Just when Colombia believed that the political career of Bogota’s mayor Gustavo Petro was over, an international court on Wednesday ordered Colombia’s national authorities to keep the dismissed mayor in office until the end of his term.
Near midnight late Tuesday night, the Washington DC headquartered Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (IACHR), which has been a distant player in this ongoing mayoral ordeal for some time, rushed to Petro’s aid following a high court announcement allowing his dismissal from office.
“The commission orders that Colombia immediately suspend the effects of the decision of December 9 2013, emitted and ratified by the Inspector General’s office January 13, 2014, in order to guarantee the exercise of political rights of Mr. Gustavo Francisco Petro Urrego and allow him to complete the period of time, for which he was elected to serve as the mayor of Bogota on October 30 2011,” said the IACHR in a communication released last night.
Prior to this announcement, Colombia’s State Council rejected the final set of appeals made by the former guerrilla turned politician, ultimately ruling in favor of the decision of Inspector General Alejandro Ordoñez to have Petro removed from his elected position and face a 15 year ban from serving public office.
MORE: The end of Petro: Bogota’s Mayor to leave office
Petro went to the IACHR this past December prior to the ruling against him to preempt what he believed would be an infraction on his rights.
“After analyzing the allegations of the facts and of rights” presented by the mayor’s lawyers, the commission concluded that “the political rights of Mr. Gustavo Francisco Petro Urrego… would be found in a grave and urgent situation,” according to Semana magazine.
Now that the stars have aligned with the courts ruling against Petro but the IACHR backing his cause, Colombia turns to its head of state Juan Manuel Santos to make the final decision.
President Santos is responsible for both the tasks of executing the dismissal of Petro as ordered by the courts (and subsequently holding a special election to replace him) and also choosing to obey or reject the request from the IACHR; all which means that this story is not over yet.
Of course the natural question is what jurisdiction does the IACHR have over Colombia’s constitution and courts, both with affirm that the Inspector General has the power to unseat Petro.
Here there is a fundamental contradiction within Colombia’s constitution, which leaves room for argument over which takes priority.
While Article 4 of the Constitution sets itself out as the “supreme law,” further down, Article 93 reads that “International treaties … that recognize human rights … have priority domestically.”
MORE: Petro vs. Colombia — can international bodies save Bogota’s mayor?
If Santos chooses to ignore the IACHR, this could seriously jeopardize the membership of Colombia in the parent organization, the Organization of American States.
As described by former Constitutional Court magistrate Alfredo Beltran in the above article , “The Constitutional Court says that when precautionary measures by the IACHR, or provisional measures by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights are dictated in order to protect a fundamental right, these are obligatory for all [member] states.”
“They’re not mere suggestions or requests that might or might not be fulfilled. They have a binding force,” Beltran concluded.
In December 2013, Inspector General Ordoñez ordered the dismissal of Petro from the second most important elected position in Colombia due to “irregularities” while reforming the capital city’s garbage collection system in 2012. In trying to change the system to a public one from a privately contracted service, allegedly 9,920 tons of uncollected garbage were left on the streets. This prompted Ordoñez to announce his decision to remove Petro from office and ban him from serving public office for 15 years.
MORE: Colombia’s Inspector General dismisses Bogota mayor over trash collecting scandal
Five months and several people and bodies claiming the final word in the matter later, and Petro still hangs on to his position by a thread.
Though the IACHR’s final intervention is no doubt a victory for the mayor: “Tomorrow at four in the afternoon, I hope that all of Bogota’s citizens celebrate this democratic triumph. Colombia is going to change,” read Petro’s twitter account Wednesday morning.
Mañana a las cuatro de la tarde espero a toda la ciudadanía bogotana a festejar este triunfo democrático. Colombia va a cambiar.
— Gustavo Petro (@petrogustavo) March 19, 2014