National Assembly of Conscientious Objectors of Colombia
- 1. CONTEXT
- General State of the Colombian context
- The Armed Conflict and Civil Society
- Paramilitary and Guerrilla Forces
- 2. LEGAL ASPECTS OF RECRUITMENT AND CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTION AGAINST THE COLOMBIAN STATE.
- Freedom of Conscience and Obligatory Military Service in the Colombian Constitution
- Obligatory Military Service and Those Who Reject
- Military ID Card and Conscientious Objection
- Recruitment by the Colombian State: Irregular and Illegal
- Recruitment of Children by Illegal Armed Groups
- 3. POLITICAL, ETHICAL AND SOCIAL PANORAMA OF CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTION IN COLOMBIA
- 4. ACCOMPANIMENT PROCEDURES FOR CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTORS
- 5. THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY OF CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTORS
- The National Assembly of Conscientious Objectors
- Red Juvenil Paz Caribe (Youth Peace Network of the Caribbean)
- Colectivo Objetarte Cali (Cali Objector Collective)
- Red Juvenil Medellín (The Youth Network of Medellín)
- Acción Colectiva de Objetores y Objetoras de Conciencia Bogotá (Collective Action of Conscientious Objectors in Bogotá)
- 5. Movimiento Juvenil Artesanos de Vida Mocoa - Putumayo (The Youth Movement of Life Artisans)
- 6. Concejo Municipal de Juventudes Puerto Caicedo - Putumayo (The Youth Town Council)
- Corporación Colombia Joven Villa Rica - Cauca (Corporation of Young Colombia)
- Servicio Paz y Justicia Barranquilla (Service, Peace and Justice)
- Asociación Juvenil y Estudiantil Regional Arauca (The Regional Youth and Student Association)
- Movimiento de Objetores y Objetoras Quinto Mandamiento Barrancabermeja (Fifth Commandment Movement of Objectors)
- Movimiento Juvenil Álvaro Úlcue Cauca (Álvaro Úlcue Youth Movement)
- Kasimba Cali
- FUNSAREP Cartagena
Colombia has one of the oldest internal armed conflicts in Latin America. This conflict involves on one hand the various armed actors such as the guerrilla groups ELN (National Liberation Army) and FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), the paramilitaries, and the State's armed forces and other security corps. On the other hand, we find unarmed power actors implicated in the war, such as the political and economic elite, transnational companies, and the mass media as it is controlled by the national economic empire, which openly supports the military and aggressive stance of the current government.
For the past four years, the policy of 'Democratic Security' has been the strategic focus of the programs of the Colombian Government. However, this policy has brought about an intensification of the armed conflict and increased the militarization of Colombian society. These results are reflected in the augmentation of the state's military offensive, the expansion of paramilitarism, and the complicity between the State's armed forces and the illegal paramilitary groups. These combined factors, have caused an increase in disappearances and political assassinations, forced displacements in regions of military confrontation, arbitrary detentions, annihilation of indigenous peoples, and the closing off of political space in which to construct solutions through dialogue and negotiation.
In the same vein, the increasing development of militarization has begun to limit the actions of social movements and to negate the fundamental principles of a citizen's basic rights, which include guarantees to independence between the powers of the State, the universality and interdependence of Human Rights, the right to engage in one's own process, and the liberty of thoughts and expression, among others..
Furthermore, the centrality of the Democratic Security Policy to the Government's plan combined with its dominant warlike attitude directed a large part of the State's institutional and budget resources to Public Projects with a clearly militarist profile: contrasting the 13% of the budget that was directed towards social investment (14 billion Colombian pesos) with the 9% destined to defense (9,5 billion pesos), the direct proportionality between the intensification of the Colombian armed conflict and the exponential impoverishment of the population becomes obvious.
Within this panorama, the Government is reconstructing the armed forces, which includes increasing the troop levels (see: graphic 1), advancing technological improvement of equipment and communications, increasing the military arsenal and the mobility of the troops, creating new military units, professionalizing combat units, and capitalizing on the sizabler presence of civil aids and U.S. soldiers.
Diagram 1. Increase of the armed forces 1995-2005.
Moreover, according to WOLA, Colombia is the third largest recipient of U.S. aid in the world, and more than 80% of that aid goes directly to military and police support.
Since 2003 the Colombian Government, along with the collusion of the United States has carried out Plan Patriota (Plan Patriot), the biggest military offensive in the last 40 years aimed at defeating the FARC by combining U.S. forces with Colombian soldiers and paramilitaries. This plan goes hand in hand with the economic interests of the pending Free Trade Agreement (TLC), of which the fundamental objective is to assure the economic, political, military, social and cultural domination of Colombia by the interests of large national and international companies, who consider the signing of the free trade agreement as an opportunity to fulfill multimillion businesses contracts.
