‘A clear abuse of power’: HRW condemns dismissal of Bogota’s mayor

Posted on Mar 20 2014 - 3:43pm by Rico
Jose Miguel Vivanco

“Colombia is taking an unfortunate decision,” says Jose Miguel Vivanco, director of the Americas Division of Human Rights Watch.

In a strongly worded statement released Wednesday night, Vivanco criticizes President Juan Manuel Santos’ decision to dismiss an injunction filed by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

Vivanco describes President Santos’ decision as, “A serious judicial error, because in regards to this issue, there are clear and binding laws defined by the constitutional court.”

Bogota’s Mayor

Gustavo Petro, Bogota’s former mayor, was removed from office in December 2013 due to alleged “irregularities” that were uncovered in his attempts to transfer the city’s privatized garbage collection system into public hands. This allegedly resulted in 9,920 tons of uncollected garbage left on the streets. As a result, Colombia’s Inspector General, Alejandro Ordoñez, decided to dismiss the city’s mayor  and ban him from serving in public office for 15 years.

The US based IACHR intervened on Petro’s behalf, declaring the dismissal to be a violation of his political rights. On Wednesday however, President Santos approved Petro’s removal from office, dismissing the IACHR ruling issued earlier that day that demanded Petro be allowed to serve out his term.

He has been replaced with an interim mayor, the Labor Minister Rafael Pardo.

The mayorship of Bogota is widely considered to be the second most important position in Colombian politics.

MORE: Not so fast: International Court rushes to Bogota Mayor’s aid and demands Petro stay in office

Speaking of Santos’ decision to dismiss the IACHR ruling, Vivanco says, “It is of serious concern that the government is attempting to reconstruct the laws of the constitutional court on its own accord. You can not ignore the rights, and the politics, that are at the heat of the American Convention [of Human Rights].”

He continues, “I imagine that political considerations were placed before legal ones, and that is unfortunate…The act of the Inspector General does not hold up under critical examination, and was a clear abuse of power.”

MORE: IACHR prioritizes ruling on Colombia’s refusal to keep Bogota mayor in office

A high-level IACHR official told Colombia Reports that it is too early to say what actions the commission might take, but this is not the first instance that an Organization of American States (OAS) member has skirted an IACHR ruling.

 ”The act of the Inspector General does not hold up under critical examination, and was a clear abuse of power.”

The official did not wish to speak about the commission’s intentions and emphasized that any move on the part of the IACHR will come only after extensive deliberation. This official explained that while the IACHR is a binding international body whose members agree to adhere to its statutes and decisions, the true scope of the commission’s power is frequently called into question.

“The problem is the same one you see with all international organizations. There is authority on paper, but little real ability to enforce decisions, outside of the members’ willingness to conform to them.”

The president argued that the commission had no jurisdiction upon the matter, and that the inspector general’s decision to remove Petro was in compliance with the Colombian Constitution, as was determined by various Colombian courts.

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