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Colombia high court rules peace law constitutional

The Colombian Constitutional Court [official website, in Spanish] ruled [press release, PDF] 7-2 Wednesday that a law providing reduced penalties for rebels who confess crimes related to their membership in illegal armed groups is constitutional. The bill, known as the "Legal Framework for Peace," was challenged by rights activists who claimed that by granting judicial pardons to rebels, it is "contrary to the State's duty to investigate and punish crimes, especially main violations of human rights" and that its measures to satisfy victim's rights are inadequate. In its reasoning, the court analyzed the bill's balance between the pursuit of peace and the rights of victims. In a press release, the court said, "Therefore, the State had the authority to provide reasonable transitional instruments, justified and proportionate, even limiting other constitutional guarantees, in order to achieve peace." The decision was announced the same evening that Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos [official profile, in Spanish] announced his government's readiness to begin peace talks with the National Liberation Army (ELN) [BBC backgrounder], the country's second largest left-wing rebel group.

In July Santos intervened [press release, in Spanish] in the public hearing of the Constitutional Court to defend the Framework for Peace [JURIST report], a proposed constitutional amendment that brought about peace talks with the FARC [BBC backgrounder] and ELN. The country has been plagued by an internal war with these rebel groups for the past five decades, and the president defended the amendment as the best chance for peace. Rights groups, including the Colombian Commission of Jurists (CCJ) [advocacy website], challenged the amendment because it vests the parliament with the discretion to decide which acts of war are applicable to the justice system.

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