While the rich get richer, the majority of Colombians face the dismantling of the worker's rights, the privatization of health and education, the reform of the pension benefits, the passage of new taxes in Congress, the ruin of the small and mid-size industry and agriculture, the increase of the privatization of strategic development sectors and national sovereignty, and the abandonment of the social responsibilities of the State.
The current Colombian government ignores the basic tenant of International Humanitarian Law, which states that the distinction between civilians and combatants must be respected. This lack of compliance has been reflected in the subjugation of civilians to military intelligence tactics, such as surveillance, control of information, merging of informant networks, creating citizen security fronts and the using private security agencies, all of which generate a dangerous game of social polarization.
The Government considers the collaboration of civilians with the public forces to be an absolute duty, but assigning civilians to a military function in the armed conflict, turns them into a target for guerrilla attacks. The communities and social and human right organizations that resist or denounce this military strategy of civilian involvement in the conflict, are publicly stigmatized as 'accomplices to terrorism', targeting them for military and judicial actions, such as government searches, tapped lines of communication, illegal detentions, judicial framings, extrajudicial executions, and forced disappearances.
Furthermore, the government depends on the collaboration of the mass media in order to manipulate information to show the success of military operations in order to convince public opinion of the need for and the benefits of militarization as well as the necessity of not questioning the obvious attacks against civil society, social organizations and defenders of human rights.
With respect to the public forces, it must be noted that the abuse of power is a common element in the actions undertaken in the name of the 'fulfillment of their duty'. The arbitrariness and maltreatment their actions suggest, characterize the routine procedures that are in general used against civil society and principally against young people; attacking their fundamental rights to liberty, personal development, freedom of conscience, and use and enjoyment of public spaces.
At a cultural level, it's worthwhile to reveal the impact of the different socital settings, such as the family, school, place of employment, and the media, insomuch as they define the militarization of civilian life.. Phrases like: "you're not a man if you don't go to the army", "the soldiers are saving the fatherland", and "thanks to the war we'll achieve peace", are evidence of the legitimacy of the daily practices of militarization.
The Colombian armed conflict has permeated the family, neighborhood and community dynamics of Colombians, to such an extent that today the conflict is not only visible in the midst of the armed confrontation, but also in the daily relationships between men and women. Women needn't possess a weapon to be actors in the conflict; the militarization of the Colombian society enables men to exert force and authoritarianism against women and ensure a lack of equitable relations. In the public and private sphere, women are converted into objects and objectives of war, and their bodies are likened to battlefields.
Additionally, the processes of socialization in a violent and militarized context contribute to the fact that many Colombians show indifference with respect to the levels of violence and perceived militarization and view violent resolution of conflict as a desirable norm. This has reached such an apex that it prevents what would, in other contexts, be natural reactions that are almost automatic and absolutely vital to defending and reestablishing the human rights that have been violated or are at risk.
The presence of illegal armed actors coincides with the areas of economic interest to the formal economy. The war is being fought in areas of interest to mega-projects, zones ripe for the expansion of the African palm oil agro-industry and lands inclined towards the production and traffic of illegal crops. The predominance of a certain armed actor has much to do with their economic interests and allows us to distinguish two forms of presence:
- The presence of paramilitary groups coincides with areas where mega-projects are being explored, primarily in indigenous territories or zones belonging to Afro-Colombian communities. These mega-projects have been supported by previous governments in the name of economic globalization and they have refused to acknowledge the territorial rights of the afro and indigenous communities that have lived on these lands for more than 500 years.
- The presence of guerrilla groups is centered in areas of non-sustainable extraction industry such as logging and industrial fishing and mining, while also including illicit crops and agro-industry..
The result of the intervention of the armed actors in these zones has been the forced displacements and massacres of civil society. The report of the Office of the High Commission of the United Nations regarding Colombia as well as other organizations that monitor human rights, reveals that the Afro-Colombian population is the most affected by the armed conflict, followed by rural and indigenous communities.
Recently, the country has gone through a process of "demobilization" that resulted in, according to official data, the detention of 58 paramilitary leaders and nearly 30.000 men who laid down arms. However, doubt remains about the future of this process, as it is slowly being uncovered that paramilitary leaders have a determining and extensive influence on the military forces and in ample sectors of politics.
