BOGOTA (Reuters) – A Colombian high court on Wednesday called on President Ivan Duque to sanction a law that implements peace agreement with demobilized FARC rebels, after upholding a Senate vote that rejected his proposed changes.
In another blow to Duque’s legislative agenda, seven of the eight constitutional court magistrates agreed that a Senate vote earlier this month was binding.
The Senate had asked the high court to rule on the legality of its vote against alterations to six articles of a law that regulates the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) tribunal, created under a 2016 peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
“The decision was to refer it to the president of the Republic for approval and promulgation,” court President Gloria Ortiz said.
The lower house resoundingly rejected Duque’s changes in April, while in the Senate 47 lawmakers voted against the modifications and 34 voted in favour. Laws associated with the peace accord are part of the constitution and changes to them require a two-thirds majority in congress.
Duque, elected last year on a pledge to modify the peace accord that he says is too easy on former rebels, wanted lawmakers to revise the law, asking that they clarify FARC repayment of conflict victims, extradition rules, and that sentencing be toughened.
The tribunal was created to prosecute former rebels and military officials for war crimes.
The rejection of the JEP changes is the latest in a string of legislative defeats for Duque, whose business-friendly tax reform proposal was diluted beyond recognition last year, while a justice bill was scrapped and pension reform delayed until next year.
“I accept the decision of the court as a Colombian and defender of legality, but I will never stop defending the principles that have motivated the Colombian people so that we may have peace with justice, peace in which we all believe,” Duque said.
Duque’s objections angered advocates of the peace agreement, who argued they would create difficulties for its implementation and set a bad precedent for future negotiations with other illegal armed groups, like the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas.
Under the terms of the peace agreement some 13,000 FARC members, including more than 6,000 combatants, handed in their weapons.
The group’s leadership now spearheads the FARC political party, which has 10 guaranteed seats in congress through 2026.
(Reporting by Helen Murphy and Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Leslie Adler)