Five meanings of #1M for El Salvador

Ursula Indacochea*

Versión en español aquí.

On May 1, 2021, the Legislative Assembly of El Salvador resolved -as the first act in its first session- to remove all the magistrates and alternate magistrates of the Constitutional Chamber and the Attorney General of the Republic from their positions, and to directly appoint their replacements, placing in these positions a group of lawyers and a lawyer, respectively, related to their interests. These acts were unanimously condemned by international human rights organizations and civil society organizations throughout the region, as a repetition of the disastrous authoritarian experiences of the past and as a current threat to hemispheric democracy. One year later, the impacts of these actions have been manifold; some of them have become clearer with the passage of time. In this article I offer five approaches to these events with the purpose of making their different effects visible. 

1. Serious violations of all the guarantees of judicial independence

International human rights law guarantees judicial independence, both at the institutional level (of the judiciary as a whole) and at the personal level (of each individual judge). Various bodies, both of the United Nations system and the Inter-American system, have developed the contents of this guarantee: (i) an adequate appointment process, (ii) the guarantee of irremovability and (iii) the guarantee against external pressures. 

The events of May 1 violated all of these, without exception. The removal of high magistrates, based on the content of their decisions, without a serious cause previously established by law, and without due process, violated the guarantee of the irremovability of the members of the Constitutional Chamber. The pressures that forced the voluntary resignations of almost all the legitimate magistrates of this body -through letters with identical wording-, and the use of public force to take over the facilities of the Supreme Court of Justice and prevent them from entering their offices (in addition to installing their replacements), violated the guarantee against external pressures. Finally, the direct appointment without following the selection mechanism foreseen in the internal rules violated the guarantee of an adequate selection process.

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El Salvador and the false discourse on judicial independence

Ursula Indacochea Prevost*

Versión en español aquí.

Last Wednesday, March 16, a public hearing was held before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to address the situation of judicial independence in El Salvador. In it, the petitioning organizations presented to this international body a reading of various decisions, facts and arbitrary reforms that occurred in 2021, as a strategy to capture the justice system, executed with the deliberate aim of neutralizing its ability to control power and protect human rights

The State, for its part, deployed an opposite narrative: all these acts would have obeyed, rather, to the objective of «strengthening and modernizing» a justice system «inefficient and conducive to widespread impunity». In this note, I intend to answer some of these arguments to demonstrate that there are reasonable grounds to consider that the state’s commitment to judicial independence is not sincere or, even, that there is a manipulation or appropriation of the discourse in defense of judicial independence, for purposes contrary to those stated.

As a starting point, it is worth briefly summarizing the civil society approach. It was argued that the Salvadoran justice system -which includes both the judiciary and the Attorney General’s Office- has been the object of a strategy of capture by the political power currently in government, executed in various stages. 

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A New Law and New Justices, but the Same Old Political Control over Venezuela’s Supreme Court

Carlos Lusverti*

Leer en español aquí.

On January 19, 2022, the Venezuelan National Assembly, whose members were  elected in the disputed elections of December 2020, adopted a new law that will affect  the Supreme Court (Tribunal Supremo de Justicia, TSJ). On its face, the law does not comply which international human rights standards on judicial independence. 

The Venezuelan Supreme Court is Venezuela’s highest judicial body, supervising the governance and administration of the judiciary. This supervision extends both to its judicial review function and its oversight of administrative matters, including budget and disciplinary controls. The new proposed law reduces the number of justices in the Supreme Court from 32 to 20 and changes the composition of the Judiciary Nomination Committee tasked with nomination of Supreme Court justices, so that there is a greater number of political members from Venezuela’s National Assembly. The law also renews the terms of all the current sitting justices, not only those who are about to finish their terms. Likewise, it also establishes that the National Assembly will appoint other administrative offices in the judiciary, such as the General Inspector of Courts and the Director of the National School of the Judiciary. 