Examples of the deep infiltration of paramilitary forces into society have been made clear by the detention of nine members of Congress, the ex-director of the Administrative Department of Security (DAS), various parliamentarians of different regions for cited collusion with paramilitary leaders. The admission of the Federation of Cattlemen that hundreds of cattlemen directly financed paramilitary groups, along with the recent declarations of paramilitary leader Salvatore Mancuso, in which he entails names of high ranking Army Commanders who coordinated and participated in massacres such as those of Macayepo and Chengue (Sucre), El Salado (Bolívar), El Aro (Antioquia) and Mapiripán (Meta), are only the tip of the iceberg as Colombian begins to understand the horrible amount of crimes yet to come to light and committed in complicity with public officials and businesses Moreover, the para-governmental and narco-traficker strategy behind the massive displacements, the massacres and the monetary control on businesses such as fuel smuggling, and the extortion and cultivation of products tied to mega-projects and trans-nationals continues to be hidden.
Lately, although the influence of the paramilitaries in Colombian society has been minimally published, it continues to be a powerful if hidden force as paramilitaries continue to cultivate thousands of hectares of African palm on territories belonging to Afro-Colombian populations. They continue to exert political and ideological control on community organizations, public institutions, colleges and universities in more than five regions of the country. It is safe to say that taking into account the demobilization process and para-political scandals, the structure of paramilitarism today remains largely unaffected and in fact continues to dominate.
Conversely, at the beginning of the Uribe Government, the guerrilla forces adopted a tactic of withdrawal. but in these last two years have they once again commenced large numbers of attacks on paramilitary groups and communities associated with them., They are also responsible for attacks against military units and against the civilian population, which they regard as a collaborator in governmental security programs and therefore an eligible military target.,
With respect to the recent possibility of humanitarian exchange and peace dialogues, a clear solution has not been put forth. In spite of the advances reached thanks to the collaboration of some European countries, the FARC continues to insist on conditions they outlined at the start of their dialogues with the government, which is their demand to be recognized as "a political revolutionary armed organization of the people", and that this be ratified in a National Constitutional Assembly. The ELN guerrilla group is currently engaged in an exploratory negotiation phase that involves the accompaniment of important members of the international community, an Episcopal commission, and a civilian facilitating commission. However, no clear negotiation program has been agreed upon.
Inevitably, the militarization of Colombia has in recent years brought about an exponential increase in cases of Human Rights and International Human Rights violations. These violations have been sheltered under politics that sustain and promote the mechanisms of war as a means to resolve conflicts that have historically oppressed the Colombian people economically, by restricting accessibility to political power, through ethnic violence, social injustice and discrimination and much more.
Ultimately, the panorama is dramatic as civilians continue to be the most affected, caught as they are, in the middle of the armed conflict. Civilian liberties such as their opportunities for expression and their right to life with dignity are violated. Military logic continues to intervene in the midst of civilian life and land as the machinations of war are implemented in the name of pacification of the civilian population and towards the denial of the basic values of freedom, civility, peace, dialogue and respect. This has converted Colombia into an experimental setting that to this moment continues to construct society on the conceptions of the country's political leaders and economic hegemony that results in hierarchical stratification, rampant injustice, the constant fear of death and displacement and the complete lack of consideration of humanitarian problems, all resulting in a society without opposition.
In 1991, the rewriting of the Colombian Constitution provided an ideal opportunity to struggle with the government for constitutional recognition of the right to conscientious objection. In the chapter concerning fundamental rights, Article 18 refers to freedom of conscience and guarantees the right that "No one will be obligated to act against his conscience". At the same time, the chapter dedicated to the Public Forces includes Article216 stating that "all Colombians are obligated to take up arms when public necessities demand it in order to defend national independence and public institutions. The law will determine the conditions that will allow for exemption from military service as well as the conditions of military service."
Cases that have been brought before the Constitutional Court regarding conscientious objection, have found the Court not looking for an interpretation between the two Constitutional Articles and instead opting for the Constitutional duty to military service over the Constitutional right to freedom of conscience with respect to obligatory military service (OMS). The arguments of the Constitutional Court focus on the priority of the collective interest above that of the individual. and their assertion that conscientious objection isn't explicitly recognized in the Constitution. They opine that the concept of conscientious objection can't be drawn out from the Constitutional right to freedom of conscience, and that OMS is part of the formation of the citizenry. Even so, recent legislation provides that conscientious objection is a recognized fight for members of the medical establishment and for members of Congress who wish to stand apart from decisions made within their parties. Conscientious objector groups in Colombia agree on not using Article 18 to demand the right of conscientious objection that route promotes the ability of the Colombian State to place restrictions and conditions on Objectors. Instead the work is focused on the application of the constitutional block, given that international norms in matters of Human Rights that have been ratified by Congress have constitutional rank. This allows for the immediate application of fundamental rights, as they do not require regulating..
