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Colombia's ICC Declaration a "Prelude to Impunity"

(New York) - Colombian President Alvaro Uribe should immediately reverse Colombia's decision not to accept, for a period of seven years, the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC) over war crimes. The Colombian government only recently admitted having made this decision, which was contained in a declaration filed with the United Nations on August 5.  
Under the treaty provision invoked by Colombia, a state party can decline the ICC's competence for up to seven years for war crimes committed by one of its nationals or on its territory. Such crimes are committed routinely by both rebel and paramilitary forces in Colombia.  
Although the government has not stated its reasons for rejecting the court's jurisdiction during this period, the move appears intended to bolster the government's bargaining power in eventual peace negotiations.  
"This step looks like a prelude to impunity, via some kind of amnesty law," said José Miguel Vivanco, executive director of Human Rights Watch's Americas Division. "At the moment, peace has never seemed further off, and this dispensation will only encourage more horrific abuses against civilians to occur. President Uribe can reverse the declaration at any time, and he should do so now."  
Colombia ratified the ICC's treaty on August 5. Unbeknown to the general public, it introduced a declaration under Article 124 of the statute, a transitional provision that allows state parties to reject the court's jurisdiction for a seven-year period for crimes covered under Article 8 of the statute. Article 8, which covers war crimes, includes crimes like intentional attacks on the civilian population, hostage-taking, summary executions, torture and the recruitment of children under 15.  
The Article 124 declaration was not made public at the time of Colombia's ratification, nor was it discussed in the Colombian Congress. According to a foreign ministry statement on September 2, "Congress was aware of this possibility and presented no objection at the time." But Colombia's ambassador to the United Nations, Alfonso Valdivieso, admitted Congress "probably didn't know" about the government's plans.  
The government of President Andrés Pastrana made the declaration two days before President Uribe took office, reportedly in consultation with the new president. Another declaration the government attached to the ICC ratification stated that the government believed itself free to decree amnesties or pardons for political crimes.  

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