Colombia court approves peace tribunals ahead of congressional vote

Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos speaks during a news conference in Bogota, Colombia October 27, 2017. REUTERS/Jaime Saldarriaga

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia’s constitutional court said in a ruling late on Tuesday that special justice tribunals outlined in a peace deal between the government and the Marxist FARC rebels are constitutional, ahead of a congressional vote on the subject.

The court upheld most of the provisions agreed in the 2016 peace accord for the special courts, which will mete out alternative sentences like landmine removal for ex-guerrilla leaders from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) who are convicted of war crimes.

Congress is holding debates on a law which would approve the tribunals. The bill has been backed by committees in both the upper and lower houses and is expected to be put to floor votes this week.

President Juan Manuel Santos, speaking on television after the court’s decision, urged congress to pass the law as quickly as possible.

Guerrilla leaders participating in politics as part of the FARC’s new political party will still have to comply with sentences from the court, he said, while Colombians, many of whom despise the group, must accept that the deal allows them to run for office.

“Colombians, with our votes, will decide if we accept their ideas and proposals or if we reject them. Without a doubt it is better to have the FARC giving speeches than shooting bullets,” Santos said.

The court made several modifications to the law, local media reported, opening the possibility that ex-rebels could be extradited for crimes committed after the peace process ends and that former guerrillas elected to public office could lose their seats if they fail to comply with the tribunal process.

Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Michael Perry