The structure of OMS in Colombia is characterized by the enormous quantity of youth called for service as contrasted by the large amount of youth exempted from service and the relatively few who in the end actually comply with military service.
Diagram 2. Quantity of those called, exempted and complying with military service: 1995-2003
However, beginning in 2003 the trend seems to imply an increase in the number of youth called to service, a decrease in the amount of youth exempted from service and the concurrent increase - in absolute and relative terms - of the number of youth who in the end comply with obligatory service. This is worrisome situation, especially when you take into account that the great majority of the eventual soldiers come from families with low resources who, in comparison with other families, are not able to bribe officials or pay for the the military service ID card that all Colombian men must possess in order to have full legal status in society.
Due to the fact that conscientious objection is not legally recognized, we must defer to terms of military jurisdiction in order to draw closer to the phenomenon of the conscientious objectors and the forced recruitment of the Colombian State. The official data that we have been provided with shows documented cases of , reluctant recruits such as deserters and insubordinates, demonstrating their refusal to collaborate with the recruitment system and the conscription conditions of the Colombian State.
While these deserters and insubordinates are categorized as breaking recruitment law, which in theory should translate into fines not detention, desertion and disobedience are categories of penal military jurisdiction that result in the loss of freedom. In practice, deserters and insubordinates have been brought to trial for crimes of military desertion.
Diagram 3. Percentage of disobedience among persons obligated to military service: 1995-2003
The quantity of disobedience has been relatively high as compared to the number of persons obligated to military service. The average percentage for the period of 1995 to 2003 has been approximately 26%. Although these numbers had been trending downward, we see an spike in 2003 indicating that 48.5% of the total of persons obligated to do the military service were described as disobedient.
|Disobedience military||Disobedience police||Desertion military||Desertion police|
|690 persons||118 persons||5541 persons||13 persons|
As we can observe in table 1, in only three years the army has seen the cases of disobedience multiply and desertion from the police in a period of nine years. It also shows that in the army there has been annually an average of 230 insubordinates and 1847 deserters.
Thus, we can affirm that there exists a large group of young people who have refused - for some reason - the conscription efforts of the State and are categorized as disobedient, while at the same time many of their like-minded peers remain within the ranks of the State military.
One of the alternatives for those who reject OMS, is t to identify with one of the exemptions or postponements allowed within the law. This allows would-be recruits to instead pay the opt-out fee in order to be classified as having fulfilled their obligations as indicated under the law and by doing so, they are presented with the Military ID Card necessary for full participation in civil society.
Those who refuse to pay the service opt-out fee due to the ethical or political stance that paying this fee simply contributes to covering war expenses are in a unique situation.. Legally, they are no longer obligated to complete military service, but they will not receive the military ID card the lack of which will bar them from graduating from university and entering into labor contracts.
Furthermore, the government has been trying to change the law to require that the military ID card be presented before public officials, in order to apply for a passport, to initially matriculate to undergraduate studies, to recognize official credentials, to obtain a driver's license, or to fill private or public decisions. As the government pursues implementing these restrictions, some groups of conscientious objectors are beginning to take advantage of governmental efforts in order to bring discrimination lawsuits against the government for discrimination and violation of fundamental rights.
Although the recruitment law outlines procedures for filling the military ranks in many cases these protocols are not followed and the supposed impartiality of the process actually is full of many instances of unpredictability and corruption.
One type of forced recruitment practice is knows as "batidas". These take place in public places, usually in poor neighborhoods or rural areas, areas, and are targeted at identifying youth without their military ID card, throwing them into a truck and immediately incorporating them into the army. According to the law, this type of recruitment practice is illegal as the State is able to force eligible men to register to begin the process of fulfilling military obligations but cannot immediately force them into military service.
To this extent, legal exemptions and postponements are not observed or respected by the army. Indigenous people, fathers, displaced people, people partially disabled because of disease, and college students are forcibly recruited in spite of the existence of rules that exempt or postpone their military service.
In the 2004 Global Report of the Coalition to End the Use of Children Soldiers a chapter dedicated to Colombia reveals that according to a variety of statistical sources, one-quarter of the illegal armed groups troops are composed of minors under 18 years.
The children participate in combats, transport supplies, act as messengers and guards, and place explosives and mines. Some of them join to escape from poverty, unemployment or domestic abuse, while others seek to avenge the death of a family member or friend. Most of them are denied contact with their family and girls are pressured to have sexual relationships with male commanders..
