Colombia’s Interior and Justice Minister German Vargas Lleras announced new measures in the government’s ongoing attempt to curb soaring violence in the country’s largest cities.
Among other things, the government wants to raise the penalties for the illegal carrying of firearms and change youth law to be able to prosecute and punish minors as adults. Gangs in cities like Bogota, Medellin and Cali are recruiting children as young as twelve because penalties for minors are significantly lower than for adults.
The Interior and Justice Minister told press on Friday that “minors over fourteen know and understand the difference between right and wrong perfectly well and there is no reason that a 17-year old that commits a murder is kept in jail only for a few months.”
Vargas Lleras also said the government hopes to implement laws that makes it illegal to make part of a gang.
The government’s initiative comes after Medellin mayor Alonso Salazar asked the national government for help as gang wars in the western Comuna 13 are paralyzing public life and the present security forces are unable to curb the continuously growing number of homicides.
Local prosecutors complain that a change in penal law in 2005, shortening the period for prosecutors to formulate charges and present evidence for suspects, is causing impunity for the city’s many ‘sicarios’ or hitmen. According to the judicial workers, the local office of the Prosecutor General’s Office lacks the resources to timely conduct investigations and file charges, resulting in the release of suspects even if they are caught red-handed.