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The importance of controlling Leviathan

Adriana García García*

In the mid-17th century, the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes used the image of a biblical monster, the Leviathan, to illustrate the power of the State and its function of maintaining social order. It has since remained a symbol of fear-invoking power and unmatched sovereign strength.

The foundation for the potentially monstrous power of the Leviathan is one of the main obligations of the State, perhaps the most primary one of them all:  to maintain security within its territory. If a State does not fulfill that function, all other possible aspirations, from the offer of high-quality public services, to economic development and the respect and promotion of fundamental rights, are deeply compromised and, in extreme circumstances, can become even impossible.

The problem is that, to fulfill the responsibility of providing security, the State needs to have a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence.

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The Rule of Law Concept of the People’s Republic of China: A great challenge

Daniel Kempken*

Leer versión en español aquí.

China’s new Rule of Law Concept contradicts in central points the internationally established conception of the Rule of Law. The Chinese proposal stands for rule by law. These ideas should be countered in the international debate as well as by further promoting the current Rule of Law model in cooperation with partner countries and civil society. However, existing judicial dialogues and legal cooperation with China itself should also be continued in an appropriate manner. 

China’s five-year plan to build the rule of law (2020 – 2025) contains a conception of law that departs from the current UN conception of Rule of Law in fundamental respects and contradicts the interests of both the European Union and the United States. The main sticking points are the strict rejection of the separation of powers/independence of the judiciary, a completely different understanding of human rights, data, and privacy protection as well as democracy. Furthermore, digital systems are to replace the decisions of an independent judiciary in important areas.

The bottom line is that ruling by law is taking the place of the Rule of Law. In particular, the digital elements of the Chinese model are reminiscent of a 4.0 version of the dystopia of a total surveillance state described by George Orwell in his novel 1984.

According to the Five-Year Plan, the declared goal is to promote Chinese-style rule of law internationally. For this purpose, China is relying on participation in UN bodies, international cooperation, judicial dialogues, exchange programs and new arbitration procedures. This announcement should set alarm bells ringing. The concept adds a new dimension to legal development, as China challenges the existing international consensus on Rule of Law. 

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A dark night for judicial independence in El Salvador*

Ursula Indacochea** y Sonia Rubio Padilla***

he night of Saturday, May 1, 2021, when the Salvadoran Congress decided to mortally wound the country’s justice system, could be a long night, one of those that darken with the passage of time. But no night lasts forever. President Nayib Bukele and the deputies of his political party Nuevas Ideas may not be aware today of the need for an independent judiciary; but the lack of legal certainty and the condemnation of the international community will inevitably be reflected in a flight of investment, the contraction of the economy, and the absence of conditions for prosperity. The experience of the region has shown, systematically, that authoritarian governments and their leaders, at some point then turn to justice for protection. And it is there that history, and the debris of justice, paid them back with the same coin.

The strategy of capture of the Constitutional Chamber

The capture of El Salvador’s Constitutional Chamber did not begin on May 1. It began long before, when from the privileged tribune of official discourse, President Bukele launched a campaign of attacks, harassment and criminalization of the highest constitutional body. From the open contempt of its rulings to the accusations of the Chamber as «corrupt» or as «guilty» of the deaths and contagions during the pandemic, Bukele was building a hostile narrative towards justice, replicated and increased by his followers in the networks. In this way, he deliberately fabricated a disease to later appear with «the cure».

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Lucha contra la corrupción con un poder judicial independiente y con integridad

Daniel Kempken*

La corrupción es un factor de inestabilidad en todo el mundo que sólo puede combatirse con un poder judicial independiente. La implementación de los enfoques prometedores dela Convención de la ONU contra la Corrupción (CNUCC) debería ser reforzada por la comunidad internacional. Para ello, se puede aprovechar una próxima sesión especial de la Asamblea General de la ONU que abordará la lucha contra la corrupción, así como laConferencia de los Estados Parte de la CNUCC.

