There is a turbulent and very worrying atmosphere surrounding the Rule of Law in Colombia. Different sectors warn that, in the face of the High Courts’ challenge of the ruling far right’s agenda, the seed of an alleged institutional crisis may be sown in the country triggering exceptional measures against the Peace Agreement.
The chronology of events pointing in that direction reached a climax at the beginning of May last year, when Colombia’s Defendamos la Paz (Let’s Defend Peace) movement called on the United Nations to investigate the intimidation of Supreme Court and Constitutional Court magistrates because of their support for the Peace Agreement. The group, comprising delegates, former ministers, former negotiators, academics, artists and leaders of social organisations, told Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, that lawyers were being threatened and harassed because of their position on issues such as the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) and rejecting the use of glyphosate sprays to eradicate illicit crops, which was promoted by the United States.
In this regard, a joint statement was made by the Colombian High Courts announcing that they were certainly working under pressure, but that judges would continue to practise independently and autonomously.
When Colombian Congress rejected President Iván Duque’s objections to the Statutory Law of the JEP and the justice tribunal ordered the release of the former FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) commander, Jesús Santrich, and granted him a guarantee of non-extradition due to the lack of evidence against him, the President urgently called for a national pact with other parties, which ultimately failed.
The opposition, who were not invited to join the pact, said that the idea of an alleged institutional crisis was being promoted within the country to generate exceptional measures that would put an end to the transitional justice system and the independence of the High Courts, including the possibility of a declaration of internal unrest.
There was great concern when members of the ruling Democratic Centre party voiced their support for repealing or significantly amending the JEP, the core of the agreement negotiated between the State and the former guerrilla Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army (FARC-EP).
The crusade against the JEP became more visible when Santrich was rearrested on 17 May upon leaving La Picota prison in Bogotá, in clear contempt of the transitional justice system’s ruling.
“People persecuting the JEP need to understand that the country is reaching a stage where the truth must be acknowledged, the truth needs to be identified so that we can correct the past, come to terms with it and ensure it is not repeated”, pleaded the Archbishop of Cali, Monsignor Darío de Jesús Monsalve.
The former presidential candidate for the Liberal Party, Humberto de la Calle, expressed alarm at the government’s insistence on altering the Peace Agreement.
The former head of the peace delegation of the former president Juan Manuel Santos in negotiations with the FARC-EP recalled that the Colombian Constitution safeguarded what was agreed in Havana for three presidential terms.
“This political environment being created around the government’s aim to seek unilateral changes to the agreement is harmful”, De la Calle remarked.
Before the end of May, Colombia’s Constitutional Court definitively quashed Duque’s objections to the statutory law of the JEP by legitimising the votes against them in Congress.
Before the end of May, the Council of State also made Santrich’s inauguration final, the Supreme Court ordered his immediate release and he was finally liberated after a long prison sentence, which the Common Alternative Revolutionary Force (FARC) party recognises as a major blow to peace and the legal guarantees of those who laid down their arms to enter politics.
The national government challenged the High Courts on these decisions and, since then, has used inflammatory speech against Santrich, whom they call a gangster, a drug trafficker and a prominent drug baron.
The renowned former Colombian politician, Álvaro Leyva, asked Duque to show restraint as it is not up to anybody outside the jurisdiction to act as judge in the Santrich case. “There are competent magistrates for this, whose jobs it is to assess the evidence and decide. Undue interference is obstructive”, he said.
Former peace commissioner under Santos’ government, Sergio Jaramillo, felt that the decision to imprison Santrich was a very hostile act against the peace process.
Furthermore, in the midst of the president’s systematic references to the “outrage and unacceptability” of seeing Santrich free and inaugurated in Congress, FARC leadership asked the Head of State to avoid prejudging and spreading slander.
“We ask President Duque to respect the constitutional guarantees, not to allow trial by media and, above all, not to enable the spread of the climate of hate, which does not benefit Colombians in any way”, the FARC National Political Council said in a statement on 11 June.
The political party emerged after the signing of the Peace Agreement stating that the leader’s constant references to Santrich did not acknowledge the independence and autonomy of the High Courts that acted in accordance with due process.
The FARC senator, Pablo Catatumbo, feels that the current political tension is putting the country’s reconciliation process at risk.
The local far right’s attack on the High Courts and its disagreement with the wording of the Peace Agreement is so well-known that the National Civil Registry recently endorsed an uribismo committee (followers of the former president Álvaro Uribe), promoter of a citizens’ referendum seeking to repeal the JEP and remove High Court magistrates from their posts.
The committee has started to collect signatures in support of the aforementioned initiative and hopes to call a referendum before the end of 2019.
They need the endorsement of one million, 853 thousand people for this, or more than a quarter of voters entered on the electoral role, as stipulated in law 134 of 1994 on constitutional reforms.
The FARC senator, Carlos Antonio Lozada, considers this collection of signatures to be an attack on peace, truth and the Rule of Law in Colombia.
The leader of the Human Colombia movement, Gustavo Petro, commented on the decision: “What the Registry has done is allow a referendum to repeal the Rule of Law”.
According to the former Colombian president, Ernesto Samper, “while the protagonists of the conflict report their responsibility in painful events, such as false positives and kidnappings, to the JEP, those allegedly involved are collecting signatures to get rid of the Courts, including the JEP, which seems to trouble their consciences”. (PL)
(Translated by Rachel Hatt – Email: firstname.lastname@example.org) – Photos: Pixabay