May 2, 2019 / 10:11 PM / 2 months ago

Colombian Senate asks high court to rule on FARC peace vote

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombian lawmakers on Thursday said they will ask a high court to rule on the legality of a Senate vote this week on whether to make changes to a special tribunal tasked with trying former rebels and military officials for war crimes.

The decision to seek a constitutional court ruling comes after 47 lawmakers voted on Tuesday against President Ivan Duque’s suggested changes to the law, while 34 supported Duque’s alterations - which congress said was not sufficient.

Duque had asked legislators to review six parts of the 159-point law that regulates the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) court, which was created as part of a 2016 peace deal between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels.

“There was no qualified majority to sink the objections ... so we are in the hands of the Constitutional Court and we are confident that everything will go well for the country,” Interior Minister Nancy Patricia Gutierrez said in a post on her Twitter account.

The JEP is meant to investigate, hear prosecutions and sentence those judged responsible for massacres, sexual violence and other crimes during the five-decade war between the FARC and the government.

The lower house of Congress rejected Duque’s objections on April 8.

The changes had been widely expected to be defeated because the peace accord is now part of the country’s constitution and changes to it require a two-thirds majority in the legislature.

Duque was elected on a promise to modify the peace accord, arguing that it is too easy on former guerrillas. He asked Congress to back better clarification of extradition rules, FARC repayment of conflict victims, and to toughen sentencing.

But Duque’s objections angered advocates of the peace agreement, arguing that they could create difficulties for implementation of the agreement with the demobilized rebel group and would set a bad precedent for future negotiations with other illegal armed groups, like the National Liberation Army (ELN).

The JEP contemplates more lenient penalties than ordinary justice for those who confess the crimes committed in the midst of the confrontation that has left 260,000 dead and millions displaced.

Under the terms of the peace agreement, some 13,000 FARC members, including almost 7,000 combatants, handed in their weapons and formed the political party.

Reporting by Helen Murphy and Carlos Vargas; Editing by Leslie Adler

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