such as drug, human, and weapons trafficking, contraband, border issues, maras, and gangs, which are considered terrorists by the Salvadoran government since August 2015.
“All the procedures carried out by FAES, such as joint preventive patrols, anti-crime work, and support at border crossings is done in coordination with the police,” Lt. Col. Pérez said. The Salvadoran government says that FAES support is important for reducing homicide.
Cooperation to speak the same language
El Salvador’s Ministry of Defense is not only a member of ICRC, but it also participates in other forums. At the end of August, the institution will participate in the twentieth anniversary of the U.S. Southern Command’s (SOUTHCOM) Human Rights Initiative, in Miami, Florida.
“The cooperative relationship among SOUTHCOM and the armed forces of El Salvador and Mexico is excellent. Thanks to that, we can have these kinds of important activities,” Lt. Col. Pérez said. “We know that the threats in Latin America, mainly in the Northern Triangle countries and Mexico, are similar. It is necessary to maintain closer ties so that at any given moment we are speaking the same language in terms of human rights.”
“The famous Northern Triangle is specifically where drug trafficking and transnational organized crime organizations develop their main strategy on how they will harm society in general,” added Rivas. “They are the dregs of society and have attached themselves as if they were part of the fabric of each country,” he concluded.