Country report and updates: Colombia


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Updated February 2017; researcher Victoria E. Giraldo

1 Conscription

conscription exists

Military service has been mandatory in Colombia since the 1886 constitution, and was maintained in the political constitution of 1991. On one hand, there are important advances in the binding international human rights tools, and their interpretative value of internal regulations by the constitutional court, but on the other hand, there are still some legislative and practical cases that violate consecrated rights:

  1. Illegal recruitment is still taking place in most major cities in Colombia.

  2. In many cases, this process is ignored by the authorities, whether because of their legal interpretation or because they are ignorant of the law.

  3. As of today, the absence of a law that regulates conscientious objection makes it almost impossible to apply the ordinance to the citizens who demand it. Let alone, a last and very delicate problem;

  4. forced recruitment operated by illegal armed groups.

military service

All men between the ages of 16 and 28 are liable for military service. Every man has to define his military situation before the age of 181, even if he has a right to exemption or postponement. The procedure for young students directly involves the schools, which are obliged to draw up a list of students in their last year of high school. Even if they have not yet finished their studies, in some districts they are already eligible. Once enrolled in the military process, they are subject to psychological and physical tests, and then the authorities undertake a raffle to randomly select regular soldiers (to serve from between 18 to 24 months), the bachelor soldiers (12 months), police officers (12 months) or rural soldiers (from 12 to 18 months), depending on the local authorities and the military district. Each local military district determinates what type of soldier they need, and the length of service.

 postponement and exemption

The law that regulates military service is no. 48 of 1993. It determines that military service, even though is mandatory for every adult man, has some exceptions: (i) regular exemptions – without payment of military compensation - and (ii) peace time exemptions – with payment of military compensation.

Regular exemptions: are available to (i) people who have physical and sensory limitations, (ii) indigenous people who live in their territory and preserve their cultural, social and economic integrity.2

In the former case, the citizens who have cognitive or mental deficiencies don’t have any difficulties in defining their exemptions. However, for the indigenous people, the process is not so easy. Recently, the Defensoria del pueblo published a list of acts that consistently violate their rights. In the first place, the requirement of being in the territory overlooks the fact that some of them are forced to move out to work and study in other places or, in the worst cases, they are forcibly displaced. Secondly, the military forces ask the indigenous people to prove their condition through very outdated census, or by the Community certifications, which the authorities do not recognise because of the differences in the language and other factors.3

Peace time exemptions: addressed to (a) clergymen and religious people permanently dedicated to their worship, (b) those condemned to penalties with loss of political rights, (c) single children (d) orphans of father or mother who carry out the subsistence of incapable brothers, (e) children of incapable fathers or over 60 years old, (f) brothers or children of military service injured or victims, (g) married men, (h) partially disabled and (i) children of Fuerza Pública (Public Force) officers who died or acquired absolute disability in combat or acts during military service.4

On top of the aforementioned people, law 1448 of 2011 adds Peace time exemption (without the payment of military compensation) to all the victims of the armed conflict who have defined their condition through the registry system of victims - RUV.5

Postponement: law no. 48 of 1993 outlines the following situations where postponement is possible: (a) having a sibling who is doing military service, (b) being detained by civil authorities in the period of recruitment, (c) being temporarily disabled, (d) having been accepted, or already be studying, in establishments recognised by the ecclesiastical authorities, like preparation centres of religious life or sacerdotal career, (e) be enrolled on officers formation schools (f) being enrolled on the last course of high school and lost the exams or graduation requirements (g) conscript men who complain some exemption in explicit accordance to the present law.

