On Tuesday, August 4, by way of a brief and unassuming tweet, the previous president of Colombia, Alvaro Uribe Velez, knowledgeable the world that he was positioned underneath home arrest. The information despatched shockwaves all through South America’s political circles and sparked protests throughout Colombia. Uribe’s home arrest order, issued by the supreme courtroom of justice as a part of a case investigating witness tampering and false testimony, is shocking and problematic for a number of causes.

For starters, it’s the first time {that a} former president has been disadvantaged of private liberty in Colombia, a rustic the place multiple current head of state has questionable information, reminiscent of marketing campaign financing by main drug cartels. Secondly, since March, Colombia has been in lockdown as a result of COVID-19 pandemic, which signifies that people are for essentially the most half already confined inside their residences. Furthermore, as former president and senator, Uribe doesn’t go wherever in Colombia with out a substantial safety equipment.


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Thirdly, the previous president is well-known each nationally and internationally, which interprets to extraordinarily low flight danger and one that would have been addressed by merely confiscating his passport. Including to the controversy of the supreme courtroom’s order is the truth that, as just lately as final 12 months, people who pose precise safety and flight dangers, reminiscent of Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) leaders Ivan Marquez and Jesus Santrich, weren’t preemptively detained regardless of possible trigger and ended up fleeing Colombia to arrange a dissident guerrilla motion.

Lastly, Uribe must be presumed harmless till confirmed responsible, like another citizen, as outlined in Article 29 of Colombia’s Structure. Nonetheless, plainly given his excessive profile and political historical past, the supreme courtroom is treating the previous president in a different way. That is problematic for the rule of regulation in Colombia.

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Irregularities within the Course of

Below Uribe’s presidency, Colombia’s safety was largely restored, narco-terrorism was fought head-on by the nationwide authorities, quite a few FARC leaders have been captured, over a thousand drug traffickers have been extradited to the USA, and huge paramilitary teams demobilized underneath the auspices of the Justice and Peace Legislation. Uribe’s work and legacy, a lot of which was carried out in shut coordination with the USA on the time, can be acknowledged internationally. One of many international voices in opposition to Colombia’s former president’s home arrest is US Vice President Mike Pence, who, on August 14, tweeted in solidarity, asking that Uribe be allowed to “defend himself as a free man.”

Given his former standing as senator, Uribe’s case, which occurs to be in opposition to left-wing Senator Ivan Cepeda, had Colombia’s supreme courtroom as its authentic jurisdiction, in accordance with Article 235 of the structure. Particularly, this case started in 2012 when Uribe filed a authorized criticism in opposition to Cepeda accusing him of paying bribes to imprisoned criminals in trade for testimony that will incriminate the previous president and his brother for paramilitary actions throughout Uribe’s time as mayor of Medellin and governor of Antioquia. In 2018, an election 12 months in Colombia, the supreme courtroom flipped the accusation and charged Uribe with allegedly paying witnesses to testify in his favor and in opposition to Cepeda.

Since its inception, the method in opposition to Uribe has been overly politicized and marred by irregularities, together with the admission of illegally obtained wiretap recordings as proof within the case. Over 20,000 unlawful interceptions have been made to Uribe’s cellphone, underneath a judicial order that was presupposed to faucet Congressmember Nilton Cordoba, not the previous president. Making issues worse, as quickly because the analyst from Colombia’s lawyer normal’s workplace answerable for the wiretap realized that the cellphone belonged to Uribe and never Cordoba, he notified his superiors. Nonetheless, the unlawful interceptions continued for almost a month and have been finally submitted to the supreme courtroom as proof.

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There’s a historical past of animosity between the previous president and members of Colombia’s supreme courtroom of justice resulting from alleged wiretapping of the courtroom’s premises in addition to judges’ telephones by the safety providers throughout Uribe’s presidency. Compounded by the evident lack of procedural ensures for a good trial, Uribe resigned his seat as senator shortly after he was positioned underneath home arrest and triggered a jurisdictional change. His case has now been handed on to Colombia’s lawyer normal and a decrease courtroom, through which Uribe expects a much less politicized and extra honest trial.

The Want for Judicial Reform

Though Uribe’s home arrest stays in drive till a brand new choose takes over the case and decides whether or not to revoke or preserve the preliminary detention, public outcry has been heard all through the nation. Probably the most salient instance of an institutional double commonplace is the current case of FARC commanders like El Paisa, who have been by no means positioned underneath home arrest pending trial as a part of the 2016 peace course of after which escaped to take up arms once more. Observing this precedent, the judicial measure in opposition to Uribe is disproportionate, significantly because the former president has attended all of his courtroom hearings as scheduled and been attentive to judicial inquiries.

Lastly, the controversy across the judiciary’s dealing with of Uribe’s case has rekindled the requires constitutional reform in Colombia. Reforming the nation’s complicated judicial department appears for a lot of to be the one solution to rescue the institutional mechanisms, that are at present failing throughout the Colombian justice system. On this time of uncertainty, the choice of finishing up judicial reform would give a brand new course to the presidency of Ivan Duque and would offer a singular alternative for Colombia to emerge institutionally strengthened.

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One of many principal points with Colombia’s judicial system is that the nation has not one however three high courts: the supreme courtroom of justice, the council of state and the constitutional courtroom. One other drawback lies with the truth that the members of each the supreme courtroom and the council of state choose their membership themselves, with out a lot government or legislative oversight, albeit in accordance with Article 231 of the structure. Having such a closed and endogamous nature has led to judicial malpractice and corruption in Colombia’s judiciary, such because the notorious “Cartel of Robes” scandal that noticed supreme courtroom judges abuse their independence to derail instances and stifle investigations by the lawyer normal in trade for hefty bribes.

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Whereas Alvaro Uribe’s case is prone to drag on for months, there’s a increased probability that the method may have a decrease profile and a extra balanced final result now that it has left the supreme courtroom’s docket. However, the judicial department will now be more and more seen as a politicized establishment, and there are vital voices within the nation calling for each a consolidated supreme judiciary and a extra clear choice course of for its members. Already in a bind as a result of pandemic and its socioeconomic fallout, Colombia’s authorities should now deal with rising requires constitutional reform in an more and more polarized political local weather.

The views expressed on this article are the writer’s personal and don’t essentially mirror Truthful Observer’s editorial coverage.