El Salvador on the brink of authoritarianism, with rule of law and judicial independence at stake

03/05/2021
Press release
en es

Paris, San Salvador — The International Federation for Human Rights expresses its deepest concern about the dismissal of the judges of the constitutional chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice and of the Attorney General, acts that undermine the rule of law and judicial independence in El Salvador.

FIDH calls for the reestablishment of the rule of law and judicial independence in the country and recalls that any dismissal process must be based on specific grounds previously established by law. FIDH urges the government of El Salvador to guarantee the separation of powers and the restoration of democratic order in the country.

On Saturday 1 May, the day of the inauguration of the new National Assembly, the judges and alternate judges of the constitutional chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ)and the Attorney General were dismissed from their posts via a questionable procedure. Using article 186 of the constitution, the deputies who voted in favour of the dismissal held that the magistrates in question had issued rulings contrary to the constitution that would have hindered the work of the Ministry of Health and put the health of the population at risk in the context of a pandemic. Sixty-five deputies voted for the dismissal of the Chamber’s magistrates in contravention of due process and appointed new people to their positions. In effect, there was no debate or space for the judges to exercise their right of defence against the alleged accusations, nor were the profiles of the new judges made known.

It should be recalled that in 2020 the constitutional chamber of the CSJ issued several resolutions declaring unconstitutional a series of executive decrees and measures taken by the government of President Nayib Bukele to combat the pandemic, which the Chamber considered to be overreaches of the executive’s powers.

The decisions of the National Assembly – the majority of which are made up of members of the governing party – are evidence of the breakdown of the system of checks and balances and a high concentration of public powers by the executive, which poses a latent danger to the pillars of the rule of law in the Central American country. These events place the country on the verge of a self-coup d’état in which the legislature, through the Salvadoran government, ignores the mandate of the judiciary and the importance of guaranteeing its independence as the basis of democracy.

What happened over the weekend is not an isolated event; it corresponds to a deterioration of the democratic order in the country and the emergence and consolidation of an authoritarian regime that raided the National Assembly with a military squad in February 2020 – a clear affront to democracy.

FIDH is extremely concerned about the breakdown of the rule of law and the impact this situation could have on democratic stability in the region, particularly in countries such as Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua, which are also floundering under governments that undermine the democratic order.

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