Law no. 548. Of 1999, adds young men who are studying in a centre of superior education. In 2001, it was clarified that those who will be enrolled in an undergraduate program can postpone the definition of their military situation until the studies are completed.6 Unfortunately, in the military districts there’s not a clear idea of what superior education means: some think it includes technical education too, but other districts it only includes university education. Additionally, who does not define his situation at the end of the studies, cannot access his professional title.

forced recruitment

Arbitrarily, men are taken to quarters or military districts with the aim to force them to register, take exams and, if suitable, incorporate them immediately into the army. Even if the Constitutional Court has prohibited such detentions with recruitment purposes, called batidas, they are still being performed with unidentified means of transport, such as trucks without plates or school buses.7 In general, these practices are taking place in Bogotá by military districts from other regions, therefore, the illegal recruited men are transferred to other towns where the authorities verify their military situation and, if suitable, they are incorporated immediately in an irregular way.8

Conscientious objection

The statement c-728 of 2009 from the Constitutional Court recognises that conscientious objection is a reasonable reason for the military service exemption, however, it also states that there is no need for a specific regulation to accomplish this right. In other words, such a law still does not exist. After a few political efforts to regulate conscientious objection9, the debates did not gain much public attention and have always been shelved. Certainly, applicable legal sub-rules exist10, however the ignorance of the authorities, the difficulties to assess the evidence and the judicial silence makes this human right inapplicable, especially because of the lack of a tangible law.

According to official numbers of the National Recruitment Agency 80% of the cases of conscientious objectors invoke religious reasons and 20% call upon ethical and philosophical values. Until 2005, there were five successful cases. The first recognition of a conscientious objector was resolved in 2009, however this is still not know by most young men. According to Diego Carreño, a member of Accion colectiva de objetores y objetoras de conscienca(ACOOC), four out of the five cases were for religious matters and one for political ones, which means that “the exemption law enforcement is valid, lawful and first of all, is a human right”.11

As per the substitute service, there is nothing more than recommendations by the Defensoría del Pueblo (ombudsman), on the type of alternative social service for conscientious objectors, such as the environmental service.

Draft evasion and desertion

Those exempted from the provision of compulsory military service by: (a) any of the reasons provided by the Article 28; (b) a disability; or (c) if a distrcit has already filled its quota of soldiers; will be regarded as "classified" and will have to pay a contribution to the National Treasury, called "military compensation fee". The minimum amount for a military compensation quota will not be less than 50% or 60% of the legal monthly minimum wage. The total family income and assets of the person concerned, or of the person on whom he or she demonstrates financial dependency, shall be taken as the basis for this calculation.

Nowadays, young people who avoid recruitment or are not enrolled, must pay a fine equivalent to the 50% or 60% of a current monthly legal minimum wage. Those evade the draft, but then later do perform military service, are exempted from paying a fine and a compensation fee.12 It is worth mentioning that Colombians who do not define their situation not only incur a fine, but can’t even access a number of goods and services, as well as rights to education and work. Therefore, the worst and most coercive sanction is the apparent death of political and civil citizenship, which follows the refusal to enrol in the military programme.

Regarding desertion, it is noted that there is no procedure to ensure that citizens are immediately discharged when applications are resolved favourably. It takes between 20 and 40 days, even when the exemption or deferral tests are completed, even the military authorities refuse to carry out the procedure for purely bureaucratic reasons. There have been cases in which irregular disruption of recruitment takes up to 4 months to be resolved.13

Forced recruitment by non-State armed groups

There are also people recruited by force into illegal armed groups, who are difficult to control. The response that has been given to the situation is set out in Sentence C-781 of 2012 of the Constitutional Court, which demands that every under-age child -male or female - recruited or used by guerrilla and paramilitary groups for war purposes or intelligence by recognised as a victim of war. In this way, they would "remain" in the normative sense, covered by a cause of exemption i.e. they cannot be recruited again.


The data provided by the recruiting address shows that the majority of Colombians who perform compulsory military service are between the ages of 19 and 21.











Likewise, it is evident that most of the soldiers belong to strata 0, 1 and 2, that is, the lowest socio-economic stratum. In other words, they are young soldiers with very low economic resources.


1 Although the Convention on the Rights of the Child determines that the minimum age of recruitment is 15 years old, Colombian law was incremented the range to 18 years. Not even with the permission of the parents can a child under 16 be recruited

248 - 1993, Art. 27.

3Informe de la Defensoría del Pueblo. Servicio Militar Obligatorio en Colombia. Incorporación, reclutamiento y objeción de conciencia. Bogotá, D.C, 2014. Pág 34.

448 - 1993, Art. 28.

5Decreto 4800 de 2011, Art. 178 reglamentado en la Ley 1448 de 2011.

6 642 - 2001, Art. 1º.

