Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Colombia: Colombian bill on military criminal justice ‘major setback’ for human rights, say experts

UN - 29 September 2014 – A group of independent United Nations human rights experts are calling on the Government and the Congress of Colombia to reconsider the possible adoption of a bill that aims to restructure and expand the scope of the jurisdiction of military courts.

“If adopted, this bill could seriously undermine the independence and impartiality of the judiciary,” the experts said in an open letter regarding Bill No. 85 (2013) that was made public today.

They added that such a reform would also represent “a major setback” in Colombia’s long-standing fight against impunity for international human rights and humanitarian law violations.

The experts had expressed similar concerns two years ago with regard to another legislative act reforming the military justice system, which was subsequently declared unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court of Colombia.

According to a news release, Bill No. 85 would give military courts extensive jurisdiction covering, among others, homicide, breaches of international humanitarian law, breaches of information and data protection, crimes against public security and other crimes that should fall within the jurisdiction of ordinary criminal courts.

“We call on the Government to ensure that the jurisdiction of military tribunals be limited to criminal offences and breaches of discipline of a strictly military nature and allegedly committed by active members of the armed forces,” the experts said.

“Crimes amounting to serious human rights violations should always fall within the jurisdiction of ordinary courts, including when the alleged acts were committed by military or police personnel,” they underscored.

Since military courts in Colombia are part of the executive branch, extending their jurisdiction to matters that should be heard by ordinary criminal courts would exacerbate the problems and concerns already existing in terms of access to justice, impunity for human rights violations, and respect for the fair trial and due process guarantees of the accused, it was noted.

The experts, who are appointed by the UN Human Rights Council and carry out their mandates in an unpaid capacity, offered their advisory services to assist Colombia in its efforts to strengthen its legislative and institutional framework for the achievement of human rights and peace for all.