The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) has strongly condemned the dismissal (1 May) of El Salvador’s Attorney General, Raúl Melara and five magistrates of the country’s Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice.
IBAHRI co-chair and former Justice of the High Court of Australia (1996–2006), Michael Kirby AC CMG stated: “The IBAHRI unreservedly condemns the removal from their posts, by new members of El Salvador’s Legislative Assembly, of the Attorney General and five judges who sat on the Supreme Court’s Constitutional Chamber.
“These are grave violations of the rule of law, particularly as the Supreme Court declared the dismissal of its magistrates unconstitutional.
“We remind El Salvador’s Legislative Assembly of the United Nations Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary, in particular Principle 18 that asserts, “[j]udges shall be subject to suspension or removal only for reasons of incapacity or behaviour that renders them unfit to discharge their duties.”
“These recent dismissals have not followed due process and puts in peril El Salvador’s judicial legitimacy and integrity.”
On 1 May 2021, representatives in the Salvadoran Congress voted 64-19 in favour of the removal of the Attorney General Raúl Melara and five magistrates of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice, in what is seen by many in the international community as a dangerous assumption of power orchestrated by President Nayib Bukele.
The unprecedented vote marked the first session of the legislative assembly controlled by President Bukele’s ‘Nuevas Ideas’ (New Ideas) party and ally, the Grand Alliance for National Unity party, after midterm elections saw them secure a more than two-thirds majority in the unicameral legislature.
Protection of public health was reason given for the dismissal of the judges.
A Nuevas Ideas spokesman is reported as saying the judges’ decisions had suppressed the government’s COVID-19 health strategy and so their removal was a necessary measure to curb the ongoing effects of the pandemic.
Commentators have said this is a pretext for cementing the already significant political control of President Bukele, who won a landslide victory in the 2019 presidential elections.
With the judges expelled, he now controls all three branches of state: the executive, legislature and the judiciary.
The new judges were swiftly sworn in, as was Rodolfo Delgado as the new Attorney General.