Thursday, July 25, 2013

Colombia’s Historic Transitional Justice Law Under Scrutiny

The biggest test of Colombia’s peace process, aside from the talks between the government and FARC rebels in Havana, will begin today as Colombia’s Constitutional Court hears arguments about the legality of a landmark law meant to facilitate an end to the conflict.

In June 2012, Colombian lawmakers passed the Legal Framework for Peace, legislation which outlined the terms of a possible peace settlement in the country, primarily aimed at guerrilla groups. Supporters of the law, including President Juan Manuel Santos argue that the law is a necessary component of an eventual peace agreement.

In addition to allowing demobilized armed actors to hold elected office, the law allows Congress to prioritize the investigation and prosecution of certain crimes, a provision which some have  claimed amounts to an amnesty for FARC and ELN rebels. The legislation has been criticized from human rights groups, UN officials, and conservative former President Alvaro Uribe alike.

In December the law was challenged as unconstitutional by the Colombian Commission of Jurists (CCJ). Semana magazine reports that the CCJ’s argument is threefold: the state cannot legally prioritize some crimes over others, it cannot only focus on “systematic” rights abuses instead of abuses in general, and the state cannot waive its constitutional obligation to investigate and punish those who violate others’ rights.

Inspector General Alejandro Ordoñez, who has said he would rather resign than grant amnesty to guerrillas who commit abuses, is also a critic of the law. Both the CCJ and Ordoñez will argue against the constitutionality of the law in today’s hearing, although Ordoñez will first argue that the Court lacks the standing to rule on the bill, according to Semana.

La Silla Vacia provides a helpful overview of the main arguments for and against the constitutionality of the law, as well as a list of the major actors on either side. According to the news site, at the heart of the debate is the issue of whether the law is a matter of transitional justice and can override the Constitution. The Santos administration, ombudsman’s office and a number of legal experts maintain that it can, in certain cases. Bogota-based human rights research center Dejusticia argues that the framework “is not a substitute for the constitution, but restricts certain constitutional principles after weighing them in the context of a transitional justice process.”

The law has played a key role in shaping the environment for peace talks with rebels, and remains fundamental to their outcome, as FARC leaders are unlikely to agree to a deal which doesn’t appear to afford them some kind of legal protection. As a sign of its importance to the current peace process, El Espectador reports that President Santos himself is expected to present an argument in defense of the law before the court today.

News Briefs
  • In a visit to a crack cocaine addiction treatment center in Rio de Janeiro yesterday, Pope Francis took the opportunity to speak out against the growing support for drug legalization in Latin America. “A reduction in the spread and influence of drug addiction will not be achieved by a liberalization of drug use, as is currently being proposed in various parts of Latin America,” he said. Instead, the pope claimed governments should address the “underlying problems” of drug use, “educating young people in the values that build up life in society.” While many outlets have framed this as a (see the Associated Press and The Guardian, among others) response to a “softer” approach towards all drugs by former and current presidents in the region, this is inaccurate. The 2011 report of the Global Commission on Drug Policy does not call for the legalization of all drugs, but an end to the criminalization of drug users “who do no harm to others.”  Folha de Sao Paulo features the reactions of drug reform advocates to the remarks, most of whom claim that the pope falsely equated decriminalization with liberalization.
  • In an op-ed in Folha de Sao Paulo, Brazilian journalist in Igor Gielow argues that this statement on drug policy is in line with the Pope’s generally populist conservative bent. Despite his image as a reformer in the Church, Gielow claims the pontiff “essentially adopts conservative positions stated in the behavioral terms of his predecessors.”
  • Today’s New York Times features criticism of Brazil’s handling of the papal visit and the coinciding demonstrations. Buried in the middle of the story is the admission by Brazilian police officials that they are “using undercover agents to infiltrate the protests,” although they deny that authorities have incited any violence.
  • The Washington Post reports that many in Brazil are expecting Pope Francis to touch on the political grievances of Brazil’s youth, expressed in recent demonstrations in the country, this evening in a mass he will deliver on the beach of Copacabana. So far, he has steered clear of remarks which could be seen as critical of the government, the paper notes.
  • In 55 years of conflict, some 220,000 have been killed in Colombia, over 80 percent of which were non-combatants. That’s according to a report released yesterday by the government-funded Historical Memory Commission. The report found that paramilitary groups were responsible for 58 percent of the deaths, 17 percent were linked to guerrilla activity and 8 percent to security forces. The cause of the rest could not be determined. El Espectdor has an infographic breaking down the deaths, and Reuters covers the report’s main points in English.
  • The Miami Herald reports that the Panamanian government’s announced discovery of a North Korean freighter carrying allegedly Cuban military equipment came just days after South Korea announced it would be willing to explore a free trade agreement with the Central American nation.
  • At the request of petitioners backing an investigation into allegations that deceased Chilean poet Pablo Neruda was poisoned by agents of the Pinochet regime, a judge has ordered that additional DNA tests be carried out on his remains to confirm his identity, according to La Tercera.
  • The office of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has announced that he will undergo thyroid surgery next week to remove a thyroid nodule. Officials have not said whether the doctors have determined the nodule is cancerous, but according to experts consulted by the AP this would not necessarily be life threatening if this were the case.  
  • Lenin Carballido, the Mexican mayor-elect who was made  headlines earlier this month after it was revealed that he had himself legally declared dead to avoid sexual assault charges, has been arrested on charges of providing false testimony to officials, according to the BBC.
  • Writing for Forbes, Latin American political risk analyst Nathaniel Parish Flannery provides a good overview of available literature on the 1994 Zapatista uprising in Chiapas, Mexico, and the significance of the Zapatista movement in the country today. According to Flannery, “while all authors have zoomed in on Chiapas and then to varying degrees zoomed out to explain relevant national and global trends, no author has really achieved a perfect balance between the local and the national.”

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