Colombia lower house rejects president's changes to peace tribunal

FILE PHOTO - Colombian President Ivan Duque speaks during a hearing at the Constitutional Court in Bogota, Colombia March 7, 2019. Courtesy of Colombian Presidency/Handout via REUTERS

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia's lower house on Monday rejected President Ivan Duque's suggested changes to a special tribunal tasked with trying former rebels and military officials for war crimes, the latest in a series of congressional defeats for Duque. Duque had asked legislators to review six parts of the law that regulates the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) court, which was created as part of a 2016 peace deal between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels. But lawmakers defeated the proposal, with 110 voting to turn down the modifications and just 44 backing them. The changes had been widely expected to be defeated because the peace accord is now part of the country's constitution and changes to it require a two-thirds majority in the legislature. Duque's coalition has less than half of the seats in the lower house and a slender majority in the Senate. Duque was elected on a promise to modify the peace accord, arguing it is too easy on former guerrillas. He asked congress to back better clarification of extradition rules, FARC repayment of conflict victims and to toughen sentencing. He also objected to the suspension of investigations by ordinary authorities into cases submitted to the JEP and asked lawmakers to exclude sexual crimes from the tribunal's remit. The JEP is meant to investigate, hear prosecutions and sentence those judged responsible for massacres, sexual violence and other crimes during the five-decade war between the FARC and the government. Duque has struggled since his August inauguration to get legislation approved in a deeply divided congress. His business-friendly tax reform proposal was diluted beyond recognition last year, while a justice bill was scrapped and a pension reform delayed until next year. (Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)