Thursday, August 29, 2013

Colombian Court Backs Landmark Transitional Justice Law

Colombia’s peace process overcame a major hurdle yesterday, after the country’s Constitutional Court issued a 7-2 ruling in favor of a transitional justice law meant to facilitate an end to the conflict.

Ever since it was passed in June 2012, the Legal Framework for Peace has been a tough sell. 

The legislation allows demobilized members of armed groups to hold political office, and authorizes the government to selectively prioritize the investigation and prosecution of human rights abuses. The law’s supporters, like President Juan Manuel Santos, claim this is a necessary transitional mechanism which will cement a lasting peace.

Its critics, however, say it amounts to an amnesty for FARC crimes, and is an attempt by the state to waive its constitutional obligation to investigate and punish those who violate others’ rights.

Last month, the Court began a hearing into a challenge to the law, first submitted by the Colombian Commission of Jurists (CCJ) in December. The CCJ was supported by Inspector General Alejandro Ordoñez in its opposition to the law, while the Ombudsman’s office and civil society groups like Bogota-based human rights research center Dejusticia filed arguments backing the Santos administration’s position.

It appears that the Court has sided with the law’s supporters. Yesterday seven of its nine justices backed the constitutionality of the law, and the ruling listed eight parameters to guide the law’s implementation. Among these is the provision that it “should be respectful of international commitments…regarding the obligation to investigate, prosecute and punish serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law.” According to El Tiempo, the Court also found that in order for armed actors to be eligible for alternative sentencing under the law, they have to comply with set guidelines. This includes turning in weapons, minors among their ranks and locating the bodies of their victims.

In a public address following the announcement, President Santos called the decision “a very important step,” and said the Legal Framework for Peace would help “find that middle ground between justice and peace that allows us to put an end to this conflict that has bled us for over 50 years.”

News Briefs
  • While the court’s decision is a major boost for the peace process in Colombia, the latest series of talks between FARC and government negotiators in Havana drew to a close yesterday with little to show for itself. Reuters reports that Santos’ proposal to hold a referendum on an eventual agreement overshadowed the discussion on the agenda. While the negotiating teams on both sides read statements claiming that progress was still being made, they also offered opposing takes on the referendum proposal. The FARC have rejected the initiative, and continue to insist on a constituent assembly despite the government’s refusal to agree to it.  
  • There is other, more positive news for peace in Colombia, however. A day after the National Liberation Army (ELN) released a Canadian geologist it had been holding hostage since January, Santos announced that his government was willing to widen the peace process to include the rebel group.  While Santos did not give any details of his administration’s plans for doing so, the BBC claims that Uruguayan President Jose Mujica is expected to play a role in talks with the rebels, noting that he has recently expressed a strong interest in facilitating peace in Colombia.
  • Fourteeen years after the creation of an Ombudsman’s Office, or “Defensoria del Pueblo,” in Venezuela, a group of NGOs in the country (including Provea, Espacio Publico, Civilus and others) has released a report evaluating its work for the past six years. Overall, the assessment isn’t good. Caracas Chronicles has a rundown of the report’s main criticisms, which include the fact that the current head of the office, Gabriela Ramirez, has shown no apparent interest in challenging the government, and has criticized the Inter-American human rights system on multiple occasions.
  • Two days after announcing his government had broken up an alleged assassination plot against him -- which officials claimed was linked to ex-Colombian President Alvaro Uribe -- Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has now broadened the scope of his claims, alleging that the U.S. was behind the plot. “The plan was to eliminate me simultaneously with the attack on Syria,” Maduro said, according to El Universal.
  • Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro has responded to reports that Cuba bowed to U.S. pressure to deny entry to Edward Snowden in June. While The Guardian noted that he dismissed the report as “libel,” in his original Granma column he writes that he cannot comment on “whether someone said something to Snowden or not.”
  • The Washington Post profiles recent protests in Mexco City by teachers unions opposed to President Enrique Peña Nieto’s education reform plan. In the past week some 10,000 teachers have come to the capital city to protest the measure, effectively closing down certain areas and bringing normal daily activity to a halt.
  • Honduras Culture and Politics looks at recent public opinion polls ahead of that country’s presidential elections in November. While surveys consistently put leftist LIBRE party candidate Xiomara Castro in the lead, they also show that, when given a choice of all the leading candidates, most Hondurans prefer “none of the above.” This number appears to be rising, going from 19 percent in February to over 30 percent in July.
  • On Wednesday, Panamanian officials announced that the North Korea-bound Cuban weapons shipment it intercepted last month was “without a doubt” a violation of UN sanctions, citing a preliminary report authored by UN researchers.  The announcement comes after a report released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute and 38 North found that many of the weapons on the ship -- like rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) and conventional artillery ammunition -- were actually in “mint condition,” clearly not in need of repair as Cuban officials claimed.
  • BBC Mundo highlights the debate in Brazil sparked by the arrival of thousands of Cuban doctors, which the administration of President Dilma Rousseff has contracted to meet health care needs in the neglected interior of the country. Although Rousseff dismissed the controversy as “prejudice” against Cubans, opponents of the move claim that the doctors may be unqualified, and are working in accordance with unfair labor contracts.

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