Posted by: Paula Delgado-Kling | January 12, 2012

Human Rights Watch: no to military jurisdiction to judge military crimes

Human Rights Watch criticized—and rightly so—the government’s initiative to push legislation which would allow military judges to decide if cases of human rights abuses should be tried by civilian courts. This would mean the military justice system would automatically assume jurisdiction over cases of torture and rape against civilians committed by security forces during operations. It would also return to military jurisdiction the cases of “false positives,” cases in which the military killed and presented civilian victims as rebel casualties.

The chief prosecutor’s office has received complaints of 2,700 “false positive” killings, the vast majority during the 2002-10 presidency of Alvaro Uribe. So far, 368 soldiers and police officers have been convicted in those killings, and an additional 700 security force members face charges, according to the chief prosecutor’s office.

José Miguel Vivanco of Human Rights Watch wrote, “Not only have military justice authorities failed to deliver justice for these cases, but they have also reportedly closed files without conducting a proper investigation into the allegations.”

Vivanco cited the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ 2010 report on Colombia, which stated that, “Information received indicates that the transfer and dismissal of some military judges may be related to their collaboration with the ordinary system.”

Lower house president Simon Gaviria, one of President Santos’s main spokesmen, told reporters  the government is not seeking to shield security forces from punishment for abuses. Gaviria is a member of the Liberal Party, which is part of Santos’ governing coalition.

Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon said the bill would provide a “more clear” legal framework for security forces fighting gangs, drug traffickers and guerrillas and would not lead to impunity for soldiers.

The statements made by Gaviria and Pinzon make no sense. Unless, they are paving the way for something akin to Tolemaida, the military prison which has been turned into a resort.

Back in October, President Santos himself acknowledged Colombia’s Achilles heel is the administration of justice. Back in October, the news was impunity levels were running at some 90 percent.

Vivanco suggested such legislation was an invitation to the International Criminal Court to come to Colombia. Bienvenidos, ICC.

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