Academic journal article Social Justice

Corrupted Justice and the Schizophrenic State in Colombia

Academic journal article Social Justice

Corrupted Justice and the Schizophrenic State in Colombia

Article excerpt

A. Introduction

ON MARCH 12, 1999, THE INTER-AMERICAN COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS OF the Organization of the American States published its Third Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Colombia. In the fifth chapter, it states:

Impunity and denial of justice continue to be prominent in Colombia. Impunity in relation to all types of crimes is widespread. In June of 1996, the Superior Council of the Judiciary reported that between 97 and 98% of all crimes go unpunished, and that 74% of crimes go unreported. Other state authorities provide similar statistics. According to information issued by the National Police, 90% of all crimes go unpunished. According to the 1996 report of the Commission for the Rationalization of Public Spending and Finances, the level of impunity in all cases has reached 99.5%. That organization asserts that only one of every 100 crimes reached the trial stage of criminal proceedings....

It appears that the rate of impunity is even greater in relation to crimes involving human rights violations, resulting in a failure by the state to comply with its responsibilities and a denial of justice to the victims of violations and/or their family members. Human Rights monitors assert that virtually 100% of all crimes involving human rights violations go unpunished. The experience of the Commission in the cases that are brought before it substantially supports this assertion....

Impunity in Colombia is structural and systemic. It is not simply a question of leaving numerous individual crimes unpunished. Rather, the issue is one of the creation of an entire system of impunity which affects the culture and life of the nation even for those individuals who are not directly affected by human rights violations or other crimes. Most international observers agree that this high level of impunity is itself one of the most serious human rights violations occurring in Colombia (InterAmerican Commission, 1999: Chapter V, Nos. 12, 14, and 16).

Nevertheless, successive Colombian governments have boasted of "improvements" in the performance of justice. In reality, constitutional, legal, and administrative changes have taken place in the last decade without improving either human rights standards or the application of justice.

Following the normal procedure, human rights violations are denounced before the judiciary and/or before the disciplinary authorities. It is useful to recall, however, that since the 1991 Constitution, there is a new criminal procedure. Under the previous system the investigatory stage was performed by an examining judge and the trial stage by a trial judge, but no one single authority took responsibility for the criminal investigation as a whole. Under the new procedure it is not the judge, but rather the prosecutor who must investigate and indict suspected criminals, after which judges will determine whether they are guilty. The Prosecutor General of the Nation is elected by the Supreme Court of Justice from a list of candidates submitted by the president. He or she and his/her delegates have competence throughout the national territory. To carry out its functions as an investigative and prosecutorial body, the Office of the Procurator General may adopt measures to ensure that criminal suspects will appear before the courts, including the issuance of preventive detention orders. The Office of the Prosecutor General also directs and coordinates the work of investigative entities that depend upon the national police and other similar agencies.

From the 1980s onward, a parallel system of justice has been developed, which was first called Public Order Jurisdiction and later Regional Justice. This jurisdiction includes drug-related crimes, crimes against the state and constitutional order, arms manufacturing and trafficking, terrorism, and membership in illegal armed groups. In these processes, those involved in the proceedings such as judges, prosecutors, and witnesses are allowed to keep theiridentities secret. …

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