After weeks of silence, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has weighed in on the case of Bogota Mayor Gustavo Petro, announcing that he will remain neutral and respect any decision on the matter by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).
Ever since Colombia’s inspector general ordered Petro’s removal in December, Santos has said little about the case, and the few times he has addressed it have been to reassure the public that he would not interfere with constitutional checks and balances in the country. But in an interview with Caracol Noticias yesterday, the president signaled that his administration would also respect a decision on the case by the IACHR.
According to Santos, the human rights body had approached him for his opinion on Petro’s removal. “When the Inter-American Commission asked us: ‘what do you think about this particular case,’ I answered: ‘I have no opinion, I respect what you as the commission determine,’” the president said. This was confirmed by Caracol Radio, which obtained a copy of the Colombian government’s written response to an IACHR request for information on the case. In it, Colombian Deputy Foreign Minister Patty Londoño announced that the government “will not present a position or opinion” on Petro’s removal, and stressed that the country would stand by its commitment to the Inter-American human rights system.
Meanwhile, Petro’s removal has been temporarily suspended by a local court in Cundinamarca province, which has halted the proceeding until its constitutionality can be assessed. This has bought Petro some time, but the likelihood of successfully challenging the order in court is unclear.
For this reason, Petro’s defense team is still pushing for the Inter-American Commission to order precautionary measures from the state on his behalf to protect his right to political participation. Rafael Barrios, a lawyer for Petro, is set to meet with the commission today in Washington to argue the mayor’s case. Barrios also told reporters that he expects the IACHR to make a decision on precautionary measures this week, and he is hopeful that it will side with the Bogota mayor.
Others are less certain. In a column for Razon Publica, Nelson Camilo Sanchez of the Bogota-based research center Dejusticia lists the conditions that must be met in order for the commission to back the mayor. For precautionary measures to be ordered, Petro’s defense must prove that: 1.) a human right is at risk, 2.) the threat is imminent, 3.) the possibility of the right’s violation is serious, and 4.) that the right could not be remedied after the fact. This in itself is a tall order, and even if the commission orders the mayor’s removal to be put on hold, Sanchez points out that Petro’s political future would likely remain in limbo for years. The commission would have to rule on a direct petition by Petro, and potentially pass the case up to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Because the Commission has a long list of cases on its plate, this would likely take place after the mayor’s term is set to end in 2016.
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