El Salvador: “Judicial authorities’ decisions must be complied with,” says UN expert on independence of the judiciary

SAN SALVADOR / GENEVA (27 November 2012) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, welcomed today the democratic developments of recent years in El Salvador, but urged the Government to address the many challenges remaining regarding the independence of the judicial system.

“The institutional crisis between the Constitutional Chamber (Sala de lo Constitucional) of the Supreme Court of Justice and the Legislative Assembly risks undermining the independence of the judiciary and the principle of separation of powers,” warned Ms. Knaul at the end of her official visit* to the country from 19 to 26 November 2012.

“Decisions of judicial authorities cannot and should not be interpreted by other organs of the State; they must be complied with,” she said, recalling that existing international human rights standards require all governmental and other institutions to respect and observe the independence of the judiciary, and that inappropriate or unwarranted interferences with the judicial process are inadmissible.

According to the Special Rapporteur, the crisis demonstrated that the current procedure for the appointment of magistrates of the Supreme Court did not provide sufficient guarantees to ensure that they are selected on the basis of fair and objective criteria. “The Legislative Assembly should review the procedure, so as to ensure that judges and magistrates are appointed solely on the basis of their qualification, and not on the basis of their actual or presumed proximity to political parties,” Ms. Knaul stressed.

“The Attorney-General has a crucial role to play in guaranteeing legality, combating corruption and impunity and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms”, underlined the UN independent, expressing her concerns about failure of the Legislative Assembly to find an agreement on the appointment of the new Attorney-General of the Republic (Fiscal General de la República).

“The new Attorney-General should be appointed solely on the basis of his/her integrity, independence, competence and ability and through an open and transparent process,” the Special Rapporteur added.

During her 8-day mission, Ms. Knaul held meetings in San Salvador and Santa Ana with a number of senior Government officials, the Legislative Assembly, magistrates of the Supreme Court of Justice, including members of the Constitutional Chamber (Sala de lo Constitucional), magistrates and judges of different courts and tribunals, prosecutors, members of professional organizations, international and local non-governmental organizations, and UN agencies.

The Special Rapporteur will present a comprehensive report including her conclusions and recommendations to the UN Human Rights Council in June 2013.

Gabriela Knaul took up her functions as UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers on 1 August 2009. In that capacity, she acts independently from any Government or organization. Ms. Knaul has a long-standing experience as a judge in Brazil and is an expert in criminal justice and the administration of judicial systems.

(*) Check the full end-of-mission statement: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=12839&LangID=E

Learn more about the mandate and work of the Special Rapporteur: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Judiciary/Pages/IDPIndex.aspx

OHCHR Country page – El Salvador: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/LACRegion/Pages/SVIndex.aspx

Check the UN Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/indjudiciary.htm

For additional information and media requests, please contact Carlos León (+503 2209 3509 / carlos.leon@one.un.org) or write to srindependence@ohchr.org.

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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