7 Reported cases by Defensoría del Pueblo. See more:

8 Statement C-879 de 2011.

9 Law project 102 - 2008, 115 - 2010, 2 - 2012 and more recently, law project 20 - 2015.

12 In 2008 it add to the exemption: “Who shows with certificate by the competent authority that they belong to the 1, 2 or 3 level of the Beneficiary Identification and Selection System (SISBEN), limited physical, psychic or neurosensory persons with permanent conditions, indigenous persons residing in their territory, the staff of soldiers who were deputed of the third medical examination, and minors under 25 years of age exempt by law or inability to provide compulsory military service, linked to the Social Protection Network for Overcoming Extreme Poverty” Law 1184 of 2008, Art. 6º.

13 This situation has been reported by Defensoría del Pueblo - Regional Boyacá. For example, the case of Nillin Alexánder Pérez, Cristian Javier Pérez and Holan Steven Mayorga Vanegas.

Colombia-report-February-2017.pdf183.93 KB


Articles related to conscientious objection

05 Apr 2017

Diego Blanco has been illegally recruited into the Colombian militaryDiego Blanco has been illegally recruited into the Colombian militaryConscientious Objector Diego Fernando Blanco López from Colombia has been illegally recruited by the Colombian army, despite his right to postpone due to being a student. He is currently being forced to serve in the Grupo de Caballeria Mecanicado No 4 Juan de Corral of the Colombian Army in Rionegro, Antioquia.

Since his declaration of conscientious objection on 20th March 2017, Diego Blanco has been subjected to aggression and harassment by his superiors. When he refused to take arms earlier this week, he was attacked by the First Sergeant Oscar Camacho Cartagena and has been threatened with a court martial for disobedience/insubordination.

Support Diego Blanco with your protest emails to the authorities. Send your emails here.

19 Dec 2016

Here is a satire video by activists from Colombia, mocking a TV show in which obligatory military service and the “libreta militar” (which people are given when they complete miltiary service) is promoted strongly.

This video was made in response and dissent of this promotion, which was broadcast on 28 July 2016 on Personeria TV.


29 Jul 2016

Video featuring Accion colectiva de objetores y objetoras de conscienca (Collective Action of Conscientious Objectors), by FOR Peace Presence

25 Apr 2016

Original statement in Spanish

This year on the 22nd of March, the Bolivian Plurinational Constitutional Tribunal (PCT) rejected the right of conscientious objection as an alternative to its obligatory military service. This has occurred in spite of the generally agreed-upon right to constitutional protection, brought to attention by 18-year-old objector Ignacio Orías Calvo, who claimed refuge under this fundamental right based on his religious beliefs.

This decision would not seem to follow the same logic of a government fostered by a constitution which, at least on paper, affirms that “Bolivia is a pacifist state, which promotes the Right to Peaceful Solutions and a Peaceful culture”. In actuality, what would appear to be a contradiction fits neatly within the patriarchal and militaristic confines that have characterized the Movement for Socialism of Bolivia (MAS), ever since its army first took root in the country. 

13 Apr 2016

A new report from ACOOC addresses recruitment to the military in Colombia, focusing on the phenomenon of arbitrary detention - usually undertaken through batidas (raids). Though batidas are banned, this report shows that, in practice, they are still common.

The report has been produced by the Acción colectiva de objetores y objetoras de conciencia (ACOOC: Conscientious Objectors' Collective Action) based on information collected in conjunction with other organisations and groups in the Proceso Distrital de Objeción de Conciencia.

In January, the Colombian Constitutional Court ruled that the army should release Cristian Andrés Cortés Calderón. Cristian had been recruited last August, whilst he was still in his final year of high school. Students are allowed to postone military service, but Cristian was nonetheless called up. In court, Cristian's father said that Cristian also works at night in a supermarket to financially support his family. The court ordered that he be released from the military within 48 hours.

The Court however also ruled that Cristian would still be liable for conscription when his studies end.

Sources: corteconstitucional, Sentencia T-004/16, 19 January 2016; Caracol Radio, Ejército no puede reclutar a estudiantes de bachillerato así sean mayores de edad, 23 February 2016.

Forum posts related to conscientious objection