Following the signing of the decree, Santos took to the airwaves to explain that the removal of the mayor of the country’s capital was consistent with all Colombian laws and that international law defending citizens’ rights to elect and be elected did not apply.
With his decision, Santos ignored a clear ruling issued earlier on Wednesday by the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (IACHR), ordering the Colombian government to keep Petro in office or break international law.
The IACHR is the highest human rights court in the Americas.
Bogota trash collection
Petro was initially impeached by the Inspector General’s Office over attempts to bring the capital’s trash collection under government control. The measure resulted in three days of accumulated garbage in 2012.
The Inspector General’s ruling is controversial as at least two different courts said Petro had broken no law.
The now-former mayor himself called his dismissal politically motivated and “arbitrary”.
However, according to the president, “the Colombian justice system has acted in a transparent, efficient and timely manner.”
“The Colombian government understands the importance of and defends the inter-American human rights system,” said Santos.
However, “I consider its role complementary and alternative, meaning that it should only operate in the event of a malfunction or failure of the internal system.”
According to Santos, the Colombian authorities operated successfully and in accordance with the country’s own laws, and he consequently “does not accept the request for precautionary measures” imposed by the IACHR.
Santos went on to announce Labor Minister Rafael Pardo as the second non-elected mayor of the capital in four years.
Santos lied: Petro
Immediately after being notified of his impeachment, Petro took to the balcony of the mayoral palace to speak before gathered supports.
The leftist former mayor said that his impeachment was a “coup” bought with the “blood and money from cocaine” before adding that President Santos had “lied” about respecting the IACHR’s precautionary measures.
“The president publicly and privately promised … that if the precautionary measures came out positive, he would respect them,” said Petro.
Petro went on to call Pardo an “imposter,” reported newspaper El Tiempo.
IACHR crystal clear in support for Petro
Earlier Wednesday, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) issued an injunction warning Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos against signing the decree.
It is not clear what path — if any — the IACHR will take to enforce its protection measures for the now-former Bogota Mayor Gustavo Petro.
The IACHR sent a clear message to the Colombian Constitutional Court and Santos on its stance regarding the status of Bogota’s mayoral office.
“The commission orders that Colombia immediately suspend the effects of the decision of December 9 2013, emitted and ratified by the Inspector General’s office January 13, 2014, 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,” said the IACHR in a communication released Tuesday.
Prior to this announcement, Colombia’s State Council rejected the final set of appeals made by the former guerrilla turned politician, ultimately ruling in favor of the decision of Inspector General Alejandro Ordoñez to have Petro removed from his elected position and face a 15 year ban from serving public office.
Colombia’s OAS seat at risk
Now that Santos has decided to ignore the IACHR, Colombia’s membership in its parent organization, the Organization of American States, could be in serious jeopardy.
As described by former Constitutional Court magistrate Alfredo Beltran, “The Constitutional Court says that when precautionary measures by the IACHR, or provisional measures by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights are dictated in order to protect a fundamental right, these decrees are obligatory for all [member] states.”
“They’re not mere suggestions or requests that might or might not be fulfilled. They have a binding force,” Beltran concluded.
In December 2013, Inspector General Ordoñez ordered the dismissal of Petro from the second most important elected position in Colombia due to “irregularities” while reforming the capital city’s garbage collection system in 2012. During Petro’s attempt to change the municipal waste management system from a privately contracted service to a public one, 9,920 tons of uncollected garbage were allegedly left on the streets. This prompted Ordoñez to remove Petro from office and ban him from serving public office for 15 years.
- Declaración del Presidente Juan Manuel Santos sobre Alcaldía de Bogotá (President of the Republic)
- El Alcalde de Bogotá sale de su cargo y habrá elecciones (El Tiempo)
- ‘El presidente mintió’, dice Gustavo Petro (El Tiempo)