Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Argentina: Argentina must ensure independence of its judiciary

UN - A United Nations expert today called on Argentina to ensure the independence of its judiciary, following reforms passed earlier this month that affect the election process of the Magistrates Council which appoints and removes judges.

“The State has the responsibility to ensure the independence of the judiciary by respecting its laws and international standards,” stressed the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Gabriela Knaul.

Last week, the Chamber of Deputies decided to change the process to designate the members of the Magistrates Council. The draft law, which still needs to be voted on by the Senate, subjects the members of the Council to popular elections, with candidates being channeled through political parties.

“By providing the opportunity for political parties to propose and organize the election of the directors, the independence of the Magistrates Council is put at risk, which seriously compromises the principles of separation of powers and independence of the judiciary, which are fundamental elements of any democracy and any rule of law,” Ms. Knaul said.

According to media reports, the draft law would give the majority party control over the Council, enabling it to impeach judges by a simple majority, instead of the two-thirds vote required now.

“The provision on partisan election of members of the Magistrates Council is contrary to Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Basic Principles on the Independence of the judiciary,” Ms. Knaul said.

The draft law also modifies the requirements to be a candidate to become a member of the Council, and reduces the majorities required for the adoption of relevant decisions, including for the removal of judges, with no possibility of appeal.

“I call on Argentina to establish clear procedures and objective criteria for the dismissal and punishment of judges, and to ensure an effective process through which judges can challenge those decisions in order to safeguard judicial independence,” said the Special Rapporteur.

Independent experts or special rapporteurs like Ms. Knaul are appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back, in an unpaid capacity, on specific human rights themes.