New proposals to reform Colombian military justice have been announced, following the withdrawal of previous plans critics said would “guarantee impunity” for human rights abuses.
Soldiers accused of genocide, rape and forced disappearance will be tried by civilian courts, a reversal of the former policy proposal which would have ensured soldiers only ever faced military jurisdiction, no matter what their crimes.
The government will also be responsible for financing the defense of security force members facing trial, in both civilian and military courts. Announcing the measures before Colombia’s House of Representatives, Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon said previous policies had failed to recognize “the fundamental right to defense of members of the Armed Forces, who the state puts in a special situation of legitimately carrying and using arms for the respect and guarantee of Colombians.”
The new measures would maintain the division between civilian and military justice and clarify “gray” areas, said the minister, such as the ambiguous status of the police force in the legal system.
The new bill was “not intended to institute any sort of impunity,” Pinzon insisted, adding that it was “good” for members of the security forces.
He appeared in the House alongside high-ranking members of the security forces and senior figures from the Liberal, U and Green parties, promoting a unified image after previous military justice reform plans came under heavy scrutiny.
A initial reform package was withdrawn by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos in Febuary amid outrage at the proposal that all crimes committed during military operations would be considered related to service and therefore dealt with in a military court.
In December Human Rights Watch said the proposal would “guarantee military impunity,” and directly contradict internationally-accepted norms on what should fall under civilian and military jurisdiction.
Colombia’s military justice system had long failed to hold perpetrators of human rights violations accountable, it said, highlighting the lack of convictions against those responsible for “false positives” — a term used to describe soldiers murdering civilians then dressing them in guerrilla clothing to inflate their kill rate.
Until mid-2011, Colombia’s Prosecutor General had investigated 1,575 reports of killings attributed to the security forces, and had issued more than 149 convictions to 344 soldiers.