With the State's new Childhood and Adolescent Law, children 15 years and older linked with illegal armed groups are no longer being considered victims of the conflict but are now eligible to be tried for crimes within the juvenile justice system. This is in contradiction with the recommendations made in the last report of the International Committee of Children's Rights.
The current context of the country, as mentioned before, is shaped by an internal armed conflict, which is mainly characterized by the will of different social, economical and political sectors to support a militaristic solution to the conflict. This popular attitude contrasts with the will of many other sectors of the Colombian society, such as conscientious objectors, in their quest to create alternatives to militarized solutions.
This highly militarized society combined with the Colombian State's refusal to legally recognize the right to conscientious objection to obligatory military service, has caused conscientious objectors in these last years to form a principal strategy of focusing on legitimating conscientious objection from a political, social and ethical perspective. In concrete terms, this refers to the intent of the conscientious objector movement to create and strengthen a social base and a political environment favorable to the consolidation of conscientious objection in Colombia.
Within this panorama, our work as conscientious objectors has been mainly directed to raise awareness with youth groups and civilian society concerning the problematic establishment and consolidation - in the short and long term - of politics that promote militarization in every form of possible expression.
In the same vein, we have sought to generate conciseness in public opinion with respect to the problem of legal and illegal recruitment of young Colombians., Many of whom refuse to be part of armed forces due to their ethical, political, and religious convictions, but because of the unfavorable structural situation of the country and the struggle of the political and economical interests of different classes and groups, are forced to participate in the armed aspect of the Colombian conflict, risking their lives to defend interests that don't represent their own.
Accordingly, conscientious objection is an ethical, social and political alternative for Colombians opposed to war. We refer to it as ethical and social, because it strengthens the individual and collective positions of youth who seek to defend their beliefs and claim their rights within the system. We refer to the CO stance as a political alternative because it allows us to create, in both the public and private sector, a reflective and sensitive attitude to the problem of militarization and war in our country.
In this way, although conscientious objection to military service is not explicitly recognized by the Colombian state, the political, social and ethical dimensions in which we have worked , have resulted in advances and gradual and important changes in the daily practices of many social sectors, and specially of many young people who have decided to refuse obligatory military service and other militaristic practices.
Considering the multiple risks implicit in the exercise of conscientious objection in Colombia, and the constant irregularities committed during the recruitment process, different groups of conscientious objectors have designed various accompaniment strategies and interventions. These strategies not only try to help young people who have already declared their position as conscientious objectors, but also young people who - without knowing about conscientious objection - are at risk for recruitment and looking for any kind of information or legal assistance.
One of the components that make up these strategies is legal assistance, in which we try to analyze the case considering all legal aspects in which we could possibly be of assistance. Most of this is done within the conscientious objector groups by their own members in an effort to reproduce what they have learned. This reinforces belief in their capacity to accompany these cases using the experience and the alternatives they have already explored.
Another component of the strategies to accompany objectors and young people in risk of recruitment, is the creation of a national and international support network that can intervene politically in every case, guarantee that the network is made aware of the forced recruitment and denounce when necessary. This allows us to organize ourselves in an effective position to accompany, by particular strategies, the cases that need attention because of their seriousness as well as to exert pressure or intervention from some international organizations.
To give an example of how these kinds of cases work, we will mention some of the most common irregularities and how we have proceeded:
1. A young man is recruited arbitrarily: taken away in a military truck and incorporated into the military ranks without being allowed to call his family, and without knowing that he may qualify for a military exemption as stipulated in the Colombian law.
In this case, our first step is to analyze the situation of the young man, looking for a legitimate legal exemption. Then, depending on the case, we present the different options that can be taken and together start the intervention process, which varies the use of legal mechanisms provided within Colombian legal statutes, until the day conscientious objection is a political declaration..
2. A young man is arbitrarily and illegally recruited, any possibility to negotiate his situation is denied as are the legal recourses he is attempting to use to appeal his situation..
In this kind of case, national and international accompaniment becomes relevant due to the immediate importance of distributing press releases, denouncements and solidarity action alerts in order to build political opposition to the forced recruitment thereby attempting to guarantee a fair review process based on the recognition of the young man's rights.
The advances regarding this form of accompaniment is related to our own learning process as conscientious objectors who are acquiring and managing information about the law, political, social and legal mechanisms that can be useful in this kind of cases, and constructing a positive reputation of conscientious objectors because of our effective intervention in cases of young people arbitrarily and illegally recruited.
