Colombia: Statement of Conscientious Objectors
On this International Conscientious Objection Day, we stand in solidarity with conscientious objectors in Colombia, who refuse to be conscripted and bear arms despite various obstacles they face.
Below you will find a statement by conscientious objectors in Colombia, giving a background of their struggle and urging their government to act on a number of issues. If you would like to know more about the situation of conscientious objectors in Colombia you can read a recent report by ACOOC and Justapaz here (in Spanish), or download its summary (in English) here.
The mobilization of conscientious objection and antimilitarist organizations for more than 20 years has achieved important changes that can be seen in constitutional jurisprudence1, and in some debates and laws2 issued by the Colombian parliament. Although the ideal conditions for the respect and guarantee of the right to Conscientious Objection do not exist yet, this right has become a reality that young men in the country can pursue.
In addition, after over 4 years of negotiations and peace talks between the former government and the FARC guerrillas, an agreement was finally reached that allowed the return of a large part of that insurgent group. Despite the many gaps in the process, these agreements generated many expectations and hopes of overcoming the armed conflict that has been going on for almost 60 years in Colombia. In spite of this, the elected government, which currently holds power, was against the peace agreements during the peace talks. At present, it is in charge of implementing those agreements and it is making every effort not to do so and to force the country into an armed conflict once again.
In this context, it is clear that the current governments goal is to prioritize and increase military spending and deepen an economic policy based on the extraction of resources, which will affect the population and the environment irreparably, but it will have a large army to defend those interests. Furthermore, the government has made commitments to the US and NATO which involve strengthening its military forces and joining the warlike adventures required by the international agenda.
Undoubtedly, the effects of this for the Colombian population is deepening poverty, the exclusion and violation of their rights, the obligation to remain in the middle of the armed conflict, and the youth being obliged to take up arms to serve the official army or the different armies defending the interests of the powers governing the country.
Thus, what at one point was seen as hope for Colombia is currently proving to be an involution in terms of rights and guarantees for citizens to exercise those rights, including the right to Conscientious Objection.
Antimilitarism is not only a way of defending peace as a way to overcome confrontation and its structural causes, but it is also the way to ensure that the progress made in terms of the recognition and guarantee of the right to objection remain and be can expanded and increased in Colombia.
What do Conscientious Objectors in Colombia demand?
- No more “raids” with invitation! - Young men are summoned by the Armed Forces to resolve their military situation, however, ignoring the law and due process, young men end up being recruited on the first citation.
- That the requests of young objectors be evaluated by an impartial and independent instance! Requests made by young men to be recognized as conscientious objectors are assessed by an “Interdisciplinary Commission”. This commission is mainly composed of public officials dependant on the military institutions and with professional backgrounds in the fields of psychology, medicine and active military officials as well as an official from the public ministry. However, this commission does not meet the standards suggested by the UN Human Rights Commission in terms of an impartial and independent body3. In remote areas of the country, the presence of the public ministry official may be conditioned by the ability to provide the service in that area, which implies that the commissions end up being composed only of members from the Armed Forces.
- “They want me to give up my right and offer me other exemption options”. In many cases, when a young man declares himself an objector, public officials try to persuade the young man not to opt for conscientious objection, showing him other exemption options. During the first year of this law being in force, many young men with little or partial information, appearing to resolve their military situation under this right, did not exercise it, decreasing the official figures of conscientious objectors.
- Objectors to declare themselves as such without being subject to pressure! When a statement is denied in the first instance, many young men do not continue through other routes, either because they have not been properly informed or because of psychological pressure exerted by the officers since many young men make their statements inside the walls of barracks.
- That the Armed Forces fulfill their obligation to inform young men of the right to Conscientious Objection established in the law! No information is provided nor are campaigns held as instructed by the law to allow young men to know about their right to Conscientious Objection.
- “The Military Forces use lies to discourage objectors”. They say that there will be a war with Nicaragua or Venezuela and in those cases Conscientious Objection is not effective.
- “Military officials deny objectors tax objection”. COs are persuaded to pay for the military card, which contradicts the ethical ideals of the objectors, forcing them to contribute economically to the maintenance of the military apparatus and its conflict dynamics4.
1 Constitutional Judgment C / 728-2009, Judgment of Guardianship T / 018-2012, Judgment of Guardianship T / 430-2013, Judgment of Guardianship T / 455-2014, Judgment of Guardianship T / 185-2015; Unified Judgment SU / 108-2016
2 Main achievements of Law 1871-2017 on conscription and definition of the military situation:
a) Legal recognition of Conscientious Objection as grounds for exemption to not perform the compulsory military service (article 12, literal N).
b) Exclusion of conscientious objectors from the reserves of the Armed Forces; guarantee of their rights at all times (p. of article 52).
c) Legal prohibition of arbitrary detentions for conscription purposes, known in Colombia as "batidas" (p. 2o of article 4).
d) The Armed Forces have the obligation to talk about the right to Conscientious Objection in the educational establishments (p.1 of article 17).
3 Declaration of the UN Human Rights Council Ref. A / HRC / 36 / L.20, Sep-2017
No. 8. Urges States to establish, if they do not already have them, independent and impartial decision-making bodies responsible for determining whether conscientious objection to military service is valid in each specific case, taking into account the requirement of non-discrimination between COs based on the nature of their particular convictions.
No. 9. States that decisions regarding conscientious objection must always be reviewed by a competent, independent and impartial board established by law.
4 Several of these demands were extracted from the report "Conscientious Objection: The first year of application of the new conscription law. August 2017-October 2018" drafted by ACOOC and Justapaz.
Statement of Conscientious Objectors in Colombia, April 26, 2019. https://www.wri-irg.org/en/story/2019/statement-conscientious-objectors-colombia.