A proposal to bring military jurisdiction back into Colombia’s justice reform package was defeated in a Senate vote Wednesday.
The U Party and Conservatives wanted to bring back an article into the reform package that would massively expand military tribunals and see all crimes committed by soldiers on duty taken out of civilian courts.
But the Senate threw out the proposal, which was strongly supported by former President Alvaro Uribe, with a of majority of 11 to 7 .
The justice system reform bill did initially include plans to bring all crimes committed during military service under the jurisdiction of military courts, but President Juan Manuel Santos withdrew this article in February, after it prompted a furore from human rights organizations.
New York-based Human Rights Watch said the proposal would “virtually guarantee impunity” for human rights abuses. Colombia’s military justice system had long failed to hold perpetrators of human rights violations accountable, it said, highlighting the lack of convictions against those responsible for “false positives” — a term used to describe soldiers murdering civilians then reporting them as guerrilla deaths to inflate their kill rate.
Several senators issued their support for another military justice reform bill which is being presented in the House of Representatives. Soldiers accused of genocide, rape and forced disappearance will be tried by civilian courts, and the government will pay for soldiers’ defense, under plans announced by Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon last month.
The article thrown out Wednesday sought to revisit the issue of military jurisdiction, and was backed by former President Alvaro Uribe. “The guarantee for soldiers is that the military justice system has initial knowledge of the facts [of a crime] and that it will decide on whether to transfer to the regular courts” said Uribe.
There are currently 16,000 Colombian soldiers facing criminal charges, according to Senator Juan Carlos Velez.
Until mid-2011, Colombia’s Prosecutor General had investigated 1,575 reports of killings attributed to the security forces, and had issued more than 149 convictions to 344 soldiers.