Venezuela, El Salvador, and Bolivia have come out at the bottom in an NGO's ranking of criminal justice systems around the world, indicative of the major challenges facing judicial reform in Latin America.
A rule of law index created by World Justice Project assigned a score to 97 countries, basing their assessment on several factors related to the rule of law, including absence of corruption, access to fundamental rights, and the limiting of government powers.
The index also judged the effectiveness of a country's criminal justice system, looking at the judiciary's impartiality, vulnerability to corruption, and several other categories. Venezuela, El Salvador, and Bolivia scored badly on all counts -- Venezuela and El Salvador ranked particularly poorly in terms of impartiality in the justice system; while Bolivia received an abysmal score related to corruption.
Venezuelan lawyer and human rights activist Alfredo Romero said that the rankings must be paid attention to, "because as long as we don't have a trustworthy government that respects the rule of law, we can't talk about civil liberties or human rights," as Venezuelan newspaper El Universal reported.
InSight Crime Analysis
This is a depressing indictment of the failures of the criminal justice system in three countries badly in need of serious reform. Venezuela in particular has faced strong criticism for politicizing its judiciary, with Human Rights Watch noting that under former President Hugo Chavez, his government strove to control the judicial branch and undermine its independence. As documented by Human Rights Watch, many judges and judicial officials in Venezuela have said that they base their rulings on their political allegiances, rather than rule of law.
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El Salvador has confronted its own set of challenges in maintaining an independent judiciary. Last year, when El Salvador's judicial branch attempted to exert its independence -- by invalidating the National Assembly's appointment of several Supreme Court judges -- it led to such serious friction that many analysts compared the resulting outcry to "a constitutional crisis."