October 1, 2020 – When we talk about rule of law, few people know its importance in everyday life. Rule of law means internal coherence in a country’s justice system, in which all people, private institutions, public entities and the State itself are subject to laws dictated according to an established constitutional procedure; these must be applied equally and without discrimination. For this to happen, it is necessary to guarantee the primacy of law, equality before the law, separation of powers, political participation, legality, nonarbitrariness and procedural transparency. The evolution of the political reality in the U.S., Mexico, El Salvador, and Honduras cause great concern about the future of the rule of law, especially in regards to weakening democratic institutions and people’s rights.
The U.S. is facing a constitutional crisis like never before. Last week, President Trump refused to commit to a peaceful transition of power if he loses reelection on November 3. This is the last statement in his constant attacks against the electoral process, particularly vote by mail. In order to respond to disinformation campaigns on the elections, Alianza Americas has launched a 2020 Elections webpage. Active participation, information and civic action are key for the wellbeing of the U.S. democracy.
Another upcoming topic is that of police violence, and more specifically the case of Breonna Taylor. Recently, a grand jury did not indict the police agents who participated in the raid of this woman’s home, which resulted in her death as a result of bullets shot by police officers. Paradoxically, even as police officers were not charged with murder, the city of Louisville, Kentucky, announced its settlement with the affected family for $12 million and a commitment to police reforms. The impunity in this case reenforces the validity and relevance of social mobilizations against systemic racism and reveals flaws in the administration of justice.
The decision of President Trump to nominate judge Amy Coney Barrett to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg after her death is also something to worry about. Judge Barret’s perspective and legal analysis methods are a source of concern for many who believe that they will contribute to the erosion of individual rights. From a procedural point of view, the President’s decision to nominate Justice Ginsburg’s replacement and the Republican majority to proceed with the confirmation process 37 days before the presidential election puts into question the independence and legitimacy of a judge that will be soon administering justice from the highest court.
Meanwhile, in Mexico there was a failed effort to collect signatures for a citizen consultation to inquire about whether the public agreed to investigate possible crimes committed by former presidents. In view of this situation, President López Obrador decided to use his constitutional powers sending the request himself to the Senate. This attempt to seek justice through citizen consultation raises many questions around the rule of law in the country. If there is any evidence of criminal activity, investigations should be conducted without actions from other bodies and without politicization.
In El Salvador, the administration of justice efforts to enter the Army archives and retrieve information on the investigation of the El Mozote massacre were blocked. The judge who was leading the criminal investigation was not allowed to enter the military premises. He proceeded to dictate a resolution giving the president and the Minister of Defense 5 days to explain their decision. This week also, President Bukele received a letter from six Republican members of the US Congress expressing concerns about the weakening of the rule of law, referring to various incidents. A couple of weeks ago, a group of Democratic legislators also sent a letter to President Bukele expressing their concerns over the attacks on the free press. Pressured domestically and internationally, President Bukele held a press conference to justify his decision to limit the criminal investigation and to continue his attacks against the free press and human rights organizations. The weakening of the rule of law in El Salvador continues to be a matter of concern.
Lastly, in Honduras the recently created Electoral Justice Court is being weakened due to lack of necessary funding. This is a political maneuver from Juan Orlando Hernández’s government putting the electoral process at risk.
The situations described above highlight the importance of free press, community oversight, and the exercising of political rights in particular, voting rights. Community engagement is vital for building societies where institutions work and the administration of justice gives people trust in its impartiality and effectiveness. Defending the rule of law is our duty.