La Convención de la ONU contra la Corrupción marca el rumbo

En el derecho internacional, la conexión entre la lucha contra la corrupción y el fortalecimiento de un poder judicial independiente y con integridad está estipulada en el artículo 11 de la CNUCC, que ha sido ratificada por 181 estados. El Relator Especial de la ONU sobre la Independencia de los Jueces y Abogados no se cansa en señalar que la lucha contra la corrupción y la independencia del poder judicial deben ir de la mano. En las normas de aplicación del artículo 11 de la CNUCC y en los comentarios sobre la Convención, se exige a los Estados Parte procedimientos objetivos de selección de jueces, así como normas de integridad y transparencia. Entre los aspectos más importantes están además la protección contra la remoción, la remuneración adecuada y la seguridad personal de los jueces y juezas.

Para poner en práctica lo que establece la CNUCC, habría que insistir todavía más en esa conexión inseparable entre la lucha contra la corrupción y el fortalecimiento de la independencia e integridad del poder judicial. En el marco de la cooperación internacional, hay que plantear con mas fuerza esta conexión.

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Judicial immunity: a double-edged sword in Guatemala*

Hannah Jane Ahern** and Ursula Indacochea***

On February 1, 2021, Judge Erika Lorena Aifán Dávila, judge for the First Criminal Court of First Instance, Na and Crimes against the Environment of the department of Guatemala with competence to hear High Risk Proceedings, Group D, issued an arrest warrant against former judge Mynor Mauricio Moto Morataya, at the request of the Special Prosecutor’s Office against Impunity (FECI). Moto was being investigated for the crime of conspiracy to obstruct justice, in the framework of the case known as «Parallel Commissions 2020,» a high profile case of corruption and manipulation in the high court election process that took place last year. Moto is a key figure in that complex case of co-optation of justice, and until shortly before his capture was ordered, he served as judge for the Third Criminal Court of First Instance, Narcoactivity and Crimes against the Environment.

In her position, Judge Aifán oversees cases of atrocities committed during the armed conflict, macro-corruption, and other high impact crimes, which has exposed her to threats of violence, harassment, smear campaigns, and other attempts to hinder her work. Recognizing the threats, pressures and reprisals she has faced, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has previously granted her precautionary measures, ordering the State of Guatemala to protect her life and integrity. Aifán is widely recognized as an anticorruption champion, not only in Guatemala, but also internationally; most recently, she is a recipient of the 2021 International Women of Courage award from the U.S. State Department.

The arrest warrant issued against Moto caused a stir, as it came after he was elected by the Guatemalan Bar Association as magistrate to the Constitutional Court of Guatemala, and was irregularly sworn in by Congress on January 26, 2021. Precisely in order to serve in his new position, Moto requested the Guatemalan Council of the Judiciary to place him on «leave of absence» from his position as criminal court judge until April 13, 2021, a request which was granted. Therefore, when Aifán ordered his arrest, Moto was no longer serving as a judge, nor had he yet assumed the position of magistrate of the Constitutional Court.

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Radiografía: la independencia judicial en Venezuela

Santiago Martínez Neira*

La independencia del Poder Judicial en Venezuela está profundamente erosionada y su reconstrucción institucional es urgente. En estas líneas, se van a reconstruir algunos sucesos clave que han minado la independencia judicial y han hecho que el Tribunal Supremo de Justicia (TSJ) se convierta en un instrumento político del oficialismo y un actor fundamental para su permanencia indefinida en el poder.

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Jueces al descubierto en Perú y España

Luis Pásara*

A partir del mes de julio, una avalancha de audios –escuchas telefónicas grabadas por la fiscalía con autorización judicial– inundaron a Perú de conversaciones entre jueces, asesores, abogados y políticos, que revelaron una red de conexiones para nombrar y ascender jueces, y para archivar casos o inclinar sentencias. El asombro ciudadano fue administrado dosificadamente: las grabaciones se hicieron públicas, día tras día, por una acreditada ONG –el Instituto de Defensa Legal, que anunció haberlas recibido anónimamente–, pese a que hubo fiscales que intentaron secuestrar las grabaciones para impedir su difusión.

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