Bogota – Colombia‘s lower house has overwhelmingly rejected President Ivan Duque‘s suggested modifications to the country’s transitional justice system – the latest in a series of congressional defeats for the president.
Duque asked legislators in March to review six parts of the law that regulates the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) tribunal.
The special tribunal was created as part of a 2016 peace deal between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels to try former rebels and military officials for war crimes.
Late on Monday, the lower house voted 110-44 to turn down the suggested changes.
The modifications were expected to be defeated because the peace accord, signed under former President Juan Manuel Santos, is part of the country’s constitution. Any changes would require a two-thirds majority in the legislature.
“This is a huge defeat for the government,” Sergio Guzman, director of Colombia Risk Analysis, a political risk consultancy firm, told Al Jazeera.
“In spite of throwing all their heavy artillery, with the attorney general attending the congressional session, they were unable to amass sufficient votes which speaks volumes about the loss that the government is suffering, not just in this part of their agenda, but lately, in other areas of their agenda affecting governance, too,” Guzman added.
Duque had previously said he would back the outcome of the vote but has yet to comment since the result was announced.
Alvaro Hernan Prada, representative of the Democratic Centre, who led the government’s defence of the modifications to the peace accord, reiterated late on Monday that Duque’s motives were framed in the political sphere.
“It is unlikely that the government will insist much on this issue,” Yann Bassett, a political scientist at Bogota’s Rosario University, told Al Jazeera.
“The president has already announced that he would sign the law if the objections are not approved. It should also dissuade him from trying to make other reforms that touch on the peace agreements,” he added.
‘Long live peace’
Duque, who belongs to the Democratic Centre political party which has repeatedly railed against giving congressional seats to the FARC, made promises in his 2018 election campaign to alter parts of the peace accord.
The JEP was established to investigate, hear prosecutions and sentence individuals responsible for human rights abuses, including sexual violence and massacres during the 52-years of conflict between FARC and the government.
Duque’s suggested changes included the clarification of extradition rules, tougher action against war crimes and the exclusion of sexual crimes from the tribunal’s remit.
“We made it clear that these objections would not proceed, that the government did what it did to object to a Constitutional Court ruling, that approving them would be a violation of the division of powers and that there is a large, broad and diverse force here, ready to defend peace-building,” said Juanita Goebertus, a representative of the Green Alliance party, who led efforts in defending the peace accords signed in Havana.
Following Monday night’s vote, many legislators shouted “long live peace” just as the result was announced.
“Ultimately, I think that this is a warning to the government that suggests that they need to compromise more with the other parties and they need to reach agreements on legislative substance,” Guzman said.