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Colombia: Constitutional Reforms Proposed to Increase Punishment for Violent and Sexual Crimes Against Minors

(Nov. 12, 2019) During debates over the last several months in the Colombian Congress regarding a proposed constitutional reform to apply life imprisonment to perpetrators of violent and sexual crimes against children, representative Jaime Rodriguez submitted an additional and highly controversial proposal to impose the death penalty for those who commit such crimes.

Article 11 of the Colombian Constitution provides that the right to life is inviolable and forbids the use of the death penalty, and legal commitments to protecting the right to life upheld by the Constitutional Court and enshrined in international treaties entered into by Colombia preclude Colombia from imposing capital punishment.

According to Rodriguez, although stricter penalties for violent and sexual crimes are needed, prison overcrowding “makes it difficult to have a person convicted of a life sentence.” Moreover, he maintains that even the maximum 60-year sentences that are currently imposed, which are essentially life sentences, have not dissuaded criminals from perpetrating these types of serious crimes.

Because it is a constitutional reform, the death penalty initiative must survive four congressional debates before the fall legislative session ends on December 16, 2019, but the chances for this happening are practically impossible because no debate will be held until the Criminal Policy Council issues an opinion, which could take several weeks. The most likely prospect is passage of the reform measure establishing life sentences for rapists and murderers of children. Although this bill was already approved in the first debate on October 15, its way forward is not guaranteed because many lawmakers object to applying the measure to perpetrators who are declared mentally ill and because article 34 of the Colombian Constitution prohibits the implementation of life imprisonment. Thus, to pass, the initiative would have to change article 34.

Under the proposal, life imprisonment would apply to those who commit the crimes of manslaughter, kidnapping, torture, and carnal access or abusive sexual acts to children under 14 years of age. A life imprisonment conviction would have to be reviewed within a 25-year-period to assess the resocialization of the convicted person. In addition, a life sentence conviction would be automatically reviewed by the superior tribunal of the sentencing court.