On June 19, in its eighth and final debate, the Senate approved legislation that would sentence those convicted of raping minors to life in prison. This act reformed Article 34 of the Political Constitution, which prohibited life imprisonment in the country. Even so, life imprisonment would continue to be considered an exceptional sanction.
In Colombia, only about 5% of cases of sexual abuse end up being reported, and only 1% with a conviction. According to the Alliance for Children, 86% of the cases of sexual abuse against children are perpetrated by people with some level of relationship with the victim, such as relatives or friends.
The Court has rejected half of the 12 complaints presented to it, and of the complaints that are still pending, only a few have a judge assigned to them, and in the other circumstances, the Court has requested arguments and evidence from different institutions.
The nullified petitions include that from July 9
The rejected petitions include one filed on July 9 by Armando Peña Portocarreño, who has been detained since 2002 in the La Dorada prison in Caldas for the crime of homicide.
According to Peña’s demand, there are constant abuses against people convicted of crimes of sexual abuse in prison, where these people are beaten and even abused by other inmates with the complicity of the staff of the Colombian National Penitentiary Institute (INPEC).
His claim was inadmissible because the Court did not find that the detainee had demonstrated his status as a Colombian citizen with his identification card and because his arguments did not meet the requirements.
The second petition
The Court also received a complaint to this new law from the president of the Colombian Commission of Jurists, Gustavo Gallón, presented in association with Senators Iván Cepeda, Roy Barreras, and Ángela María Robledo.
Gallon’s petition claims that there were consecutive failures in the law because the seventh and eighth debates were avoided for not “providing guarantees for the opposition,” and there was no activation of the Ethics Commission to resolve the challenges to the then-bill.
The argument of the president of the commission of jurists holds that this law replaced the principle of human dignity, nullifies the rehabilitative purpose of punishment, and leads to cruel and inhuman treatment of the convicted person, stating that the prohibition of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment refers not only to acts that cause physical pain but also to those that cause moral harm, such as “excessive punishment imposed.”
Accumulated petitions before the Constitutional Court
Seven other petitions filed by the constitutionalist and expropriation lawyer delegated to the Administrative Vigilance, Germán Calderón España, landed at the Constitutional Court. There was another by criminal law professor Omar Huertas Díaz and one by the legal advisor of the Prisons Group of the Universidad de Los Andes, Norberto Hernández Jiménez.
According to the petition filed by Calderon, the law violates several international treaties such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the American Convention on Human Rights, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
In his petition, Calderón affirms that with this law, “the object of the criminal law in a State is blurred since it has other functions,” by proceeding with this law, the State proceeds against modern democracies since criminal justice “should not be an act of covert revenge.”
He also cites various studies that show the ineffectiveness of these sanctions in other countries and asserts that they cannot be condemned on the basis that the person who committed the crime is irretrievable since when it comes to imposing the punishment it is impossible to determine who will repeat the crime and who will not.
Carlina Piñeros Ospina, director of Red Papaz, an organization that promotes the protection of the rights of children and adolescents, also presented a petition against the law of life imprisonment, arguing that “it is a real step backward” because it goes against international recommendations and could “lead to a greater degree of impunity.”
Several studies have documented that – many times – because the abusers are close to the victim, the severity of the sentence deters family members or friends from reporting. As the Papaz Network’s demand states, “increased penalties may be more strongly associated with impunity.”