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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