Colombia government amends legislation to limit military court power

Colombia government amends legislation to limit military court power

[JURIST] The Colombian government on Tuesday modified proposed legislation that would have allowed an expansion of the military courts’ jurisdiction and power. President Juan Manuel Santos [official website, in Spanish] introduced Senate Bill 85 of 2013 to strengthen the military justice system after Colombia’s “false positive” scandal, where army officers tried to present civilians as guerrillas killed in combat to inflate body counts and earn bonuses. Critics of the bill argued that its language was unclear and would allow killings to be tried in the military courts, which have a history of ruling leniently on rights abuses. The bill emerged from committee [AP report] Tuesday with the ambiguous language removed, ensuring all human rights abuses will remain in the jurisdiction of civilian court. Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] praised the decision, as it was one of the most outspoken advocacy groups criticizing the unmodified bill [press release].

In October the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights [official website] urged Colombia [JURIST report] to reconsider adopting Senate Bill 85 of 2013 in its original form, because it would have extended military courts jurisdiction to cover homicide, breaches of international humanitarian law and crimes against public security. In 2013 the Constitutional Court of Colombia [official website] declared [JURIST report] similar legislation expanding the military justice system was unconstitutional based on “procedural defects” within the law. The measure would have placed violations of international human rights law involving the armed forces—categorizing them as acts related to military service—under the jurisdiction of an expanded military justice system.