Colombia to Invite HRW to Debate on Military Jurisdiction

By Dialogo
January 27, 2012

Colombia will invite the NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) to participate in the debate over an administration initiative to expand the scope of military justice in the country, Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón announced on January 25.

“In no way will the actions that we’ve taken allow or encourage impunity of any kind, and that’s something that should be made supremely clear,” Pinzón stated.

The minister added that HRW will be invited to participate in the discussions of an independent commission, together with other non-governmental organizations, foreign governments, and experts with varied points of view.

The initiative arose after José Miguel Vivanco, HRW’s director for the Americas, said in Washington that he was concerned that the Colombian administration’s initiative could favor impunity.

“We don’t understand the current administration’s enthusiasm for taking a perfectly avoidable step backward on a subject that is central for the effectiveness of human rights in Colombia,” said Vivanco, who urged the Colombian administration to withdraw the proposal, part of a package of judicial reforms being studied by Congress.

Nevertheless, Pinzón avowed that “human rights are a priority of this administration, of the Defense Ministry,” after reaffirming the commitment of Government forces to confronting illegal armed groups.

The minister also insisted that the commission to be set up is independent and explained that it should make recommendations to the country “in order to really make progress on those concerns” about the legal security of members of the Armed Forces.

Despite the criticism from HRW, Justice Minister Juan Carlos Esguerra also stated on January 24 that the administration is not going to withdraw the initiative.

Colombia has been suffering a bloody armed conflict for nearly half a century due to the fight against the state by leftist guerrilla groups, the activities of extreme right-wing armed groups, and the violence of drug-trafficking mafias, for which reason Military personnel are asking for greater legal security in order to act.