With respect to the difficulties we have experienced, we must recognize that we don't have a legally qualified team and that limits are ability to obtain correct and quick answers in every case that we face. Also, despite the fact that our position is clear in its stance against recruitment into any form of armed service - legal or illegal- we have found it easier to take concrete action against the State's armed forces rather than the recruitment by illegal armies.
Conscientious objection in Colombia was first introduced as a topic in 1988 when a group of academics, philosophers, lawyers, intellectuals and church's members set out to discuss obligatory military service and its affects on youth.
In 1991, taking advantage of the changes being made to the Colombian constitution, the Collective of Conscientious Objectors and the Objectors for Peace program of the Mennonite Church, developed and mobilized a campaign to introduce the right of conscientious objection to the work groups at the National Constitutional Assembly.. Throughout that year these groups organized different public actions, such as marches, press interviews, student mobilizations, and also collected 6000 signatures which were delivered to the National Constitutional Assembly. Thanks to this work, the theme was discussed and the new Constitution an opening for the right to conscientious objection was codified through the guarantee to the freedom of conscience of the Colombian people (article 18).
In the same period, the Red Juvenil of Medellín was born, a community organization that reclaims the rights of youth, such as conscientious objection, through an approach that includes nonviolence and civil disobedience.
A significant act occurred in 1994: Luis Gabriel Caldas Leon, a publicly declared conscientious objector, was taken to prison and kept hidden from public sight until Amnesty International adopted him as a prisoner for conscience and organized actions against the government, which resonated with the international audience.
In the same year, Colombia participated in the first meeting of Latin American Conscientious Objectors in Paraguay. Our country also played host to the 9th International Meeting of Conscientious Objectors, which included participation from all continents and garnered wide spread media attention thereby amplifying its significance.
In the year 2000, the Acción Colectiva por la Objeción de Conciencia en Colombia (Collective Action for Conscientious Objection in Colombia) was created as a convergence of different organizations in Bogotá interested in strengthening the work of supporting conscientious objection in Colombia.
Between 2002 and 2004 a campaign called 'Juventudes desde la Noviolencia Activa Resistiendo a la Guerra' (Nonviolent Youth Actively Resisting the War) was carried out and promoted by various youth groups from different regions of Colombia. The campaign related issues of nonviolence, conscientious objection, antimilitarism and civil resistance. It was one of the first steps towards the creation of a national dialogue about conscientious objection and in September 2005it was converted into the National Assembly of Conscientious Objectors.
In recent years, we have developed four national assemblies, organized a workshop on legal alternatives for conscientious objectors, and in July of 2006organized an international meeting of solidarity for conscientious objection in Colombia. This event brought together various international delegates from war resistance and conscientious objection movements and proposed the creation of an international support network for the conscientious objector's process in Colombia.
The uniqueness of the Colombian context from that of other countries, means that conscientious objection has unfolded in the middle of an armed conflict between the State, guerrilla and paramilitary groups with multiple causes and factors playing a role in its development. The right to object based on matters of conscience doesn't only refer to legal military service, but also to an integrated manner of objection. This refers to the right to object to participation in any armed group involved in the conflict, to all expressions of militarism in the daily life (like authoritarism), and to the systems such as the neo-liberal economical model, that sustain militarism.
The National Assembly of Conscientious Objectors (ANOOC) is a network of organizations and groups from different regions of Colombia who, sharing a non-violent approach, promote the right of conscientious objection against all legal and illegal armed groups.
One of the main worries of the National Assembly has been the problem of recruitment and the constant militarization of civilian live by the different actors involved in Colombia's armed conflict. For this reason we have laid out the following points of action:
- Mutual strengthening between the different processes of conscientious objection by exchanging experiences and organizing formation meetings.
- National coordination of direct non-violent actions and public acts.
- Accompaniment and permanent communication between the different processes of conscientious objection.
- Construction of a national and international solidarity network for conscientious objectors.
Currently, the National Assembly of Conscientious Objectors consists of the following processes:
This is a group of young men and women from colleges, universities, churches, NGOs, musical groups, artistic groups, and others who, motivated by the construction of peace, have linked themselves with the Youth Platform of the Colombian Caribbean.The principal aim of the group is: to consolidate an active movement of the Colombian Caribbean, to expand webs of friendship and to generate processes with young people who believe in the construction of a better Caribbean, one bound together in solidarity and respectful to nature and future generations. They are conscientious objectors to all the manifestations and actions that stimulate the violence and practice nonviolence as a basic value for the construction of a just and durable peace, through the peaceful solution of conflicts.
