Colombia’s senate discussed a controversial bill Wednesday that would give military courts greater jurisdiction and could increase impunity for the already slow-moving convictions of military atrocities, according to local media.
In the second of eight Senate debates, the legislative body discussed the bill that domestic and international critics say would remove independent accountability for the military and its role in the killing of thousands of civilians during what has become known euphemistically as the “false-positives” scandal.
FACT SHEET: False positives
This “false positives” scandal is centered around the extrajudicial killings of more than 4,000 civilians by members of the armed forces who dressed their victims as guerrillas in order to present them as combat kills and thus inflate the military’s apparent effectiveness in the war against leftist rebel groups like the FARC and ELN.
The United Nations (UN) and human rights groups have consistently bashed the past and current proposals, highlighting the likelihood that it would exacerbate the problem of impunity in the prosecution of those involved in false positives cases.
The UN’s delegate in Colombia, Todd Howland, told the Senate that the proposed reform “is not consistent with Colombia’s international obligations to human rights.”
“Colombia has to decide how it is going to confront past violations of human rights and it is important to have this debate while considering how this will be done in an open and thorough manner,” Howland added.
Senator Carlos Enrique Soto of President Juan Manuel Santos’ ruling U Party and right-wing opposition Senator Ernesto Macias of the Democratic Center both tried to stop Howland from speaking during the Senate debate, according to El Pais. They were unsuccessful, as the Senate voted to allow his contribution.
So far, nearly 5,000 state agents, including members of the military and police, have been implicated in the extrajudicial executions. According to the Prosecutor General’s Office, some 742 individuals have been convicted.
This is not the first time that the Colombian government has attempted to increase the jurisdiction of military courts. It also attempted back in 2012, but was eventually thrown out by the Constitutional Court the following year.
The bill still has to be passed by the House of Representatives and be approved in four debates before the end of the congressional term in June of next year.