Colombia’s congress approves controversial military justice reform

Colombia’s Congress on Tuesday approved a controversial military justice reform that grants jurisdiction over crimes committed by members of the military to military tribunals.

The reform has been criticized heavily by human rights organization and the United Nations who claimed that allowing the military to judge its own members will increase impunity in Colombia which already faces high impunity rates.

Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon told press that the reform will guarantee “judicial security” for tried members of the military, but offers “no impunity.”

According to the minister, Colombia’s security forces — investigated for thousands of homicides and other human rights violations — are the “primary defenders of human rights in the country. The men in uniform are the only ones who swear to give their lives in defense of what is enshrined in the constitution.”

The U.N. has openly rejected the reform, claiming it would “undermine justice.”

“The constitutional reform project would expand the jurisdiction of military or police tribunals,” argued eleven U.N. human rights experts. It would give the armed forces “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 reform does not grant the military tribunals jurisdiction over all crimes committed by the security forces. Cases of genocide, forced disappearance, torture, sexual violence, extrajudicial killings and forced displacement will continue to be under the jurisdiction of civilian courts.

Ongoing investigations of members of the military accused of murdering at least 3,000 civilians to present them as guerrillas killed in combat are also supposed to remain under the jurisdiction of the country’s Prosecutor General’s Office.

The amplified jurisdiction of military tribunals was initially included in a larged judicial reform earlier this year, but was sunk after ongoing criticism from the U.N., the Organization of American States and human rights organizations like Human Rights Watch. President Juan Manuel Santos later sunk the judicial reform in its entirety after Congress altered the proposal to include “unconstitutional” legal benefits for lawmakers facing criminal investigations.

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