Thursday, June 13, 2013

Colombian Senate Passes Controversial Military Justice Reform

Colombian lawmakers have passed most of a bill which will reform the country’s military justice system after months of debate, and while it has been amended to reflect concerns by human rights groups, it still may have alarming implications for impunity.

Yesterday, the Colombian Senate held a final round of debate on the bill, which would see members of the security forces accused of abuses tried by military tribunals rather than civilian courts. Semana reports that it was passed yesterday evening, and that the Senate version takes into account many of the concerns by rights groups. Unlike previous versions, the bill now includes specific provisions for extrajudicial executions, recognizing them as a crime under the law that must be prosecuted in court. Not doing so was one of the main criticisms of civil society groups, which feared the law would endanger investigations into the so-called “false positive” scandal.

According to El Tiempo, lawmakers in the lower house voted in the early hours of the morning to pass 57 out of the bill’s 100 articles after an extended overnight debate. The rest will likely be approved on Monday. The paper notes that one of the main debates has been oversight of military judges. While the Senate bill mandates that judges be monitored by the Public Ministry (and by extension the executive branch), representatives in the House have called for this role to be filled by the judiciary branch.

Despite the edits made to the bill, both international and domestic human rights groups have remained critical of its underlying premise: that the civilian court system in Colombia is somehow unqualified to rule over cases of abuse by security forces. As Rodrigo Uprimny Yepes, director of the Bogota-based human rights research center Dejusticia, has pointed out: “The truth is that judges with specialized training and knowledge are fit to try doctors and bankers. Why then could they not judge atrocities committed by the military and police?”

International groups have echoed this criticism. Human Rights Watch sent a letter to President Juan Manuel Santos in October saying the bill “would virtually guarantee impunity for military atrocities,” and Amnesty International denounced the measure to Colombian press yesterday, claiming that if passed in the House it would prove that Colombia has no “genuine will to investigate and condemn crimes under international law.”

News Briefs
  • News site La Silla Vacia has more on the military justice reform bill, noting an important paradox: “If the peace process succeeds as the government wishes, then there won’t be any more rebels left to fight.”  Thus the arguments about the law’s necessity for military readiness are suspect, and it seems more geared toward freeing up the military to make a final push against FARC rebels to force their hand in negotiations.  
  • Associated Press journalist Alberto Arce, who has provided some of the most significant coverage on police corruption in Honduras in recent months, has written a new piece on the failures of police cleanup efforts in the country. According to a U.S. document provided to the AP journalist, nearly 40 percent of officers who have gone through vetting processes like lie detector tests and background checks have failed them, while only seven members of the 11,000-member force have been dismissed. Local human rights groups say that the government is either unwilling or unable to tackle the issue because police are a well-organized political force.
  • Ecuador’s National Assembly is expected to vote today on a bill to reform the mining sector, which according to the government is necessary to benefit local communities most affected by the projects and minimize conflict. The Deputy Minister of Mining, Richard Vera, told local press on Tuesday that the bill will keep 60 percent of royalty payments in the communities where mining projects are carried out.
  • Despite increasingly popular claims about Mexico developing into a “middle class society,”  recently-released data from the country’s official statistics agency suggests otherwise. According to a National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI) analysis released yesterday, nearly 60 percent of Mexico's population is considered to be “lower class” in 2010. INEGI researchers found that the country’s middle class grew by 4 percentage points in the preceding decade, to 40 percent. Animal Politico has more on the study’s specifics of INEGI’s definition of middle class, and features some interesting graphics on class structure in Mexico.
  • The L.A. Times looks at the corruption investigation into former PRI governor of Tobasco state Andres Granier, who left office in December. A recording of him bragging about having hundreds of expensive suits and shopping at “the best of Los Angeles”  has fueled public anger at him for allegations that he embezzled state money, and his case is seen as a test of President Enrique Peña Nieto’s will to go after corrupt members of his own party.
  • Writing for Americas Quarterly, Nic Wirtz offers an overview of the other issues discussed in last week’s OAS General Assembly in Guatemala. Although no sweeping consensus on drug policy emerged, a number of other important advances in hemispheric issues were made, and the drug debate will likely continue in the coming months.
  • The AP reports on doubts regarding crime and insecurity in Brazil ahead of a visit from the Pope in July, next year's World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. Despite the advancements made by police in reducing violent crime in recent years, event organizers and participants remain concerned about safety.
  • Former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt has left the military hospital where he had been receiving treatment after being convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity last month. He has returned home to house arrest, and will await a new trial after the conviction was overturned.
  • The Center for Democracy in the Americas has released a very helpful chronology of the historic gang truce in El Salvador, highlighting its developments and achievements in reducing violence since it was first announced in March 2012. As the CDA notes in their press release, “the truce in itself is not the solution, but it has transformed the conversation from repression to prevention and rehabilitation.”

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