[JURIST] United Nations (UN) [official website] independent human rights experts on Monday urged Colombian authorities to reconsider proposed constitutional reforms affecting the military criminal law. Eleven experts, comprising the Special Procedures [official website] mandate-holders of the Human Rights Council [official website] of the UN, wrote an open letter [text] to the government of Colombia expressing their concern that the proposed reforms could prove harmful to administering justice for alleged violations of human rights [UN News Centre report] by allowing military or police institutions rather than independent investigators to be the first to determine the existence of elements of crimes:
We have noted with serious concern that the constitutional reform project would expand the jurisdiction of military or police tribunals, giving them the power to investigate, process and decide on cases of human rights violations which should be under the authority of the ordinary criminal justice system. For instance, although the current project stipulates that criminal military justice institutions will not have jurisdiction over crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and the crime of enforced disappearances, this detailed and specific listing of crimes – which would fall outside the ambit of the military justice system – allows other international human rights and humanitarian law crimes to fall under the exclusive jurisdiction of military justice.
The panel offered their services to the Colombian government to help develop measures that would advance “the fight against impunity and the achievement of peace in Colombia.” UN independent experts are appointed by the Human Rights Council in an unpaid capacity to examine and report on human rights issues.
This is not the first time the UN has called on Colombia to make reforms affecting their government and military procedures. In August UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous people James Anaya [official website] also urged [JURIST report] the government of Colombia to advance its negotiations with indigenous authorities in northern Cauca regarding the military presence in the area, as well as other pressing issues. In December 2011 the representative to Colombia for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) called for a peaceful solution [JURIST report] to the country’s ongoing armed conflict involving hostages held by paramilitary rebels. Also, in 2008, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay warned [JURIST report] that Colombia faced continuing human rights struggles, including continued hostage takings, arbitrary arrests, and extrajudicial executions by the military.