New law in El Salvador threatens judicial independence, UN rights expert says

1 July 2011
Gabriela Knaul

A United Nations human rights expert warned today that a newly passed Salvadorian law requiring the country’s Supreme Court decisions to be unanimous could undermine the independence of the judiciary.

Gabriela Knaul, the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, said the legislation – which passed by El Salvador’s national assembly and was promulgated by the executive – could be considered “an affront to the principles of separation of powers and independence of the judiciary, fundamental elements of any democracy and any rule of law.”

“El Salvador, as a country that is consolidating its democracy, should pay particular attention to the full independence of the judiciary and the principle of separation of powers enshrined in international instruments of which it is a party and which are enshrined in the Salvadoran constitution,” said Ms. Knaul.

“The other branches of government can not force the country’s highest court to take judicial decisions unanimously, as the matters that fall within its competence are, by their very nature and complexity, controversial.”

Ms. Knaul said the law, if followed, “would block the activity and the effective functioning of the country’s highest court and therefore substantially limit the rights of Salvadorian citizens to appeal to that court in defence of their fundamental rights.”

The Special Rapporteur urged El Salvador’s Government to repeal the law to prevent the justice system from falling into paralysis.

Ms. Knaul serves in an independent and unpaid capacity and reports to the Human Rights Council in Geneva.


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