Weak justice system inhibits fight against gangs

Colombia’s Ministry of Defense said Tuesday that the fight against emerging illegal armed groups is being severely hampered by the country’s overstretched and inadequate justice system, reports CM&.

According to officials, over half of the members of illegal armed groups arrested by Colombian authorities have been released due to weaknesses in the judicial system.

“There has been some frustration in some cases,” Defense Minister Gabriel Silva admitted.

Authorities report that they captured 2,843 members of these groups in 2009, and 1,361 so far in 2010, but have had to release more than half of these.

The study by the Defense Ministry states that one weakness in the judicial system is that there is no way to prosecute an individual for being a member of a gang.

In addition, it was found that suspects have to be released because there aren’t enough judges or court space to hear all of the cases in the required amount of time.

“The members of the security forces have to contain and neutralize the criminals, and here we are waiting for the decision to be made to make the police, prosecutors and judges more efficient,” complained police chief General Oscar Naranjo.

The release of the ministry’s study comes after President Alvaro Uribe announced a plan to help reinforce the country’s judicial system in rural areas plagued by illegal armed groups.

“The Superior Council of Justice committed to creating [the positions of ] national judges of guarantee who will attend to regional problems, in order to protect the vulnerability of judges in small municipalities … because in various municipalities in the country, where there are criminal groups, the judges are very vulnerable and are exposed to risks trying to beat narco-trafficking,” Uribe said on Tuesday.

Uribe said he hoped that the Superior Council would put the commitment into action as soon as possible. The president added that the Prosecutor General’s Office had committed to visit the communities where problems were occurring, to ensure that there were not any delays in prosecution due to a lack of personnel, nor “phenomena” that might hinder the course of justice.

The decision to create the the new judicial positions comes after Uribe proposed declaring a “state of exception” over the emergence of illegal armed groups.

According to Uribe, the declaration was needed to reinforce the country’s judicial system to deal with the problem of emerging illegal armed groups and criminals. However, critics accused him of seeking to use the declaration to make an executive order to appoint a new prosecutor general.

The election of the prosecutor general is the responsibility of the Supreme Court, but has been delayed for months because the court cannot reach the necessary consensus on a candidate.

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