On Wednesday, Colombia’s Constitutional Court struck down a law approved by Congress earlier this year that significantly extended the scope of military criminal jurisdiction.
The court cited “procedural reasons” as to why the reform, which would set up special trials for military personnel, was ruled invalid.
The high court’s ruling against the reform, by a vote of five to four, is a defeat for the Juan Manuel Santos government, which sought to legally shield the armed forces, despite warnings from organisations that feared that it could open a pathway to impunity and increase the human rights violations.
The would have empowered the military tribunals – rather than civilian courts – to investigate soldiers who committed excessive crimes in combat, operations, or similar actions, and the inclusion and definition of the so-called “legitimate target”, allowing the army to shoot any civilian suspected of hostility.
The UN Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, and the Inter-American Commission of the Organisation of the American States have all argued against the reform on the grounds that it could prevent soldiers and police from being punished for alleged war crimes during the country’s internal conflicts over the past fifty years.
After the ruling Thursday, President Santos took to Twitter to announce his plans to continue pushing for the reform.
“Our Armed Forces have all the support and gratitude of the Colombian people, and we will continue to advocate for their legal security,” Santos wrote.
Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón described the court’s decision as “a blow to the morale of the armed forces.”