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Controversy in Colombia Over Proposed Law to Criminalize the “Obstruction to Peace”


Colombia law criminalizes obstruction peace
Senator Ivan Cepeda promotes the law that criminalizes the “Obstruction of peace” in Colombia – Photo: Marcha Patriotica / CC BY-ND 2.0 Deed

There is controversy in Colombia over a proposed law seeking to classify the ‘Obstruction to Peace’ as a crime. Senator Ivan Cepeda from the ruling party is its proponent, and it has already been filed in Congress for parliamentary processing. As explained by the senator, ‘the aim is to sanction actions that hinder the consolidation of peace in Colombia.’

Cepeda asserts that ‘the project establishes the classification of crimes that could interfere with negotiations and the implementation of agreements. It aims to toughen penalties for criminal responsibility for the murder of peace agreement signatories and other criminal behaviors, paying special attention to high-ranking public officials. It also includes sanctions for misappropriation and corruption in public funds earmarked for peace.’

On the other hand, political opposition and allied media have already reacted to the proposal, harshly criticizing the project, accusing it of persecuting dissent and threatening imprisonment for those who oppose ‘false peace talks,’ referring to the processes undertaken by the government with the guerrilla of the National Liberation Army (ELN) and the Central High Command of the FARC (EMC). The controversy has also directly involved the Attorney General, Francisco Barbosa, who frequently criticizes the Petro government. Regarding the law, Barbosa stated that ‘it’s a gag law project that aims to establish a totalitarian state in Colombia.’

The Government’s Bill

The bill filed by the senator of the ruling Historic Pact, Ivan Cepeda, proposes adjustments to the Penal Code (Law 599 of 2000) and the General Disciplinary Code (Law 1952 of 2019) to incorporate a new offense that the rapporteur has termed ‘Obstruction to Peace.’

Under this offense, actions such as murders of demobilized individuals or acts of corruption affecting the implementation of a peace agreement would fall. Likewise, it includes penalties for misappropriation of public funds allocated for peace. This offense would have the aggravating circumstance of the involvement of a high-ranking public servant.

The proposal, seeking to punish those who commit this new crime with up to 15 years in prison, draws inspiration from events that occurred after the signing of the peace agreement with the now-defunct FARC in 2016, such as the mass murder of demobilized individuals.

The senator defended his proposal, stating that ‘it reflects the challenges faced by the Final Peace Agreement, from illegal interceptions of the government’s negotiating team to attacks on the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), the assassination of human rights defenders, social leaders, and peace signatories, massacres and forced displacements in the country, the impact on girls, boys, and young people who have been victims of the conflict, to the delays in its implementation.’

Opposition Reactions

The reaction from opposition sectors was immediate. Senator from the Democratic Center, Ciro Ramírez, stated that ‘the strategy began some years ago using false witnesses, and now they want to create a new crime called ‘obstruction to peace’ to continue with judicial persecution. Absurd and dangerous at the same time,’ clearly referring to the legal process against the leader of his party, former President Alvaro Uribe, initiated by Senator Cepeda’s complaints and legal actions.

Another swift reaction came from another frequent critic of the government, Senator Maria Fernanda Cabal, also from the Democratic Center. ‘How about this? Now, the radical left-wing sectors want to create a new criminal type called ‘obstruction to peace’ to prosecute anyone who opposes the farce of Total Peace,’ wrote the congresswoman on her social networks.

One of the most forceful responses came from the Green Alliance congressman, a party of Bogota’s mayor, Claudia Lopez, Jonathan Pulido Hernandez. ‘If opposing false peace talks will get us jailed, I want to be the first to be handcuffed. They are killing our law enforcement, kidnapping our fellow Colombians, while guerrillas and the government sit at a banquet counting the dead,’ the senator expressed.

Fiscal Barbosa Criticizes the Government

In addition to the angry statements from the political opposition, which are logical in a democratic system, the Attorney General of Colombia, Francisco Barbosa, who has been in constant controversy with the government and President Gustavo Petro for months, didn’t hold back in his comments about the law to Semana magazine.

Aside from describing the bill registered by Ivan Cepeda as a ‘gag law that aims to establish a totalitarian state in Colombia,’ Barbosa openly criticized both the senator and the president, expressing his opinions and political views in a conversation with Semana.

‘Senator Cepeda, who sometimes appears to act as a spokesman for President Petro, seeks two things. On the one hand, that public servants are unjustly judicialized for defending institutions when, under the pretext of peace, they want to supplant the rule of law with criminality, as is happening in Colombia. And, on the other hand, they want to send public servants and private individuals, including journalists, to prison for expressing opinions on ongoing initiatives and processes related to the controversial peace being negotiated by President Petro,’ Barbosa stated.

For Barbosa, the bill ‘is a product of desperation because the institutionality is blocking them… Petro must come out and publicly say whether he endorses this attack on democracy presented by his ally,’ referring to Senator Ivan Cepeda, with whom the prosecutor has had an ongoing controversy since the senator publicly urged him to state his willingness to run for the presidential race in 2026.

Colombia law criminalizes obstruction peace
The attorney general maintains regular public disagreements with the government – Photo: Kybonilla / CC BY-SA 4.0 / Casa Rosada / CC 2.5 ar.

Barbosa: ‘It’s a Shame’

It should be noted that Barbosa’s term ends next February, and lacking a clear opposition leader, he has positioned himself as an evident political player opposed to the current government. Francisco Barbosa, appointed by the former conservative president Ivan Duque, has not held back criticism and political statements, not just legal ones, against the Colombian executive and its political project.

Therefore, the Attorney General, a high-ranking official whose opinions would be limited if Senator Cepeda’s law were approved, continued with his opinions to Semana, stating that ‘to pursue legality, prison works for them, but for negotiating with criminals, prison is harmful,’ referring to President Petro’s Total Peace project.

Francisco Barbosa concluded his statements with a firm assertion that leaves no room for doubt about his stance. ‘It’s a shame,’ the prosecutor concluded in reference to the government.

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