Its points of action are:
- To prevent the recruitment of children and young people to the armed conflict.
- To provide psycho-social accompaniment to the displaced population located in Sincelejo.
- To create economic alternatives based on principles of fair trade.
The Colectivo Objetarte is an independent and informal organization, which serves as an axis for articulating proposals related to antimilitarism, understood as an individual or collective political position, that tries to culturally reconstruct other forms and means to transform the Colombian society.
The collective is a diverse and multicultural group, that, in respect to the context of the city of Cali, proposes to generate critical opinions about the Colombian armed conflict using a heterogenic approach and building alternatives of resistance to Babylon and the daily practices of inequality and inequity.
Its principal strategies are:
- To publicize the theme of conscientious objection in the city by means of alternative communication such as: integrating in the musical and artistic groups' scene, printing T-shirts, painting murals, and gathering audio-visual projections of antimilitaristic experiences.
- To develop a formative process with three types of youth population: young men and women in colleges in urban and rural zones, young organized people of rural zones and young people from Christian communities.
- To support different antimilitaristic and inclusive initiatives from the city and other regions.
The Red Juvenil is a community organization that was born at the end of the '80s in order to:
- Bring together youth proposals of mobilization, expression and claim of rights.
- Make themselves visible as leading, critical and proposal-driven youth organization with respect to the Colombian problems.
- Contribute to the formation of a Social Youth Movement capable of daily exercising its own rights.
These days the Red Juvenil is made up of eight groups that organize different activities such as art, direct nonviolent action, popular education, staking their claim in Medellín and in Colombia, antimilitarism and conscientious objection as an alternative to the armed conflict, reflections on the structural reasons of the war and from these reflections, constructing possible alternatives and dialogues in order to create a project of promoting an inclusive and equitable society.
Acción Colectiva de Objetores y Objetoras de Conciencia Bogotá (Collective Action of Conscientious Objectors in Bogotá)
The Collective Action of Conscientious Objectors is a group of young men and women, of different cultural, social and academic origins, who join together in the search for respect to freedom of conscience and the right to refuse to take part - directly and indirectly - in the war. The current group comes from the fusion between the Collective of Conscientious Objection and the Collective Action for Conscientious Objection in Colombia. The group's general aim is: to contribute to the formation of social, economical, political and legal alternatives to the recruitment of young people by armed actors, through the consolidation of different organizational processes, based on the right to the freedom of conscience.
These days its principal strategy is the strategy of providing accompaniment to conscientious objectors and young people in risk of recruitment, which includes: the construction of affinity groups, a network of legal accompaniment, a national and international support network, a process of psycho-social accompaniment, nonviolent direct actions, communication and distribution, and an emergency fund for young men and women in risk of recruitment.
Moreover, they are working on two points of action:
- Alternatives to the Economic Model, which includes: an analysis concerning the links between the war and the neo-liberal economical model as well as the construction of economical alternatives and of responsible consumption, such as the projects of self-management and the Organic, Conscientious and Solidarity Market.
- Processes of formation, such as: ' Alternating Resistances' with children and young people, constructing knowledge and practices with respect to active nonviolence, conflict transformation, conscientious objection, antimilitarism, responsible consumption, etc.
The Youth Movement of Life Artisans is a group of young men and women who work with children and young people in vulnerable situations and displacement. Springing out of theater, dance and crafts they work on conscientious objection, conflict transformation and nonviolence, in order to make visible the situation of militarization and war that they daily face in their town. They also cultivate a garden in order to have a sustainable food source.
The Youth Town Council, created by the youth law of 1997, is an organization entrusted to create alternatives in order that young men and women may take part in the decisions that construct their lives as young people in different spaces and moments.
The general aim of the work in the town of Puerto Caicedo is to educate, organize and seek out development alternatives so that the young people can work in peace, with a vision of success that does not require them to think about war as an alternative to sustain them. The work is focused on going against violence, weapons, obligatory military service, and participation in paramilitary or guerrilla groups, through marches of resistance, campaigns against war toys and trainings.
The Corporation of Young Colombia is a not-for-profit community organization that promotes the self-recognition of children and young people as social subjects, through the introduction of innovative pedagogic proposals in the organizational processes created by the same young people, orientated to community participation, respect for human rights, nonviolence, the conscience objection, peaceful co-existence, ethnic identity and sustainable development. These areas are approached by implementing popular education methods thereby allowing improvement in the quality of life for children, young men and women and families in the North of Cauca.
Its areas of work are:
- Infantile growth and formation.
- Youth and community development.
