Colombia was warned Thursday that expanded use of military courts may see soldiers’ crimes brought to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The military justice reform passed by congress Tuesday, which will see some human rights violations by soldiers tried in military rather than civil courts, could be seen as a “lack of will” to prosecute violations, The International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) said in a statement. If the ICC finds a lack of will to prosecute, crimes committed by Colombian soldiers during the decades-long internal conflict could be tried in The Hague.
“Military justice must be exceptional and limited to investigation and prosecution of crimes of a military nature, and can not under any circumstances [try] human rights violations, including violations of international humanitarian law,” said FIDH.
The statement also expressed concern at the role of retired military officers in deciding whether cases should be tried in military or civil courts and at the construction of special military prisons where they believe convicted soldiers might receive preferential treatment.
According to FIDH “This reform is an alarming setback for Colombian democracy, for justice and for the rights of victims, seriously affecting the ongoing peace process.”
The military justice reform has also attracted strong criticism for Human Rights Watch and other human rights organisations. The government says the expanded use of military courts will be complemented by reform to increase their independence.
The International Criminal Court operates on a “principle of complementarity” which means human rights violations should preferably be tried in the country in which they occur, but that if the country is “unable or unwilling” to prosecute, the crimes should be tried at the Hague.