The Court Should Not Bend to the Will of President Uribe
Re: Naming of a new Attorney General
In a letter sent today to the Supreme Court of Justice, 218 civil society and human rights organizations asked the Magistrates of the Court for the list of designated names submitted by President Álvaro Uribe for the position of Attorney-General of the nation, because consideration of such a list does not comport with the principals of independence and impartiality necessary for the protection of human rights.
The letter says The Coordinación Colombia-Europe-United States is aware that, thanks to its independence and impartiality, the Supreme Court has become one of the most important bastions of defense of democracy and law in Colombia, and, therefore, it is called to play a role of great importance to ensure that the demanding responsibilities that can be met by whomever is nominated and elected to the post of new Attorney General.
According to the NGOs that signed the letter, "the national and international community has the just aspiration that the Attorney General designated would be prepared to pledge to the Corporation a guarantee of the right of access to justice under the principles of independence and impartiality, principles which should characterize the administration of justice. In this spirit the Special Rapporteur for Judicial Affairs of the United Nations recommended in his recent visit to Colombia that, "It is essential, given the key role of the Prosecutor, that the next Attorney General be independent, strong and prestigious. "
According to spokesmen for The Coordinación Colombia-Europe-United States, "The three candidates for Attorney General nominated by President Álvaro Uribe, Camilo Ospina Bernal, Juan Ángel Palacio and Virginia Uribe, are far from meeting these criteria and do not constitute a guarantee of independence from the power of the executive branch. Those on the list clearly lack expertise in criminal law, and, as is evident in the recent past, the country has had negative experiences as the consequence of such failures, such as bad management and the sad advance of impunity during the term of the former Attorney General, Luis Camilo Osorio, who like, those on the current list, came from areas of the law remote from criminal practice." They expressed concern that one name on the list, former Defense Minister Camilo Ospina Bernal, was the architect of a secret directive from the Ministry of Defense that established the payment of rewards for casualties caused by the military. These economic benefits spurred the mass of so-called "false positives", which according to the report of the Judicial Rapporteur, should be better defined as "cold-blooded murder of innocent civilians, premeditated for purposes of profit." It was in late 2008, when the scandal of extrajudicial executions was uncovered, when it became known that behind these crimes was the Secret Directive 029 of 2005, which was designed by Dr. Camilo Ospina Bernal, during his term as Minister of Defense, and which was kept hidden for many years from both the national and the international community.
As stated in the letter, "The concealment of rules such as Directive 029 of 2005 governing military behavior that threatens the fundamental right to life of Colombians, shows a dangerous precedent from someone such as Dr. Ospina who, as Attorney-General, would have enormous discretionary power, affecting the basic liberty of citizens and assessing responsibility for the authors of more than 1,600 cases of extrajudicial killings that took place under procedures he designed.”
They also manifested concern about “The impunity which permeates the serious crimes committed in recent times, which shows a worrying deterioration in the rule of law” citing, for example, investigations carried out by the Attorney General’s office that reveals that at local, regional and national levels the existence of criminal alliances between politicians and paramilitaries (parapolitics), the illegal undermining of the popular will challenging by exchanging the constitutional foundations of the rule of law for perks, favors and bribes, wire-tapping and persecution by government secret agencies of judges, political opponents and human rights defenders, and gross human rights violations committed in recent years by various legal and illegal actors, including the systematic practice of extrajudicial executions. This situation, they said, requires a broad national consensus on who should take on the enormous responsibility to overcome impunity and restore justice as a condition precedent to rebuilding the foundations of the rule of law. In all criminal prosecutions both President Uribe and a significant number of his aides and also former lawmakers from the governing coalition are implicated and therefore have an immediate interest in the outcome. Therefore the guarantee of independence from the executive becomes even more urgent.
They stressed that "the important role that the Attorney General's Office is called to play in the current political and social crisis of the nation demands that whoever takes on the management of this bastion of the criminal justice embodies a broad consensus on the office holder’s moral probity, political independence, prestige in the legal community, and a recognized commitment to democracy and a propensity for justice.”
Finally, the letter said that “Convinced that the existence of an independent and impartial judiciary is a prerequisite for protecting human rights and ensuring non-discrimination in the administration of justice, and mindful of the important role civil society must play in the defense of the basic principles on the independence of the judiciary adopted by the Seventh United Nations Congress on Crime Prevention and Treatment of Offenders, and the Declaration of Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary adopted in Beijing in August 1995” they consequently asked the Court to proceed to reject the three candidates submitted, to suspend the procedure for the selection of the Office of Attorney General, and to demand the submission of a list made up according to a selection process based on merit, consisting of individuals who enjoy public recognition for their independent positions, their impartiality, their moral standing, and academic creditably in the area of criminal law which they will be charged with administering.
Bogotá, July 8, 2009