Colombia Urged To Reconsider Proposed Constitutional Reforms

Colombian honour guard at the Presidential Palace in Bogotá. UN Photo/Evan Schneider

(RTT News) A group of United Nations independent human rights experts on Monday urged the Colombian government to review the military criminal law provisions of the proposed constitutional reforms, warning that it could have an adverse effect on the human rights situation in the country.

The group of eleven independent experts expressed concerns over plans to reform the Latin American nation’s Constitution in an open letter to the Colombian Government as well as the Congress. They noted that the proposed military criminal laws could have serious implications for the rule of law, violate international law, and reverse the Latin American nation’s achievements in advancing respect for human rights.

“Should this reform be approved, it could seriously undermine the administration of justice for cases of alleged violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, including serious crimes, by military or police forces (Fuerza Publica),” the independent experts said in the open letter.

“We believe that such a reform would represent a historic setback in terms of progress achieved by the State of Colombia in the fight against impunity and the respect and guarantee of human rights,” the experts said. The group noted the proposed reforms would send wrong signals to members of the Fuerza Publica of the consequences of committing human rights and international humanitarian law violations.

“We have noted with serious concern that the constitutional reform project would expand the jurisdiction of military or police tribunals, giving them the power to investigate, process and decide on cases of human rights violations which should be under the authority of the ordinary criminal justice system,” the experts added.

The UN experts said the proposed provisions would establish a Penal Guarantees Court to deal exclusively with accusations against members of the military or police forces of the Fuerza Publica. The group warned that the proposed measures could generate a climate of impunity by giving the impression that those charged were receiving preferential treatment.

They questioned the need for the proposed Constitutional reform and warned that the adoption of the measures would pose a real risk to Colombia’s obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law.

The experts also offered to help the Colombian authorities to develop the “necessary measures” to ensure a constitutional and legislative framework that “strengthens the fight against impunity and the achievement of peace in Colombia.”

Independent experts, or special rapporteurs, are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back, in an unpaid capacity, on specific human rights themes.

The 11 experts who signed the letter included those mandated to monitor international human rights law in respect to executions, arbitrary detention, use of mercenaries, freedom of expression and assembly, judicial independence, torture, discrimination and violence against women, enforced disappearances and the situation of human rights defenders.

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