Colombia top court rules expanded military justice system unconstitutional

[JURIST] The Constitutional Court of Colombia [official website] ruled in an unreleased decision on Wednesday that a constitutional amendment and pursuant statute [text, PDF] expanding the military justice system is unconstitutional. Magistrate Jorge Ivan Palacio announced [AP report] that the decision was based on "procedural defects" within the law. The measure would have placed violations of international human rights law involving the armed forces—categorizing them as acts related to military service—under the jurisdiction of an expanded military justice system. Advocacy groups such as Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] have alleged [press release] that the measure would have increased impunity for human rights violators. Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon, however, expressed the belief that the ruling was a blow to the military that would decrease morale. He also suggested that the government would attempt a revised version of the bill. Under the current law, all human rights cases are to be tried in civil court. Wednesday's decision is not subject to appeal.

In August Colombia's Constitutional Court ruled [JURIST report] that a law providing reduced penalties for rebels who confess crimes related to their membership in illegal armed groups is constitutional. The bill, known as the "Legal Framework for Peace," was challenged by rights activists who claimed that by granting judicial pardons to rebels, it is "contrary to the State's duty to investigate and punish crimes, especially main violations of human rights" and that its measures to satisfy victim's rights are inadequate. In its reasoning, the court analyzed the bill's balance between the pursuit of peace and the rights of victims. In November 2012 a spokesperson for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) [official website] expressed serious concern [JURIST report] regarding the expansion of military justice jurisdiction, claiming [press release] it would "seriously undermine previous efforts undertaken by the Colombian Government to ensure that human rights violations, allegedly committed by members of the Colombian military and police forces, are duly investigated and perpetrators held to account."

 

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