Stripped of the second most powerful elected office in the country first by Colombia’s inspector general and later by presidential decree following a lengthy appeals process, Petro has been surrounded by political debate and legal controversy.
Now it falls to the country’s State Council to review whether Petro, replaced in March by President Juan Manuel Santos against the orders of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, will be reinstated as the former mayor of Colombia’s capital city and what obligations the country as a whole has to international mandates. Both cases are expected to be settled before the end of the month.
Petro’s Last Stand
First, the State Council, one of Colombia’s four high courts, will hear Petro’s request to review his dismissal from office.
The court, which has already turned down the more than 300 writs of protection filed on of Petro’s behalf, has agreed to look into the case one last time and will be accepting testimony from Inspector General Alejandro Ordoñez, the official who originally ordered Petro’s dismissal. Ordoñez will have five working days to respond to questions posed by high court magistrate Gerardo Arenas.
“Listening to both sides guarantees the right to due process, defense and equality of the parties…it is necessary to listen to not only the plaintiff but also to the entity which enforced the sanction,” stated Arenas on Thursday.
This decision will determine whether or not Petro should be reinstated as mayor, and President Juan Manuel Santos said earlier this week that if a court told him to reinstate the former guerrilla-turned politician, he would gladly do so.
While Semana magazine called this “A New Hope” for Petro, the Inspector General’s Office has already conducted an internal investigation earlier this year coming down against the former mayor, and all of Petro’s previous legal suits have been turned down by the State Council.
The “Precautionary Measures” Fiasco
The second debate that has arisen concerns the “precautionary measures” mandated primarily by the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) prior to Petro’s eventual dismissal, carried out via presidential decree.
The controversy concerns whether or not such measures are “linked to Colombian law” or “obligatory,” as discussed by the President of the Constitutional Court, Luis Vargas.
In short, the Constitutional Court believes that precautionary measures mandated by the IACHR should be “obeyed,” as international law, by definition, supersedes even the Colombian Constitution. Colombia, as a member of the Organization of American States (OAS), is required by its own volition to respect the IACHR’s decisions.
The inspector general, among others, strongly disagrees, and the dispute centers around the definition of “political rights” and their priority over the similarly nebulous “fundamental rights,” or rights of “personal integrity.” The IACHR bans the dismissal of democratically elected officials in the absence of a criminal conviction, whereas the Colombian Constitution vests that power in the Inspector General’s Office.
The catalyst for the debate began one day after the State Council had initially rejected Petro’s appeals, when the IACHR imposed a precautionary measure suspending Ordoñez’s original decision to remove the ex-mayor from office. President Santos then chose to ignore the IACHR’s order, siding with the Colombian court and brushing off the IACHR’s role in Colombia’s judicial system as “complementary and alternative” and therefore not binding.
This week, however, Constitutional Court President Vargas came out in support of the IACHR’s authority, saying that Santos should obey the international body. Although he later walked back his statement, saying that he was not speaking specifically about the case of Bogota’s former mayor but rather in “academic” terms, Vargas’ sentiment could have implications if Petro’s case eventually came before his court.
The president of the State Council said that the precautionary measures question will be dealt with after the first State Council decision, at the end of April, which also falls under the leadership of Justice Gerardo Arenas.
May, then, will perhaps bring closure to Petro saga, which has been ongoing since last December. The former mayor was initially dismissed by Inspector General Ordoñez due to “irregularities” in reforming Bogota’s garbage collection system in 2012.
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