UN expert urges El Salvador to respect judicial independence

UN expert urges El Salvador to respect judicial independence

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[JURIST] El Salvador should address the continued challenges to the independence of its judicial system, the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers [official website] Gabriela Knaul stated [letter] on Monday. Her mission was to examine El Salvador’s progress at implementing and fulfilling its human rights obligations regarding the independence of judges and lawyers and those obstacles that inhibit the proper functioning of those positions. Knaul pointed to the example of El Salvador’s Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice’s decision declaring recent Supreme Court magisterial appointments by the Legislative Assembly [official websites, in Spanish] unconstitutional, which undermined both judicial independence and separation of powers. Knaul encouraged El Salvador to engage in judicial reform, recommending that El Salvador’s institutions respect and implement the decisions of the national courts and the courts’ interpretations of El Salvador’s Constitution [text, PDF]. She called on the Legislative Assembly to ensure that magisterial appointments are based solely on qualifications and to agree on the election requirements for the Attorney-General. Knaul encouraged the protection of judicial impartiality by de-politicizing the justice system. She stated that:

Judicial independence has a crucial role to play in upholding the rule of law, combating impunity and defending human rights and fundamental freedoms at all times. Its implementation requires the creation of an environment conducive to independent, impartial and fair decision-making that enable judges and magistrates to decide matters before them impartially, on the basis of facts and in accordance with the law, without any restrictions, improper influences, inducements, pressures, threats or interferences, direct or indirect, from any quarter or for any reason. … It is therefore of extreme importance that the judicial system be free from political or any other pressure.

Knaul will present a comprehensive report [press release] to the UN Human Rights Council in June 2013.

Knaul has criticized El Salvador’s judicial independence record in the past. In 2011 she warned [JURIST report] that an El Salvador law requiring its high court to issue unanimous judgments was an “attack” on judicial independence and the separation of powers and harmed the judges’ ability to function effectively. The law was controversial in El Salvador, with civic organizations pushing for its repeal. In 2008 hundreds of judges and lawyers in El Salvador marched to the Supreme Court of Justice [JURIST report] to protest challenges that the attorney general made to the rulings of four judges. Then-Attorney General Felix Safie had asked the Supreme Court to investigate the judges’ decisions, calling those decisions arbitrary exercises of power and accusing the judges of corruption. The judges claimed that they acted according to the law and that the government sought to encroach on their independence.