Colombia: Two conscientious objectors briefly detained by military

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Two Colombian youth were briefly detained by the military on 8 August. Gustavo Monroy and Alfredo Cáceres were detained because they did not carry a document exempting them from military service. Both were released later, but the incident pointed to the lack of recognition of the right to conscientious objection in Colombia (see below). Following this incident, Gustavo Monray declared his conscientious objection in a letter to the Colombian Ministry of Defence on 11 August 2005.

Art. 18 of the 1991 Constitution states that "(...) freedom of conscience is guaranteed. No one will be obliged to act against their conscience." While the right to conscientious objection is not explicitly granted in article 18, conscientious objection to military service was one of the concepts discussed in the formulation of this article. However, legislative efforts to provide guarantees for COs have not prospered.

In 1995, Luis Gabriel Caldas Leon, a Colombian CO, was court martialled and condemned as a deserter, even though he had never actually been enlisted. He had informed the military authorities in January 1994 that he was a CO and was willing to perform substitute service in environmental works. On 10 June 1995 he was seized by the police and sent to prison. He was released on 28 November 1995 after serving six months. He was told he would be re-arrested if he did not report to an army induction centre within six days of release. He, his family and his girlfriend have been receiving death threats from mysterious sources, believed to be right-wing paramilitary gangs. He went to the court to declare his conscientious objections and to explain why he could not perform military service. The Metropolitan Police ordered him to report within six days. They issued a new warrant against him, so he fled from Bogotá. His family was immediately warned that they must disclose where he was hiding. The Public Prosecutor started an investigation against his mother. His case was raised with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights by the Mennonite Church and the CO-group (Colectivo de Objetores de Conciencia) in Bogotá, asking the Commission to declare that in this case Colombia is infringing art. 12 of the American Convention on Human Rights. His case is still pending.

The case of Gustavo Monroy points to the urgent need of legal clarity regarding the right to conscientious objection in Colombia.

Sources:

Email Red Juvenil de Medellin, 24 August 2005; several other emails from Red Juvenil

War Resisters' International: Refusing to bear arms, Country report Colombia, 1998, http://wri-irg.org/co/rtba/colombia.htm

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