- Institutional strengthening.
Service, Peace and Justice is a non-profit group principally aiming to contribute to the construction of a culture of peace, by processes of education and awareness, based on the principles of active nonviolence and the respect of the right to a dignified life.
Its points of action are the following:
- Education for Peace: development of workshops, seminars and forums on active nonviolence, conscientious objection, conflict resolution, gender equity, etc.
- Social works: helping street children by giving them food and psychological help, organizing talks about self-respect, interpersonal and interfamilial relations, education in values and conflict resolution.
- Environmental management: to make people aware of the values that help to maintain a healthy environment, based on the principle of sustainability, equity and social justice, by the organization of ecological campaigns, forums, and days of action.
- Accompaniment Centers: consist of an office to accompany young people, Christian groups and the community with respect to political and legal subjects and biblical theology related to conscientious objection to obligatory military service.
- Commercial Contracts: Public denouncements concerning the lies about the free trade agreements in Latin America such as ALCA, TLC, Plan Colombia, etc.
The Regional Youth and Student Association is an association of students and farmers less than 25 years old, which has 5 work objectives: environment, self-chthon culture, sport and recreation, human rights, and communication. Its objective is to create youth leaders throughout the different towns of Arauca, by educative and recreational activities in colleges.
Movimiento de Objetores y Objetoras Quinto Mandamiento Barrancabermeja (Fifth Commandment Movement of Objectors)
The Fifth Commandment is an organization of young nonviolent and antimilitaristic people who work on themes of conscientious objection, active nonviolence, and antimilitarism, with the objective to seek out alternatives to the forced recruitment. They seek to, by direct nonviolent actions and workshops, reach other young people with a proposal in which they can identify the social problematic themselves and take up a position.
The youth movement Álvaro Úlcue is a process of young indigenous Paez people from the North of Cauca, who refuse any militaristic proposal, and don't cooperate with any of the armed groups. Through the development of formative activities, they sustain their culture and the recuperation of their land, they propose radical changes to the Colombian armed conflict.
Kasimba is a group of Afro-Colombian young people who develop formation activities and actions from the approach of nonviolence, conscientious objection and conflict resolution, with the objective to transform their daily reality and reclaim their rights as an Afro-Colombian Population.
FUNSAREP is a social community and grassroots organization, that develops grassroots work with young people, adults and children in the city of Cartagena. It has been characterized by its nonviolent emphasis and these days they engage in developing antimilitarism proposals with the disadvantages sectors of society.
COALICIÓN PARA ACABAR CON LA UTILIZACIÓN DE NIÑOS SOLDADOS. Niños y niñas soldados. Informe 2004. Edición abreviada en Español. 208 páginas. 2005. Londres.
GUTIÉRREZ Carvajal, Carlos. Servicio militar obligatorio en Colombia. Reclutamiento y Rehusamiento. En www.objecioncolombia.org. 18 páginas. 2006. Bogotá.
MADRID MALO Garizábal, Mario. La objeción de conciencia en el marco internacional de derechos humanos. Encuentro internacional por la solidaridad con los objetores y objetoras de conciencia en Colombia. En www.objecioncolombia.org. 10 páginas. 2006. Bogotá.
ACCIÓN COLECTIVA POR LA OBJECIÓN DE CONCIENCIA EN COLOMBIA. Informe sobre la situación de militarización de la sociedad colombiana. En www.objecioncolombia.org. 42 páginas. 2006. Bogotá.
 The right to conscientious objection is implicitly recognized in: Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; in Article 18 of the International Pact of Civil and Political Rights, approved by Colombian Law 74 in 1968: and by Article 12 of the American Convention onHuman Rights, approved by Colombian Law 16 in 1972; rules that pronounce the Right to freedom of thoughts, of conscience and religion (MADRID MALO, 2006,3), and explicitly in Resolution 33/165 of the 1978 General Assembly of the UN, which "recognizes the right of all persons to refuse service in military or police forces"; the Resolution of the Human Rights Commission of March 5th, 1987 which establishes that " conscientious objection has to be considered as a legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of conscience and religion" and the Resolution 2002/45 that "asks States to reconsider their laws and actual practices related to conscientious objection to military service according to Resolution 1998/77 and to consider the information that outlined in the report of the High Commission".
Law 522 from 1999 penalizes disobedience: One who breaches or changes a legitimate order of service imparted by his respective superior according to the legal formalities, will be imprisoned between one and three years (See article 115). Desertion carries an arrest of 6 months to 2 years. Once the accused person has carried out his sentence, he must finish time owed on his military service.(See article 128).