UN experts urge Colombia to reconsider reform of military criminal law

United Nations independent human rights experts on Oct. 22 urged Colombian authorities to reconsider proposed constitutional reforms affecting the military criminal law. Eleven experts, comprising the Special Procedures mandate-holders of the Human Rights Council of the UN, wrote an open letter to the government of Colombia expressing their concern that the proposed reforms could prove harmful to administering justice for alleged violations of human rights by allowing military or police institutions rather than independent investigators to be the first to determine the existence of elements of crimes:

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. For instance, although the current project stipulates that criminal military justice institutions will not have jurisdiction over crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and the crime of enforced disappearances, this detailed and specific listing of crimes—which would fall outside the ambit of the military justice system—allows other international human rights and humanitarian law crimes to fall under the exclusive jurisdiction of military justice.

The panel offered their services to the Colombian government to help develop measures that would advance “the fight against impunity and the achievement of peace in Colombia.” UN independent experts are appointed by the Human Rights Council in an unpaid capacity to examine and report on human rights issues.

From Jurist, Oct. 23. Used with permission.

The International Criminal Court earlier this year opened an investigation into possible war crimes by the Colombian military.

  1. UN rights office concerned on Colombia military justice “reform”
    A spokesperson for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on Nov. 27 expressed serious concern regarding Colombia’s proposed constitutional reform to their military justice system. The proposed reform seeks to alter the scope of Colombia’s military criminal justice system. Should the proposal be adopted, the investigations and trials of military personnel suspected of war crimes and arbitrary detention will fall under the the scope of the military justice system. Spokesperson Cecile Pouilly claims this will “seriously undermine previous efforts undertaken by the Colombian Government to ensure that human rights violations, allegedly committed by members of the Colombian military and police forces, are duly investigated and perpetrators held to account.” While she admits the proposal specifically excludes “crimes against humanity and most gross human rights violations”, the fact that the military will be responsible for determining the specific crimes is another concern. Pouilly further emphasized the Colombian government should reconsider the reform in the interest of preserving accountability for military personel who commit human rights abuses.

    From Jurist, Nov. 28. Used with permisison.