El Salvador:  summary dismissal of judges is a blow to the Rule of Law

The ICJ today condemned the dismissal of all five of the justices serving in El Salvador’s Supreme Court Constitutional Chamber by the country’s newly elected  Legislative Assembly, backed by El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele.

The dismissal on 2 May was justified on vague allegations of arbitrariness and dereliction of functions particularly relating to judicial decisions taken striking down government action related to the COVID-19 Pandemic. The Legislative Assembly also dismissed El Salvador’s Attorney General.

The ICJ stressed that the dismissal violated core tenets of the independence of the judiciary, by which judges are subject to dismissal only “for reasons of incapacity or behaviour that renders them unfit to discharge their duties.” (United Nations Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary). Any decision must also be subject to a fair hearing of individual judges, with full due process guarantees.

The dismissal process was carried out without any individualized hearings, and without a clear expression of a legitimate basis for the dismissal.

The ICJ is concerned that this summary dismissal will undermine the independence of the judiciary, including by intimidating other judicial authorities in the country.

The dismissal of judges and the Attorney General was followed by the immediate appointment and swearing in office of other judges in replacement. This decision violates the procedural rules of selection and appointment, which are essential to safeguard the independence and impartiality of the judges serving in the Constitutional Chamber.

The decision to dismiss the judges was taken by a qualified majority of legislators, shortly after the new legislative assembly started its functions, in a swift procedure that lasted just a few hours.

The ICJ urges the government of El Salvador to restore respect to fundamental rule of law principles to prevent the arbitrary use of power and impunity.

The country is particularly vulnerable to impunity for human rights violations, where an independent judiciary is not in place to assess the lawfulness of government actions.

The ICJ calls on the responsible authorities of the Inter-American Commission for human rights and the United Nations human rights system to address the situation as a matter of priority.