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