Colombia’s far-right ruling party on Tuesday proposed a bill that would allow all politicians convicted since 1976 to appeal their guilty verdicts.
The so-called Andres Felipe Arias bill is the latest attempt of former President Alvaro Uribe to seek the release of his former agriculture minister, who was sentenced to 17 years in prison by the Supreme Court in 2014 for embezzling $25 million, but fled to the US claiming he was the victim of political persecution.
Uribe announced the new bill after US courts denied Arias’ political asylum claim and the state department deported him back to Colombia.
The final proposal surprised because it differs from the Constitutional Court’s advice to allow appeals dating back to 1991, the year Colombia’s current constitution and justice system came into force.
According to local media, some 250 politicians were convicted by the court since then.
Uribe’s far-right Democratic Center (CD) party wants the Supreme Court to accept appeals dating back to 1976 when the UN’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights took force.
It is unclear how many politicians were convicted over the past 42 years.
Why a law to only benefit convicted politicians?
Privileged members of society like ministers, congressmen and magistrates can only be tried by the Supreme Court, which originally had no appeals chamber.
The high court introduced the chamber last year at the recommendation of the UN Human Rights Council that said that also privileged convicts must have the fundamental right to appeal.
This spurred concerns that the new chamber could collapse if many of the convicted politicians were to appeal their sentences.
CD House Representative Juan David Velez proposed to create a provisional “decongestion chamber” that would prevent this, while trying the politicians who decide to use their right to appeal.
Here come the riders
The tricky part of the proposal is that the three proposed judges for this provisional chamber would be proposed by President Ivan Duque, Uribe’s loyal protege.
The Supreme Court removed a magistrate from a witness tampering trial against Uribe after finding out she used to work for the former president’s defense attorney.
Many lawmakers have said they want to follow the Constitutional Court’s advise and retroactively allow politicians their right to appeal, but the proposal to create a new chamber and allow cases as old as 42 years could trigger opposition.
Furthermore, one article called for the suspension of sentences while the appeal cases are pending. Uribe quickly said he would remove this article from the proposal.
Additionally, newspaper El Espectador reported, judicial experts have warned that the reopening of closed cases could allow defendants could argue they may not be tried for the same crime twice, which would be a violation of another fundamental right.
But the uribistas don’t care. After Arias fled the country and they falsely claimed the disgraced minister was the victim of political persecution, it has become clear that Uribe will not let this one go.