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Colombia Table of Contents


Constitutional Authority and the Legal Basis of the Armed Forces

The specific responsibilities of the armed forces and National Police are detailed in a series of articles in the Constitution. This series of articles is entitled "The Public Force." Under Article 165, all Colombians are required to perform military service and have an obligation to bear arms to defend the nation. The length of service and terms of exemption from service are to be determined by law. As amended by presidential decree in 1968, Article 166 provides for the organization of a standing army to guarantee national defense. It also specifies that details relating to the army--including the number of troops, the regulation of promotions, and the definition of the rights and duties of military personnel--are matters to be decided according to legislation. The organization of a national militia and National Police, also to be established according to specific laws, is authorized under Article 167.

Article 168 establishes the basis for a nonpartisan, apolitical military. The article restricts the military's right of assembly, "except by order of legitimate authority," as well as its right to petition the government, except on "matters that relate to the good service and morale of the army, and in accordance with its laws." In addition, the article stipulates that military and police personnel are ineligible to vote while on active duty and are not permitted to be candidates for elective office.

Articles 169 and 170, in turn, represent the restoration of several privileges to which members of the armed forces had been entitled during the colonial era. As specified in Article 169, military personnel may not be deprived arbitrarily of ranks, honors, or pensions; such action may only be carried out in specific cases and in the manner determined by law. Article 170 makes active-duty military personnel immune from civil legal prosecution, providing them the right to trial by their peers under courts martial or military tribunals for crimes specified under the Military Penal Justice Code.

Data as of December 1988