The Broadening Scope of Military Criminal Law in Colombia paves the way for impunity

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Joint public statement.

Paris, Bogotá, 7 November 2014. Today, the President of Colombia, Manuel Santos, is visiting France. On this occasion the FIDH and its member leagues in Colombia - CCAJAR, ILSA and CPDH - have again pointed out the need for the Colombian Government to refrain from promoting legislative initiatives that broaden the scope of, and grant privileges to, military courts in cases involving human rights infringements and breaches of international humanitarian law.

These proposals are an alarming step backwards for democracy in Colombia, for justice, and for victims’ rights… …and pave the way for the institutionalisation of impunity”, stated Karim Lahidji, FIDH President.

There are three draft legislative proposals: Senate Draft Act 085 of 2013/Chamber of Representatives Draft Act 210 of 2014; Senate Act 022 of 2014; and Chamber of Representatives Draft Bill 129 of 2014.

Senate Draft Act 085 was recently modified. However, the Act as originally drafted would have broadened jurisdiction for military courts to include cases involving violations of international humanitarian law and crimes committed against civilians.

Senate Draft Act 022 of 2014 is still on the table (although it was declared unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court because of technicalities) and would also broaden the jurisdiction of military courts to include breaches of international humanitarian law. This Act would entail a change to the Constitution, namely the creation of a list of offences that do not currently fall under the jurisdiction of military courts. The Act implicitly allows military tribunals to hear cases involving arbitrary detention, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, the poisoning of water resources, kidnapping, illegal interception of communications, as well as a dozen acts deemed to be breaches of rights. The Draft Act was scheduled on 1 October 2014 and was approved by the Senate, after the second round of debates, on 29 October 2014.

Draft Bill 129 of 2014, which is before the Chamber of Representatives, is allegedly aimed at aligning national legislation with international humanitarian law. The draft bill introduces a distorted interpretation of the IHL that is contrary to its purpose of protection of civilians and that could lead to impunity for offences committed by Public Authorities during hostilities. On 1 October 2014, the Draft Bill was brought before the first commission of the Chamber of Representatives.

On the whole, these draft bills are contrary to international legal norms that establish the circumscribed and exceptional nature of military criminal courts and exclude from their jurisdiction cases involving human rights violations and breaches of international humanitarian law, and that recognise the right of victims to have their cases heard by an independent and impartial court.

In the current context of peace negotiations in Colombia, these types of initiatives are counterproductive, because if there is no justice for the victims of serious crimes and of crimes against humanity, neither is there peace”, declared the representatives of the organisations signing the current statement. “Peace is not compatible with impunity” , they added.

FIDH has repeatedly denounced the extrajudicial executions carried out by members of the military on the basis of false accusations. Under the Rome Statute that founded the International Criminal Court, these acts constitute crimes against humanity. FIDH points out that alleged perpetrators of crimes against humanity are subject to prosecution.

FIDH, CCAJAR, CPDH, and ILSA call on the highest levels of the Colombian government to revise and/or suspend advancement of the proposed draft legislation which is contradictory to the commitments Colombia has taken on through adherence to international and Inter-American human rights protection instruments, treaties and declarations.

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