A proposed amendment to Colombia’s constitution, known as the “Legal Framework for Peace,” has garnered criticism from NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) for allowing “impunity for heinous human rights violations committed by guerrillas, paramilitaries and the military.”
The reform to article 122 of the Political Constitution, which was proposed in September, would allow for demobilized paramilitaries and guerrillas to run for election and stand for political office.
Under the new proposals, prosecution would be relegated to only those “most responsible” for human rights atrocities, meaning “other stakeholders who are involved directly in the planning, execution and concealment of these crimes but who are not considered among the ‘top officials’ could avoid trial,” according to a letter from U.S.-based HRW to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and other leading officials.
Jose Miguel Vivanco, director of HRW’s Americas division, warned of a potential investigation into the amendment by the International Criminal Court (ICC) if Colombia decides not to prosecute crimes that violate the standards of international law. Under ICC law, all those deemed responsible for serious crimes should be prosecuted, and the ICC could potentially investigate suspects that a state is unable or unwilling to bring to trial.
The proposed reform would also allow for Colombian courts to suspend the sentence of anyone convicted of human rights violations or war crimes. Vivanco critisized the proposed change for its failure to clearly identify under what circumstances a sentence could be suspended.
The proposed constitutional amendment is part of a move by the Santos administration to reform the widely discredited Justice and Peace law of 2006 which was aimed at facilitating the demobilization of the paramilitary group, the AUC.
An initial reform package was withdrawn by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos in Febuary amid outrage at a proposal that all crimes committed during military operations would be considered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.