The judicial reform bill, currently being debated in the Colombian congress, threatens to compromise the relative independence that the country’s courts have enjoyed since the passage of the 1991 Constitution. This independence has allowed Colombia to investigate more than 60 members of congress for charges of collaborating with narco-traffickers and paramilitaries. It enabled the courts to declare over the last two years that both the establishment of U.S. military bases on Colombian soil and Álvaro Uribe Vélez’s (2002-2010) third-term presidential bid were unconstitutional.
Because of these and many other cases, the Colombian executive and congress have been placed in an embarrassing position, tarnishing their legitimacy. The courts have become the only protector of the democratic process and its constitutional underpinning.
The current judicial reform comes within this context in an attempt to restrict the jurisdiction of the courts to investigate and convict members of congress that is enshrined in the 1991 Constitution. The judicial reform is also a push to protect the military from the jurisdiction of the civil courts, as the military expands the role of military tribunals.
These and other aspects of the reform are troubling for a country like Colombia where the institutions have been heavily penetrated by narco-traffickers and their armed militias—particularly the Colombian congress and the military. For the consolidation of the country’s democracy it is important for the Supreme Court to continue to have the jurisdiction to investigate and sentence members of congress, and for the civil courts to be expanded in order to prosecute military personnel that commit crimes against civilians, as well as war crimes. Knowing the human right violations record of the Colombia police and the army these two must be under more scrutiny if good governance is desired.