GENEVA (4 May 2021) - United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on Tuesday warned that the decision by El Salvador’s Legislative Assembly to dismiss the magistrates of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice and the Attorney General seriously undermines democracy and the rule of law in the country.
“The separation of powers is a cornerstone of any democracy. Weakening of this important system of checks and balances leads to the erosion of the pillars of the rule of law and thus of a country's democratic system,” the High Commissioner said.
On 1 May, the newly constituted Salvadoran Legislative Assembly dismissed all members of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice - five permanent magistrates and their alternates – alleging that they had acted unconstitutionally in ruling against the Ministry of Health’s acts and decisions in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic. The legislators also dismissed the Attorney General, citing his ties to an opposition party.
The magistrates and the Attorney General were replaced within hours. High Commissioner Bachelet said international human rights norms and standards stipulate that “judges may be dismissed only on serious grounds of misconduct or incompetence, in accordance with fair procedures ensuring objectivity and impartiality set out in the constitution or the law,” referring to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which El Salvador has ratified.
“The procedure followed to dismiss all the judges of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court and the Attorney General did not meet the required due process standards, which is a breach of international human rights law and a direct attack on judicial independence,” she said.
“Judges and prosecutors must be protected from undue interference and intimidation,” Bachelet stressed.
The High Commissioner also recalled that it is the obligation of the State, including the legislature and the executive, to abide by judicial decisions, whether or not they are to their liking.
“Unfortunately, what we see in El Salvador is the deepening of an alarming trend towards the concentration of power. I remind all State authorities of the need to comply with their obligations under international law, to restore the rule of law and the separation of powers,” Bachelet said.