A proposed legal referendum on implementing life imprisonment for convicted child rapists failed Tuesday in Colombia’s House of Representatives, reported La Semana weekly.
With a vote of 14 in favor and 10 against, the First Commission of the House of Representatives said no to the proposed constitutional change. The referendum required 18 supporting votes to move forward.
German Navas, co-author of one of the debates in opposition, asserted that the original text was altered by the Senate, which made it unconstitutional. Navas also presented various reasons for why the measure shouldn’t be passed, saying “the problem is in the deficient criminal investigation. The most important thing is to give evidence to the judges so that they can apply the penalties.”
A supporting spokeswoman, Green Party Senator Gilma Gimenez, announced her advice to the high court was to summon the referendum directly (without going through Congress). In this case, the initiative would be required to have 1.5 million additional signatures. “The referendum will continue,” declared the senator.
Liberal Party Representative Guillermo Rivera asked for the debate to be postponed so that his party could develop a unified position. However, the commission denied the delay, and Liberal votes were divided.
Earlier in September, Colombia’s Prosecutor General Viviane Morales voiced her opposition to the referendum because she said that it would remove consistency from the Colombian judicial process.
The current legal system permits a maximum sentence for convicted child rapists of 60 years, which the public prosecutor argued is already equivalent to a life sentence for most people.
Colombia’s most notorious child rapist Luis Alfredo Garavito, alias “La Bestia” (The Beast), was sentenced to 40 years in prison for the rape and murder of 111 children between the years of 1992 and 1999, although estimates of his total number of victims have reached as high as 300. Garavito’s sentence was subsequently cut to 24 years after he cooperated with authorities over locating the bodies of some of his victims, although he does face additional charges that could result in more jail time.