Colombia’s congress approved a controversial bill that expands the authority of military tribunals over crimes committed by members of the same military.
The military justice reform was approved in the last regular voting round of Colombia’s House of Representatives in spite of heavy criticism by the United Nations and Human Rights Watch who had condemned the reform because it would grant impunity to members of the military guilty of killing innocent civilians.
However, according to Interior Minister Fernando Carrillo, the reform means “judicial security” for the military and “no impunity.”
“I believe the military forces need confidence and judicial security. Moreover, there will be no impunity in the ‘false positives‘ which was the purpose of the government with this law,” Carillo was quoted as saying by newspaper El Espectador.
The Colombian military tribunals were virtually stripped of their authority after a scandal broke in 2008 that proved the courts had failed to properly prosecute members of the military later found guilty of killing civilians and dressing them up as civilians to inflate the army’s effectiveness. According to the Prosecutor General’s Office, the killing of civilians had become so common in 2007 that 1 in 5 reported combat kills was a “false positive.” According to the UN, some 4,000 civilians were killed by the military.
FACT SHEET: False positives
Nevertheless, Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon supported his colleague’s affirmation that the only thing the government sought was “offer judicial security” to soldiers suspected of crimes.
“The security forces will have a framework for their prosecution that abides the constitution and international humanitarian law,” said Pinzon.
The opposition, which voted against the bill, disagrees: “The bill includes a number of [types of] deaths that go against humanitarian … law. To move the jurisdiction of these human rights so they can be judged by the military … is very grave,” opposition Representative Ivan Cepeda told RCN Radio.
Cepeda expressed concern about part of the bill that allows members of the military to kill civilians on the suspicion of being a member of an illegal armed group without interference of judicial authorities and outside of combat situations. According to the socialist senator and chairman of an NGO representing victim of state violence, the reform ” leaves the door to impunity open because civilians can be converted to legitimate targets.”
Senator Juan Manuel Galan, one of the proponents of the reform, said that the army could only kill ” legitimate targets” which he defined as a ” person who causes serious damage to the security forces.”
As the House of Representatives made last-minute changes to the reform, a commission consisting of members of both the House and the Senate will have to approve the bill in a so-called conciliation session. This commission is allowed to make changes to the bill.
Once both the Senate and House are in agreement of the reform, the bill will be sent to President Santos for final approval after which the Constitutional Court tests whether the legislation is constitutional.