Colombia military promises ‘independent’ justice

The military will strengthen the independence of its courts to prevent impunity, Colombia’s army commander on Wednesday told critics of a newly approved justice reform granting more jurisdiction to military tribunals.

Following the controversial expansion of the role of military courts, the military has announced an overhaul of its justice system. General Mantilla, speaking to local media, said “We are working to make our justice system a shining example, that will be recognized for its independence and return to having the central place it once had in history.”

The Ministry of Defense announced it is working on the restructuring of the military justice system to ensure independent and efficient processes, saying that it will bring forward new legislation in March to achieve this. The government also said the expansion of the use of military courts for soldiers accused of crimes will not mean a “blank cheque” to the military.

But Adam Isacson, director of the Regional Security Policy Program at Washington Office on Latin America, told Colombia Reports that he suspects the military establishment is upset by high-profile trials in recent years and is trying to prevent repeat prosecutions. “Santos needs the military support more than [former President Alvaro] Uribe did, since military support for Uribe was never in doubt,” he said.

Another theory, says Isacson, is that the reform “is a key condition for military support for the peace process with the FARC – that if the government hadn’t given this to the military they would have much more openly opposed the peace process.”

The reform has been criticized by the United Nations, the Organization of American States, NGO Human Rights Watch and other human rights groups. Although some crimes against humanity will be tried in civil courts there will be military representation in the body deciding where each case should be tried.

The Colombian military became infamous for its human rights violations particularly in the first decade of this century when military personnel killed more than 3,000 civilians to inflate its successes in the state’s fight against illegal armed groups like the FARC and ELN.

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