[JURIST] Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] on Monday criticized [press release] proposed constitutional amendments put forth by Colombian President Alvaro Uribe [official profile, in Spanish; BBC profile] that would strip the country's High Court [official backgrounder] of the authority to investigate sitting legislators for alleged relationships with right-wing paramilitaries [Washington Post report]. The amendments would require that cases against current members of Congress first go to a local Bogota court and would limit the Supreme Court to hearing appeals. HRW accused Uribe of pushing the legislation to help political allies who have been accused of collaboration with paramilitary groups:
The politicians imprisoned as a result of investigations initiated by the Supreme Court include Senator Mario Uribe, a cousin of the president and one of his closest political allies for many years. They also include Senator Carlos García, the president of Uribes party, la U, whose arrest the court ordered on July 25, 2008. As a result of the investigations, Uribe and various cabinet members have repeatedly launched attacks against the Supreme Court, making questionable accusations and even calling justices on the phone to inquire about pending cases.Uribe has argued that the amendments would prevent defendants from being tried by the same body which conducted the investigation against them. HRW acknowledged that these functions should be separate but remained skeptical that the amendments were the proper way to effect this change.
Uribe has frequently clashed with the courts, particularly in matters concerning the country's long feud with right-wing anti-government paramilitaries. In May 2007, the Colombian high court ordered the arrest [JURIST report] of five congressmen for alleged ties to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) [CDI backgrounder]. All of the political representatives were supporters of Uribe. Uribe said that any ties to paramilitary forces will not be tolerated, saying that members of government will be removed from office if it seems they have links to paramilitaries. In March 2007, a Colombian judge ordered the release [JURIST report] of ex-intelligence chief Jorge Noguera [CIP backgrounder] because no formal charges had been made against him. Noguera, who was arrested earlier that month, is accused of murder and conspiracy for allegedly contracting with illegal paramilitary groups [JURIST reports]. In May, the Constitutional Court [official backgrounder] threw out a part of the controversial 2005 Justice and Peace Law [JURIST reports] approved by Uribe, which gave lesser punishments to paramilitary leaders who voluntarily disarm.