Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has announced he will submit a petition to the Constitutional Court requesting the annulment of a recent decision which found a controversial military justice reform law unconstitutional. It’s a long shot, and constitutional experts say it has almost no chance of happening.
El Tiempo reports that in a public address yesterday, Santos said his administration will argue that grounds for the ruling are questionable, and that the court has annulled its own decisions in similar situations in the past. As Colombian lawyer and human rights advocate Rodrigo Uprimny points out, the recent decision was based not on the content of the law, but on the manner in which it was approved by lawmakers. The court found that the bill was passed in a lower house committee at the same time as a full house session was scheduled, which violates Colombia’s constitution.
The administration claims that several other laws have been passed by Congress in a similar fashion, and while they were reviewed by the Constitutional Court, judges did not find fault with them. One of these is Colombia’s landmark transitional justice law, the Legal Framework for Peace, which the court approved in August.
According to legal specialists consulted by Semana, the odds that the court will grant Santos’ request are next to nothing. Former Constitutional Court Judge Jose Gregorio Hernandez told the magazine that while the constitution allows magistrates to annul prior decisions, this measure can only be used when due process is violated. Hernandez does not believe it applies in this case, and Alfredo Beltran, another former Constitutional Court justice, agrees with him.
In all likelihood, Santos knows this as well, and yesterday’s announcement is a calculated bid to appeal to the Colombian military. As La Silla Vacia noted last week, the military justice reform law was partially designed to stave off criticism of the peace process from members of the armed forces, who feared that the government would give amnesty to guerrillas while leaving them vulnerable to prosecution in civilian courts for human rights abuses.
With the law scrapped, Santos appears to be scrambling for other ways to keep the military on his side. One of these was unveiled earlier this week: a proposal which would authorize the state to foot the bill for legal costs of military personnel tried in court, which El Espectador referred to as a “Plan B” to military justice reform.
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