Colombia’s recent passage of a constitutional amendment that expands military jurisdiction in cases of human rights violations is a major setback for justice. The reform would allow grave human rights crimes to be investigated and tried by the military justice system, in direct conflict with years of jurisprudence of Colombia’s high courts and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
The amendment gives the military justice system—notorious for high levels of impunity—“exclusive jurisdiction” over all military abuses “related to the conflict,” with the exception of a list of seven crimes: crimes against humanity, genocide, forced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, sexual violence, torture and forced displacement. However, there is a serious risk that cases involving two of these crimes, “extrajudicial executions” and “sexual violence”, would be sent to military courts, as they are not codified as crimes in Colombian law. Moreover, other serious human rights violations such as arbitrary detentions and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment would be tried in military courts. Many of the “false positive” cases, extrajudicial killings of civilians presented as combat kills, could be transferred from civilian to military courts.