Colombia: Progress on law on conscientious objection?

Following the discussion of a first draft law submitted by Senator Maritza Martinez of the "Partido de la U" - the party of ex-president Uribe - in the Colombian Senate earlier this year, with the result that all articles specific to conscientious objection to military service were lost in the processs, the same Senator is now proposing a reworked draft. The original draft, submitted in 2011 (Law 136/2011) was passed by the plenary of the Senate on 8 May 2012, but during the discussion of the law in the First Constitutional Commission of the Senate it has been considerably changed, so that now it is a more general law on conscientious objection, rather than a law that regulates conscientious objection to military service. The law that was approved by the Senate on 23 May 2012 follows the amendments made by the First Constitutional Commission, and does not include any of the specific regulations on military service.

The new draft submitted by Senator Maritza Martinez and supported by Senator Eugenio Prieto is based on Maritza Martinez's initial proposal, but it includes some improvements. Similar to her initial proposal from 2011, the law would regulate not just conscientious objection to military service, but also other forms of conscientious objection.

The reworked draft first defines conscientious objection as a fundamental human right for "natural persons" - "judicial persons", such as companies or associations do not enjoy a right to conscientious objection - and then outlines a general procedure to obtain conscientious objector status. So-called "Conscience Committees" will be set up to decide on applications for conscientious objection. An application needs to include an explanation of the reasons of conscience (article 9), and some form of "proof" (article 12). However, what kind of proof is required is not specified.

Articles 21 to 32 deal with conscientious objection to military service. Article 22 creates a "Committee for Objection to Military Service", which is the "Conscience Committee" in cases of conscientious objection to military service, and includes a representative of the Human Rights Ombudsman, a civilian representative of the Ministry of Defence, and a representative of civil society for the protection of conscientious objectors (article 23).

Article 25 allows conscientious objection to bear arms, and to military service in general, and also clarifies that an application would be possible before, during, and after military service and while still being part of the reserve.

Articles 27 to 30 deal with a substitute service for conscientious objectors, which can be performed in public entities or the "Civilian Defence" of Colombia - the latter is under the Ministry of Defence.

Article 28 of the draft specifies that the length of the substitute service is 15 months, or - if a conscientious objector applies during military service, the remaining time of military service. However, military service lasts between 12 and 24 months, and for university graduates it is usually 12 months. For rural soldiers (soldados campesinos) the military service is usually 12-18 months.

According to article 31 of the draft law, conscientious objectors who completed their substitute service would receive a "libreta social" (social card) instead of the "libreta militar" (military card), which would replace the libreta militar.

The newly submitted draft of Maritza Martinez is a huge improvement compared to her initial draft. However, it is unclear if it has any more chance of being turned into law than her first proposal, which got watered down to the extent that it does not provide any specific protection for conscientious objectors to military service.

Sources: Radio Cadena Nacional: Jóvenes podrían acogerse a objeción de conciencia para no prestar servicio militar, 20 September 2012; El Espectador: Se podría acudir a objeción de conciencia para no prestar servicio militar, 20 September 2012; S Eugenio Prieto: La objeción de conciencia, un derecho ciudadano, 3 September 2012; Proyecto de ley estatutaria No. 136 de 2011 “Por medio de la cual se reglamenta el derecho a la objeción de conciencia”, 2011; Grupo de Derecho de Interes Publico: Observaciones e incidencia a los Proyectos de Ley Estatutaria 022 de 2011 Cámara y 136 de 2011 Senado, por medio de los cuales se busca reglamentar el artículo 18 de la Constitución Política en relación con los derechos a la libertad de conciencia y objeción de conciencia, 31 August 2011; War Resisters' International: Military Recruitment and Conscientious objection in Colombia, 17 August 2009;
Informe Legislativo Comisión Primera
, 27 June 2012; Ponencia para primer debate al proyecto ley estatutaria No. 136 de 2011 “Por medio de la cual se reglamenta el derecho a la objeción de conciencia”, 2011;
TEXTO DEFINITIVO APROBADO EN SESIÓN PLENARIA AL PROYECTO DE LEY 136 DE 2011 SENADO
, 23 May 2012; PROYECTO DE LEY ESTATUTARIA ... “por medio de la cual se regula el derecho a la objeción de conciencia”, August 2012