Independence of the Colombian Judiciary at Risk

International and Colombian Civil Society Organisations issued a joint statement expressing their profound concerns regarding the threat to judicial independence in Colombia as a result of a series of recent actions taken by the Colombian Government party and the President of the Republic, Ivan Duque Marquez.

Several Court Orders have been ignored by the Colombian government and the President of the Republic:

  • In response to the provisional arrest warrant ordered by the Special Arraignment Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice on ex- president and ex- senator Álvaro Uribe Vélez, the President of the Republic and several high-level government employees strongly questioned and publicly criticised the decision of the Court. Threatening the independence of the Court on what was an extremely high profile decision. Separation of powers is essential to democracy and helps to prevent authoritarianism.
  • The Military Criminal Jurisdiction, contrary to international treaties, assumed jurisdiction over grave human rights violations committed by State Security Forces, including the case of the murder of Dilan Cruz during the November 2019 social Protests and the Tandil massacre that occurred in 2017 in Nariño.
  • The Executive’s most recent attack against judicial independence was in refusing to obey the tutela (writ of protection of constitutional rights) ruling from 22 September 2020, when the Civil Cassation Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice ordered the government to publicly ask for forgiveness for serious human rights violations committed by State Security Forces when they intervened in a violent and arbitrary manner using potentially lethal weapons, one of which caused the death of Dilan Cruz. The Court also ordered the Government to maintain a neutral position in relation to nonviolent protests, write protocols to guarantee this right, to set up a working group with stakeholders from the social protests and suspend the use of 12-gauge shotguns for policing protests.

Contrary to this decision, the Minister of Defence announced a request to have the Constitutional Court’s ruling reviewed and failed to ask for forgiveness. Instead he appealed to a statement that had been made on 11 September 2020 which was made in response to the killing by the Security Forces of 13 people on 9 and 10 September 2020. Despite the 11 September statement being made before the Court’s decision. The Minister of Defence stated that the 11 September “spontaneous expression of apology refers to any violation of the law, at any time, which has involved any member of the institution.”

The statement fails to address the incidents in the Court ruling. In addition, the Court ruling indicated the systematic nature of police abuses and the need for structural reform, to which there has as yet been no response. The response by the Minister of Defence suggests contempt for the Court ruling. Despite this, the Minister’s response was not challenged by President Duque as Commander-in-Chief of the Colombian Armed Forces. In a democracy military power is subjected to civilian power. By not contradicting or challenging the Minister of Defence, the message sent by the executive to members of the State Security Forces who violate human rights could not be more terrifying.

To transition towards peace the recognition of the citizen participation as a democratic right is essential. One of the expressions of this is peaceful social protest. The President failed to uphold this democratic right

We call on the Minister of Defence and the Duque Government to cease attacks against the administration of justice and to comprehensively comply with judicial rulings, including the Supreme Court of Justice ruling in relation to the right to peaceful protest. In a democracy nobody is above justice, not even the President of the Republic.

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