Colombia’s representatives on Monday walked out of a meeting of the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights discussing political rights in Colombia, barely a week after the state ignored a precautionary measure by the same international body against the dismissal of former Bogota Mayor Gustavo Petro.
With the sacking of former mayor Petro still fresh in the minds of all Colombians, the state government decided not to comment on political rights at the IACHR meeting due to the “appeal by Mr. Gustavo Petro [to the IACHR],” commented Adriana Guillen, director of Colombia’s National Agency for Juridical Defense.
The meeting was meant to discuss the general issue of political rights in Colombia, which have been brought into the spotlight since Petro’s dismissal process began last December following a decision by the Inspector General’s Office.
Nevertheless, Colombia’s government representatives abandoned the conversations as they feared anything they might say could compromise their defense in the case currently being considered IACHR regarding Petro.
“We consider that any juridical conditions expressed by the state, in any general way, may directly affect the case [of Petro in the IACHR],” stated Guillen shortly before she and the other Colombian representatives walked out of the room.
This left the IACHR disappointed, with two of its members — Tracy Robinson and Felipe Gonzalez – insisting that the meeting did not aim to focus on Petro’s case, which was not specifically mentioned by any of the participating organizations.
How did Colombia and Petro get to the IACHR?
Last Wednesday saw the conclusive sacking of former Bogota mayor Petro by the Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos himself.
The final decision followed months of legal and political battles, all initiated by the announcement of Petro’s dismissal on December 9 last year by Inspector General Alejandro Ordoñez, supposedly in response to the former mayor’s failed reform to the capital city’s waste collection service.
The move by President Santos directly disregarded a measure issued by the IACHR, which demanded that “Colombia immediately suspend the effects of the decision of December 9 2013 … in order to guarantee the exercise of political rights of Mr. Gustavo Francisco Petro Urrego and allow him to complete the period of time, for which he was elected to serve as the mayor of Bogota on October 30 2011.”
The issue of “the exercise of political rights” has been one of the most defining ones in Petro’s increasingly challenging fight to remain in office.
The reason being mainly the conflicting legislation of the Colombian Constitution – which allows the Inspector General to dismiss any public official they see fit – and the Inter-American convention, which Colombia is legally obliged to abide by, and which only allows the dismissal of a publically elected official following a court hearing.
Apart from the verdict of the IACHR, which ultimately proved to be worthless in preventing his ousting by the IG and Santos, his most promising recourse had been the hundreds of writs of protection submitted by his fellow Colombians — appeals that any citizen can use to claim protection of their fundamental rights, and which must be reviewed by a judge within 10 days.
These mainly decried the alleged violation of both Petro’s fundamental right to be elected, and the right of the public to elect its own officials. The writs successfully delaying the dismissal process until the last of these were rejected in one crucial blow by the State Council on March 18.