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map courtesy CIA World Factbook; click for enlargement Constitution, Government & Legislation

El Salvador is a democratic republic governed by a president and an 84-member unicameral Legislative Assembly. The president is elected by universal suffrage and serves for a 5-year term by absolute majority vote. A second round runoff is required in the event that no candidate receives more than 50% of the first round vote. Members of the assembly, also elected by universal suffrage, serve for 3-year terms.

Source: U.S. Department of State

Courts & Judgments

The court structure has four levels: justices of the peace, trial courts, appellate courts, and the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court selects justices of the peace, trial judges, and appellate judges from a list of nominees proposed by the National Judicial Council (CNJ). The CNJ is an independent body provided for in the Constitution to nominate, train, and evaluate justices. The Legislative Assembly elects, by a two-thirds majority, Supreme Court magistrates from a list provided by the CNJ and the National Association of Lawyers. Magistrates serve for periods of 3, 6, or 9 years and may be reelected. There are separate court systems for family matters and juvenile offenders; they stress conciliation as an alternative to adjudication. The system also has criminal sentencing courts and penitentiary oversight courts. The former determine sentences for persons found guilty by trial courts, and the latter monitor the implementation of sentences. (For cases that entered the judicial system before the penal code reforms of 1998, the trial court remains responsible for establishing sentences.) Through its Department of Judicial Investigation, the Supreme Court regularly receives and investigates public complaints about judicial performance. This department also reviews the findings and recommendations of the CNJ, which evaluates justices on an ongoing basis. The Supreme Court imposes penalties when warranted.

Judges, not juries, decide most cases. Juries are used in a particular phase of the prosecution. Most cases start with a preliminary hearing by a justice of the peace court, and then proceed to the trial court, which determines whether or not a jury should hear the case. After the jury's determination of innocence or guilt, a judge decides the sentence. Almost all cases such as homicide, kidnaping, fraud, environment, drugs, or issues involving private property go to juries. Only a few categories of cases do not go to juries, such as petty theft, crimes of honor (e.g. libel), public security crimes against the state (e.g. terrorism), carrying illegal weapons, selling abortants illegally, or battery which causes less than 10 days of disability. A jury verdict cannot be appealed. However, the defendant may appeal the sentence to the Supreme Court for reduction. A jury verdict may be overturned by a mistrial determination that there were serious problems with jury panel selection or errors in the trial procedure. A judge's verdict may be appealed.

Source: U.S. Department of State

Human Rights

The Salvadoran Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens in 2001; however, there were serious problems in some areas. There were no politically motivated killings or disappearances; however, some police officers committed killings. An appeals court affirmed that the statute of limitations had expired in the 1989 murder case of six Jesuit priests. Police officers kidnaped persons for profit. Police officers used excessive force and mistreated detainees. Prison conditions remained poor, and overcrowding was a problem. At times police arbitrarily arrested and detained persons. Lengthy pretrial detention was a problem. The judiciary remained inefficient and hampered by widespread corruption. The Attorney General's office presented a report to the Supreme Court on its investigation of possible irregularities in the law degrees of almost 1,000 lawyers, including prosecutors, judges, and politicians. Impunity for the rich and powerful remained a problem. In July the Legislative Assembly named a new Human Rights Ombudswoman. Violence and discrimination against women remained a serious problem, and discrimination against disabled persons also remained a problem. Abuse of children, child labor, and forced child prostitution were also problems. The Government did not protect adequately workers' rights to organize and bargain collectively. Trafficking in women and children is a problem.

Source: U.S. Department of State

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