Colombia Judiciary Council votes against appeals to save Bogota mayor

Posted on Mar 4 2014 - 3:43pm by Rico
Petro supporter in Cali (Photo: Alvaro Marquez)

In what is perhaps one of the final blows for ousted Bogota Mayor Gustavo Petro, Colombia’s Supreme Judiciary Council on Tuesday voted in favor of rejecting over 300 writs of protection in his favor.

On Tuesday the council came close confirming the rejection of 326 writs of protection — documents that can be filed by any citizen in protection of fundamental rights and which must be seen by a judge within 10 days — that aimed to revoke last December’s decision by the Inspector General’s Office to fire Mayor Petro and ban him from public office for 15 years.

However, just as the magistrates came to the long-delayed majority decision, the arrival of two written requests by Petro froze the verdict.

The Bogota mayor demanded that new evidence be presented in the assessment of the writs of protection, as well as an in-depth consideration of the Inter-American Convention of Human Rights.

The confirmation of Tuesday’s ruling should be announced at 10 AM on Wednesday, after magistrate Ovidio Claros Polanco asked for the decision to be suspended until Petro’s requests had been studied.

MOREIs it all just too much for Bogota’s ousted mayor?

The hundreds of writs of protection in question had been submitted by citizens and appealed to the constitutional right of Colombian citizens to vote and be elected. These rights were considered to have been violated when Colombia’s Inspector General (IG) declared the dismissal of Petro on December 9 last year.

The majority of magistrates at the Supreme Judiciary Council considered the writs null because the IG Alejandro Ordoñez has the constitutional authority to penalize and dismiss public officials.

Furthermore, the council did not find any violation of the electorate’s political rights.

Since Petro’s dismissal, which stemmed from his failed reform of the capital’s waste collection services, the mayor has been fighting tooth and nail against the decision. The writs of protection had so far been his strongest potential recourse to keep him in power.

It was a foreseeable result, since the 326 writs were likely to follow the standard set by the rejection of a crucial appeal by Colombia’s State Council late last month.

MOREWhy Colombia’s State Council shut the door for Bogota’s Mayor

Nonetheless, Colombia’s Constitutional Court has the power to counteract both Monday’s decision by the Supreme Judiciary Council and last month’s verdict by the State Council, due to the high-profile nature of the case.

Petro’s appeal case

The 326 writs of protection had been approved on January 24 in favor of Petro by the administrative court of Cundinamarca – the state surrounding Bogota.

MORE: Bogota Mayor should stay in office until end of impeachment referendum: Court

Following an appeal against the court’s verdict, however, the writs had then passed on to be assessed by the Supreme Judiciary Council.

The negative appeal was presented by the magistrate Pedro Alonso Sanabria, with the council debate beginning last Thursday.

“The fundamental rights of electing and participating in the exercise and control of political power have not been disregarded by those acting on behalf of the IGO, because these rights don’t have absolutist power,” states Sanabria’s near-approved appeal.

“Exercising these rights cannot impede the existence of disciplinary proceedings and the imposition of penalizations that are appropriate by law.”

These disciplinary actions are in fact part of the powers bestowed upon Ordonez by the Colombian Constitution, article 278, which states that the country’s IG has the authority to dismiss and penalize anyone who is in “violation of the Constitution or the laws.”

The magistrates of the council also ruled that the basic rights of the country’s citizens remained intact despite the IG’s decision.

“If there had been any irreparable damage done by the [dismissal] decision that has been attacked by the writ of protection, it would be against he who was penalized, that is to say the mayor, but never by third parties who are completely separate from the disciplinary process,” reads the document.

The ruling of the State Council late last month dismissed a writ of protection submitted by Petro himself and supported by an appeal by Guillermo Vargas Alaya, Colombia Reports was told by Alfredo Beltran, a former magistrate of the Constitutional Court.

The verdict has not been set in stone, however, as former President of the State Council Alfonso Vargas will need to re-present the case against the appeal by Alaya, which will in turn be agreed upon this Thursday.

Petro’s last resorts

If the Supreme Judiciary Council’s verdict is confirmed on Wednesday, then it is up to the Constitutional Court to make the final decision on the writs of protection.

The Constitutional Court has the power to overrule both the ruling of the Supreme Judiciary Council on Wednesday and the likely confirmation by the State Council on Thursday.

If it chooses to do so and approve the writs of protection, then the IG’s decision will be revoked and Petro will remain in power, according to Beltran.

While the Constitutional Court assesses the writs of protection, however, the councils’ decision remains in place, and so would the IG’s dismissal process.

Should this final recourse to the Constitutional Court fail like many have in the past, the IG would get the green light to present the mayor’s dismissal to President Juan Manuel Santos. This being because in order to discharge the mayor of Bogota – Colombia’s second highest office – the constitution states that the president must first approve the action.

President Santos’ final say would see Petro leave office for at least the next 15 years. There have so far been no precedents in which the Colombian president has rejected the dismissal of the capital’s mayor by the IG.

In this case, there would be little for Petro to do to except hope for the positive and rapid outcome of his appeal in the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, which has yet to reveal its judgment.

MORE: Petro vs. Colombia — can international bodies save Bogota’s mayor?

This international body has the power to impose precautionary measures protecting Petro’s fundamental rights, which according to Beltran the country must abide to.

Though this would freeze Petro dismissal, it would not be a ruling on the administrative actions of the IG and therefore would not mean the end of the case. According to Beltran, the dismissal process would be suspended while the actions of the IG were investigated by an administrative judge.

Regarding this too, however, Sanabria’s appeal claims that international human rights treaties and agreements were not violated by the IG’s actions.

“The faculties given by the legislative body to the IG to impose temporary or permanent penalizations that imply restricting the right of access to public offices does not go against article 93 of the constitution nor article 23 of the agreement in San Jose, Costa Rica.”

The Inter-American Convention of Human Rights, which was signed in Costa Rica in 1969 and which forbids the dismissal of democratically elected public officials without due trial (article 23), was signed by ratified by Colombia in 1973.

Article 93 of Colombia’s 1991 Constitution states that international treaties and agreements such as the above convention “have priority domestically.”

This also raises the question as to which have more leverage in the country – the power given to the IG by Colombia’s highest set of laws, or the protection given to public officials by international regulations.

Sources

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