The IACHR condemns the removal of the judges of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice without respect for due process and urges El Salvador to preserve the rule of law

May 3, 2021

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemns the decision of the Legislative Assembly of El Salvador to remove the five titular magistrates of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice and the four substitutes, as well as the Attorney General of the Republic, in violation of the constitutional norms that regulate the procedure and the Inter-American standards for the removal of justice operators, such as due cause, right of defense and due process. The IACHR urges El Salvador to respect the democratic rule of law and announces that, in response to these serious events, it decided to install a Rapid and Integrated Response Coordination Unit (SACROI) to monitor and respond to the human rights situation in El Salvador.

In a vote carried out in the first ordinary plenary session on May 1, the Salvadorean Legislative Power approved the decree of removal of the plenary of titular and substitute magistrates of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice. Such decision was adopted with the approval of 64 of the 84 parliamentarians of the recently inaugurated Legislative Assembly of the country. In a subsequent vote, the Assembly approved the election of 4 new members and a new president of the Constitutional Chamber. Likewise, in the same plenary session, the legislative body approved the decree of removal of the Attorney General of the Republic and the election of a new person to the position.

In this regard, the IACHR notes with extreme concern the absence of due process guarantees and specific causes, as provided by the Constitution, in the expedited removals decreed by the National Assembly, elements that constitute a serious attack on the principle of separation and independence of powers and the democratic rule of law. For its part, the Constitutional Chamber, in its original composition, issued unconstitutional injunction No. 1-2021 declaring the unconstitutionality of the decision to remove the judges. Article 3 of the Inter-American Democratic Charter states that essential elements of representative democracy include, among others, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms; access to power and its exercise subject to the rule of law; and the separation and independence of the branches of government. The Commission considers this situation to be of the utmost gravity because the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court is the very democratic institution that must guarantee the rule of law.

Likewise, the Commission and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights have affirmed that the principle of the tenure of judges is fundamental to judicial independence. Therefore, the early removal of a judge from office must be based exclusively on previously established grounds, in a process that respects due process and judicial guarantees, and any decision must be duly motivated.

The Commission takes note of the conclusions contained in the report of the recent Special Mission of the OAS General Secretariat to El Salvador published on May 2, 20201, in which it expressed concern "about actions that could undermine the rule of law and Salvadoran democracy". The Report refers, among others, to complaints about: "the lack of independence of the powers of the State, attacks on freedom of expression and of the press, unjustified limits on access to information, the possible increase in the militarization of the country, the failure to comply with the obligations derived from the Peace Agreements, the expressed contempt for judicial sentences, the issuance of unconstitutional decrees to contain the pandemic that violated constitutional rights of persons who were unjustifiably deprived of their freedom, and expressions that encourage violence against high authorities of the democratic institutions of the State."

The IACHR urges the State of El Salvador to preserve democratic institutions, respecting the separation and independence of public powers. It also calls on the State to ensure the tenure of the judges of the Constitutional Chamber and the Attorney General of the Republic in their positions for the time previously defined for their mandates and that any separation procedure be adopted in strict observance of the principle of legality and due process. Finally, within the framework of SACROI El Salvador, the IACHR will follow-up and pay attention closely to the measures adopted to preserve democratic institutions in that country and the human rights situation of all persons living in its territory.

The IACHR is a principal and autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), whose mandate derives from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote the observance and defense of human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The IACHR is composed of seven independent members who are elected by the OAS General Assembly in their personal capacity, and do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 110/21