Colombia: public authorities must refrain from interference with judicial proceedings in case against former President Uribe

Today the ICJ called on the public authorities to refrain from comments or actions that could undermine the integrity of the judicial process and the independence of the judiciary.

On August 4, the Instruction Special Chamber of the Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice ordered the pretrial detention, substituted for house arrest, of the former President Álvaro Uribe Velez, relating to allegations of bribery of witnesses and procedural fraud.

In recent days, a number of politicians have made highly inappropriate and inflammatory statements, including some suggesting that judges are making their decisions based on ideological or political biases rather than based on the Constitution and the law.

Colombian president Ivan Duque said in remarks broadcast on television on the 4 of August: “it hurts as a Colombian that many of those who have lacerated the country with barbarism defend themselves at liberty or are even guaranteed to never go to prison, and that an exemplary public servant who has held the highest dignity of the State is not allowed to defend himself in freedom with the presumption of innocence. I am and will always be a believer in the innocence and in the honor of him who, with his example, have earned a place in the history of Colombia.” (unofficial translation).

The ICJ stresses that it is inappropriate for a head-of-State or other executive official to intervene in this manner in a case that is under active judicial proceedings. The UN Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary make clear that “it is the duty of all governmental and other institutions to respect and observe the independence of the judiciary” and this includes refraining from any “improper influences, inducements, pressures, threats or interferences, direct or indirect.”

In reaction to Senator Uribe’s arrest, the political party “Centro Democrático”, of which both President Duque and former President Uribe are members, released a press statement saying that they were planning to propose a National Constituent Assembly with the purpose of “depoliticizing justice”. Also, former President Uribe mentioned on 16 of August that he hoped his political party would initiate a reform of the justice system through a “referendum” to end the “politicization” of the Court.

The ICJ considers that any actions concerning reforms of the justice sector must be based on the standards and best practices that reinforce the independence of the judiciary and the prompt, timely and fair administration of justice, and not on a political reaction based on a single active case.

Lastly, United States Vice President Mike Pence has also made inappropriate remarks related to the Colombian justice system, tweeting on August 14 that he joined the voices that called Colombian authorities to let Alvaro Uribe “defend himself as a free man”.


Carolina Villadiego Burbano, ICJ Latin America legal and policy adviser, e: carolina.villadiego(a)

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