Last Updated:3/20/02
Colombian government briefing document on national security law, July 23, 2001

Briefing Document


JULY, 2001

The Colombian Congress has approved a new "Security and Defense" bill. This new piece of legislation was thoroughly debated by both houses of Congress and aims to protect the citizens of our war-torn nation against criminal and terrorist attacks. Many of the procedures in the new law are similar to those enacted in several developed countries. [1]

The vast majority of human rights violations in Colombia are not committed by the State.

It is widely recognized that guerilla and illegal self- defense groups carry out the vast majority of human rights violations in Colombia. Thousands of civilians are victims of indiscriminate violence from these organizations. The Colombian State, has not had the proper tools, in the way of training, equipment, and legislation to defend its citizens against this. President Pastrana has placed the quest for long-lasting piece as the first priority of his administration and designed a multi-track, comprehensive strategy in order to achieve it. This plan aims to strengthen the State, combat illegal drug business that fuels the Colombian conflict, provide alternative sources of income, revitalize a slumped economy and seek a negotiated piece agreement with guerrilla groups.

Human Rights have also been placed at the forefront of government efforts. Proof of the commitment to improve human rights records is the significant decrease in complaints against members of the armed forces, down by 85% in the last 5 years. Similarly, this administration has had record highs in terms of cracking down on so-called "paramilitaries". Hundreds of members of these illegal groups have been killed in combat or arrested and convicted. The number of "paramilitaries" captured or killed has more than tripled since 1999. [2]

The new security bill fits into the governments' overall strategy as it empowers the State to protect its citizens from violent groups. The bill sets the stage for smoother more efficient military operations by creating a "security and defense system" with clear responsibilities and limits on the duties of all public officials involved in security and defense efforts.

More State Presence- Move Against Impunity

Lack of judicial presence in some areas of Colombia has led to the impunity of many crimes against Colombian citizens. Because of the remoteness of areas where combats and crimes sometimes occur, prosecutors are not always available to accompany military operations, hindering the possibility of arrests and convictions. In order to improve the State ability to arrest and try criminals, the new bill specifies particular circumstances when specially trained members of the military can carry out selected judicial functions. This can only be done by specific request and under supervision of the Prosecutor General, and only on a temporary, case by case basis. All evidence and people detained will be turned over to civilian courts.

This new legislation also sets out a procedure by which the military can capture persons suspected of having committed a crime, and must immediately notify an appropriate judicial official of this capture. The judicial official then instructs the military on how to transfer the criminal suspect to their authority. This must take place without undue delay and without violating any of the prisoner's rights. The ability for the military to temporarily detain a prisoner until he can be transferred into judicial custody is meant to correct a situation by which criminals were freed when judicial authorities did not arrive to the scene of the crime promptly.

These measures against impunity do not mean that the Military will investigate or try civilians. Ordinary citizens will continue to be tried by civilian courts and under NO circumstances will they be under the jurisdiction of the Military Justice System.

Elected Local Officials Are not Subordinated to Military Commanders-

In the same way that international statutes, including those of the U.S.[3], authorize the President, as Commander in Chief to bypass local authorities for a specific military operation in order to preserve public order, this bill limits and specifies the use of that exceptional authority. The highest-ranking military official conducting an operation can, by written delegation of the President, and only in matters concerning the specific military situation, circumvent local authorities. This is not meant to sidestep other elected officials but is aimed at maintaining the chain of command in order to ensure more efficient operations in defense of Colombian citizens.

Ample Time to Start and Ground an Investigation against a Member of the Military

The new bill does not modify time frames for filing human rights complaints against members of the military. These can still be filed up to two years after the crime. The bill does set a new two-month time limit for the Attorney General two evaluate the complaint (once it has been presented) and decide if a formal investigation should be opened or the case should be dismissed. This is intended to accelerate investigations into human rights violations by the Attorney General and ensure that there be sufficient grounds to launch a formal investigation.

Colombia's current situation of violence, fueled with drug money from around the world, poses enormous challenges for our government and our people. This bill is a legal tool intended to protect our citizens from that violence. It ties in with our strategy to increase State presence and fight impunity in order to attain peace for our country.

1 The Colombian Congress studied counter terrorist laws of the United Kingdom, Spain and Germany, among others.
2 Colombian Defense Ministry- Operational Results- Public Force, July 13th 2001
3 10 USC 331, 10 USC 332, 10 USC 333, Supremacy Clause

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