Colombia: Constitutional Court limits 'batidas'

In a new judgement the Constitutional Court of Colombia limits the widespread practice of 'batidas'. The judgement related to a complaint in relations to article 14 of the law on recruitment (Ley 48 de 1993), which deals with the obligation to register for military service, and article 41 para g), which defines the process in relation to the classification of a person as "remiso" (draft evader).

Article 14 describes the process of registration to resolve the military situation. This is then followed by several medical examinations, which determine whether a person is fit (and therefore liable) for military service or not (articles 15-17). The enlistment itself is dealt with in article 20. According to article 41 and 42, failure to register for military service, to appear for medical examination, for classification, or for recruitment can be punished with a fine. Those who fail to show up at a recruitment rally (according to article 20) will be classified as remisos. Once someone is declared remiso, he will have to resolve his military situation by performing military service (article 43), However, if he has reasons for exemption, he can also be exempted by the Junta para Remisos (article 43). According to article 50 (a) of decree 2048/1993, the military can carry out patrols to find remisos. However, this does not include other persons who have not resolved their military situation.

In its sentence, the Constitutional Court interpreted the second sentence of Article 14: "When they reach adulthood without having complied with this obligation (to register for military service), the authorities can compel them to do so, without affecting the application of the sanctions which are prescribed in this law." The Court clarified that this does not give the military permission to compel anyone to actually perform military service, but only that they can be "forced" to comply with the first step of the recruitment process, which is the registration for military service. The Court goes on to discuss the issue of arbitrary detention. According to the press release, the court said that the verb "compel" in article 14 can be interpreted in compliance with the Constitution "if it is understood in the sense that someone who has not complied with the obligation to register to define his military situation can only be held momentarily while this situation is verified and he registers, a process which does not require any formalities." The Court goes on to clarify that this cannot include to transport the person to the barracks or a military district and their retention by the military for a longer period with the aim to not only register them, but to also subjugate them to a examination of their health and if found suitable, to recruit them.

In relation to article 41 paragraph g) the Court declared that the detention of a "remiso" (draft evader), who had been declared a remiso in compliance with article 41 paragraph g), and who had been called up to perform military service, but failed to do so, is constitutional. This means that a remiso can be detained by the military and brought to the barracks, with the aim that he "resolves his military situation by serving his military service".

It remains to be seen if the military recruitment practice, which relies heavily on batidas, will really change following this sentence of the Constitutional Court.

Meanwhile, conscientious objection and human rights activists in Barrancabermeja received new death threats from a group calling itself "Los Rastrojos". The Rastrojos are an outgrowth of the powerful Norte del Valle drug trafficking organisation in Colombia with a national and international reach, according to InSight Crime. In a pamphlet which was left in the house of a member of the Unión Sindical Obrera – USO, the Rastrojos ordered several organisations including the conscientious objectors group Quinto Mandamiento to cease their activities, including the organisations of demonstrations and events, to avoid their death and being declared military targets. This is not the first time these organisations received death threats. Quinto Mandamiento was already target of death threats in 2008.

Sources: Corte Constitucional: Comunicado No 46, 22-23 November 2011, El Tiempo: Ejército no puede hacer redadas por libreta militar, advirtió la Corte, 29 November 2011, El Espectador: Fuerzas Militares no pueden obligar a las personas a definir su situación militar, 29 November 2011; War Resisters' International: Military Recruitment and Conscientious objection in Colombia, August 2009; InSight Crime: Rastrojos, accessed 1 December 2011, Quinto Mandamiento: Pronunciamiento frente a amenazas de muerte a organizaciones sociales y defensoras de derechos humanos en Barrancabermeja, Magdalena Medio en Colombia, 30 November 2011