Human Rights Watch has slammed Colombia’s newly approved military justice reform as “a setback for human rights.”
“The windows being opened to impunity are enormous,” Jose Miguel Vivanco, Latin America director of Human Rights Watch, told newspaper El Tiempo. The constitutional change, approved Tuesday by congress, will leave many human rights violations being tried by the same army that committed them.
While seven crimes, including genocide, forced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, sexual violence, and torture, will be tried by civilian courts, other crimes under international law will be tried by the military. “A long list of heinous crimes such as mutilation, serious injury, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment […] and arbitrary detention, to mention a few examples, will go directly to the military courts,” said Vivanco.
He expressed concern that some crimes supposedly excluded from military trial are not crimes under Colombian law. “Extrajudicial executions are not a crime in Colombia, nor sexual violence: neither are criminal offenses in Colombia,” he said. He suggested that while the government legislates to resolve this, arguments over the definition could leave murders committed in the “false positives scandal” being tried by military courts.
He said that the military courts have a record of maintaining “total impunity” for soldiers accused of human rights abuse. “All human rights violations by members of the Armed Forces should be [tried] at the hands of the justice system,” he said, pointing out that this is also the position of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and Colombia’s own Constitutional Court.
Local media quoted Vivanco as saying the reform was “A setback for human rights.” He went on to say “Unfortunately I think that Colombia will suffer consequences from this. [The government] owes an explanation to the country and the international community for what they have done.”
Human Rights Watch sent a letter to President Santos in October asking him not to go ahead with the reforms.