Human Rights Watch on Thursday sent a letter to Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos slamming a proposed constitutional amendment “to expand the scope of military jurisdiction.”
The group said the amendment “would virtually guarantee impunity for military atrocities,” and would make Colombia “fail to comply with human rights conditions for U.S. military aid.”
The amendment “would result in serious human rights violations by the military – including extrajudicial executions, torture, and rape – being investigated and tried by the military justice system, in direct conflict with the jurisprudence of Colombia’s high courts and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights,” said the letter.
The human rights group wrote that Santos’ government is attempting to justify the amendment by saying that it remedies the military’s “legal insecurity,” which is caused by unfounded prosecutions of the military by civilian authorities. Human Rights Watch has said the government has failed to provide any evidence to support this claim. The government has also said that the military justice system would be quicker than the civilian route, but the human rights group also disputes this claim.
The amendment would allow “military courts to ‘exclusively handle’ all violations of international humanitarian law by the security forces, except for crimes against humanity, genocide and forced disappearance,” but including extrajudicial executions, torture and rape, according to the letter. This, said Human Rights Watch “would virtually guarantee impunity.”
This would lead to “false positives” cases currently under investigation or at trial being transferred to military jurisdiction. False positives is the term given to the scandal centered around the extrajudicial killings of almost 3,000 civilians by members of the security forces who dressed their victims as FARC members and claimed them as casualties of the armed conflict. Over 4,000 military personnel were implicated in the killings.
“Colombia’s military justice system lacks the necessary independence impartiality – and therefore credibility – to hold the military accountable for its abuses,” wrote the human rights group.
“Colombia’s military is not afflicted with legal insecurity,” ends the letter which suggests the Ministry of Defense should “review its training programs” to reduce military members’ fear of prosecution for lawfully killing combatants.
The UN has also expressed their concern that the proposed modifications, which pertain to articles 116, 152 and 221 of Colombia’s Constitution in regard to military criminal law, would give too much power to the military in investigating and ruling on human rights related crimes.