Cablegate: Judicial Institutions' Family Feuds


DE RUEHBO #3277/01 3012142
R 282142Z OCT 09



E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Judicial Institutions' Family Feuds



1. (SBU) Colombia's dizzying array of judicial institutions has
always made understanding and navigating its judicial system
complicated and time-consuming. Moreover, recent turf battles have
frozen the implementation of some policies and threaten to plunge
the judicial system into crisis. Inspector General Alejandro
Ordonez touched off a national debate on abortion with his October
21 declaration that he would seek to nullify the Constitutional
Court's decision ordering the GOC to make students aware of the
specific circumstances when abortion is legal. On October 28, the
Superior Judicial Council annulled the jail sentence imposed by the
Supreme Court on a congresswoman who used an Air Force plane for
her electoral campaign. The Supreme Court said it might refer the
matter to the International Criminal Court (ICC). End Summary.

Equal & Overlapping


2. (SBU) Under the Constitution, Colombia has four equally ranked
courts that make up the judicial branch: the Supreme Court, the
Constitutional Court, the State Council, and the Superior Judicial
Council. Further complicating matters are the offices of the
Prosecutor General, the Inspector General and the Human Rights
Ombudsman. While battles between the three branches of government
are common (e.g., Supreme Court blocking President Uribe's
nominations for Attorney General), recent internal turf battles
have brought the judiciary's problems into the media spotlight and
stymied the implementation of policies and sentences.

IG Reignites Abortion Debate


3. (SBU) In May 2009, the Constitutional Court ordered the
Ministries of Education and Social Protection to implement a
national information campaign to make students aware of women's
reproductive rights generally and the specific circumstances when
abortion is legal. Inspector General Alejandro Ordonez touched off
a national debate on abortion rights with his October 21
declaration that he would seek to nullify the Court's decision.
The Ombudsman, Mayor of Bogota and Minister of Education said they
would implement the Court's order.

4. (SBU) Before becoming Inspector General, Ordonez vehemently
opposed the 2006 Constitutional Court decision allowing abortion in
the cases of rape, when the fetus is seriously deformed or when the
mother's life is at risk due to the pregnancy. In September,
Ordonez successfully scuttled the Mayor of Medellin's plans to
offer abortion services at a new integral women's health clinic.
Some hospitals and doctors still refuse to perform the legal
abortions due to objections of conscience, and some judges have
blocked the full implementation of the ruling. Ordonez argues that
abortion is still a crime (punished by one to three years
imprisonment) with specific exceptions, and not a right. He
maintains that the Court has no authority to promote a criminal act
or determine implementing regulations related to objections of

5. (SBU) The State Council, the highest administrative court,
joined the fray on October 22 by suspending the GOC's implementing
regulations of the 2006 partial decriminalization of abortion. The
State Council ruled that the Congress, and not the Executive, must
enact any implementing regulations. Abortions remain legal in the
three aforementioned circumstances even without the regulations, as
Constitutional Court President Nelson Pinilla told the press.
However, this void in regulations creates legal uncertainty for
health institutions.

Superior Judicial Council

Overturns Supreme Court


6. (SBU) On October 26, the Superior Judicial Council's
Disciplinary Court (in charge of investigating judicial officials'
conduct) annulled the Supreme Court's sentencing of Congresswoman
Sandra Arabella Velasquez to 74 months imprisonment for having used
an Air Force plane during her 2006 election campaign. Supreme
Court President Augusto Ibanez criticized the annulment, saying
that the "congressionally-elected" Disciplinary Court "ultimately
seeks impunity for those allied with paramilitary groups," and is
considering referring the matter to an international body like the
ICC. Angelino Lizcano, one of the Disciplinary Court magistrates
who voted in favor of the annulment, is a known friend of the
congresswoman but refused to abstain from the proceedings because
they "do not have an intimate friendship."

7. (SBU) The President of the Superior Judicial Council, Maria
Mercedes Lopez, abstained from the vote on the congresswoman,
saying that ruling on a penal matter "is going beyond our limits."
According to press reports, this is the first time someone
convicted by the Supreme Court (the highest penal authority in the
land) was absolved by another court because the other court
determined that no crime had occurred. The Constitutional Court
may rule on the matter of the Superior Judicial Council's
jurisdiction in this and other cases. Some analysts believe the
Superior Judicial Council should cease to exist.

© Scoop Media

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