Ex-president Alvaro Uribe blames Human Rights Watch for the Colombian government’s rejection of a military prosecution reform bill.
The reform bill initially proposed that all acts, including human rights violations, committed during military operations are presumed to be related to service and would be tried in military courts.
Following criticism from Human Rights Watch and others, the Colombian government withdrew the controversial clause, leaving human rights violations committed by the armed forces under the jurisdiction of civilian courts.
Uribe criticised the government’s decision on Twitter saying, “Why has Human Rights Watch imposed the decision to reject military courts? And what of the autonomy and defense of the soldiers?”
The ex-president directly addressed the Human Right Watch’s Americas Division Director Jose Miguel Vivanco saying, “What a shame that Vivanco of Human Rights Watch imposes the withdrawal of military courts.”
In defense of the bill Uribe said, “The constitution normally allows for reasonable changes, why reject this?”
Last December Vivanco said in an open letter to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, “This article (…) directly violates jurisprudence by Colombia’s high courts and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, as well the views espoused by other relevant human rights bodies. (…) And by virtually guaranteeing impunity for human rights violations, [the justice system reform bill] could ultimately expose Colombia to investigations by the International Criminal Court.”
Santos announced his administration’s withdrawal of the bill last week. The Santos government proposes an alternative reform bill which they say will strengthen military prosecution.
Uribe removed the jurisdiction over human rights violations from the military tribunals after a scandal broke revealing that the Colombian army had killed approximately 3,000 civilians and dressed them up as guerrillas to report them as combat kills; the practice know as “false positives.” The military courts came under criticism for absolving almost all cases regarding military human rights violations.
Following Uribe’s comments, Colombia’s Minister of Justice Juan Carlos Esguerra rejected the implication that Human Right Watch had influenced the governments withdrawal of the reform bill, said local media Thursday.
Esguerra said, “All the things said by Human Rights Watch were heard by the Government, and taken into consideration along with other criticisms from other groups . . . but to ask if the [withdrawal] was a reaction to one group in particular the answer is ‘no’.”