Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Judicial Independence in El Salvador

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, today urged  El Salvador to ensure the independence of its judicial system and comply with its decisions to avoid a constitutional crisis such as the one it experienced earlier this year.  “Decisions of judicial authorities cannot and should not be interpreted by other organs of the State; they must be complied with,” she said at the end of her visit to the Latin American country.  

Although she welcomed the democratic advances made in recent years, she stressed that the country still faces many challenges regarding the autonomy of the judicial system.  “The institutional crisis between the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice and the Legislative Assembly risks undermining the independence of the judiciary and the principle of separation of powers,” warned Ms. Knaul, recalling that existing international human rights standards require all governmental and other institutions to respect the independence of the judiciary, and that inappropriate or unwarranted interferences with the judicial process are inadmissible.   

According to media reports, on 5 June the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court ruled that two previous elections of Supreme Court magistrates by the National Assembly were unconstitutional and ordered new elections for 15 judges and their alternates. The National Assembly appealed this decision to the Central American Court of Justice, which ruled in the Assembly’s favour, causing the Constitutional Chamber to argue that the multinational court did not have authority over the country’s Government branches and leading to a constitutional crisis.  

Ms. Knaul said the crisis demonstrated that the current procedure for the appointment of magistrates of the Supreme Court did not provide sufficient guarantees to ensure that they are selected on the basis of fair and objective criteria.   “The Legislative Assembly should review the procedure, so as to ensure that judges and magistrates are appointed solely on the basis of their qualification, and not on the basis of their actual or presumed proximity to political parties,” Ms. Knaul said.  

She also expressed concern about the Legislative Assembly’s failure to appoint a new Attorney-General of the Republic and noted he or she would have a crucial role in guaranteeing legality, combating corruption and impunity and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms.  The new Attorney-General should be appointed solely on the basis of his/her integrity, independence, competence and ability and through an open and transparent process,” she added.   

During her eight-day mission, Ms. Knaul held meetings in the capital, San Salvador, and Santa Ana with senior Government officials, the Legislative Assembly, Supreme Court magistrates, judges, prosecutors, international and local non-governmental organizations, and UN agencies.   

Independent experts, or special rapporteurs, are appointed in an honorary capacity by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. Ms. Knaul is scheduled to present her report on her visit to the Council in June 2013.   

(Adapted from a UN press release)

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