Support Conscientious Objectors in Colombia

Colombia is one of the countries with the longest history of armed conflict – by now more than 50 years. Decades of war and violence by the state's military forces, paramilitaries, and different guerilla forces lead to a militarisation of the entire Colombian socierty. After several failed peace processes, the "war on terror" and its Colombian counterparts, the "Plan Colombia" and "Plan Patriota" lead to an escalation of the armed conflict.

In this war, all parties to the conflict commit atrocities and human rights violations. In terms of practice on the battlefield, it is impossible to distinguish between any of the armed forces – be they government forces, paramilitaries, or guerillas.

Conscientious objection

But Colombia's youth had had enough. Enough of war and violence. Enough of being round up on the streets by the military, and being recruited by force. Enough of running after the "libreta militar", the military card, without which they cannot graduate from university, get a driving license or passport – just live a normal life.

The official statistics show that a large proportion of youth does not follow the state's "call to arms" against the guerilla. However, while most do just not register for military service and live an insecure life without their military card, risking recruitment at every checkpoint or random raid of the military, an increasing number of youth is now prepared to openly confront the state and declare their conscientious objection. Although conscientious objection is not recognised in Colombian law, the COs claim that their right is guaranteed under international standards, which – according to the Colombian constitution – are automatically part of Colombian law, on par with the fundamental rights guaranteed by this constitution, and ignored by the state.

The last years saw the coming together of CO groups from different regions of Colombia, and today 13 groups from all over the country are part of the National Assembly of Conscientious Objectors.

Protection and solidarity

Based on this new strength, the National Assembly of Conscientious Objectors started a process to create a national and international support network for conscientious objection in Colombia. International Conscientious Objectors' Day 2007 – 15 May – is part of this process. But while this one-off international event in Medellin is important because of the visibility it provides to the movement for conscientious objection in Colombia, more important will be ongoing support. In cooperation with the National Assembly of Conscientious Objectors, War Resisters' International is presently setting up a database of COs in Colombia (soon available at https://lists.wri-irg.org/codb), and an international solidarity network. And 15th May will also see the public launch of the "Libreta objetor/a de conciencia" – WRI's conscientious objector card, which will be a visible symbol of conscientious objection as an internationally recognised human right.

In some way, the libreta objetor/a de conciencia is a form of "virtual accompaniment", similar to the physical accompaniment Peace Brigades International tries to provide to some threatened human rights activists in Colombia (and elsewhere). However, all this can only work with a strong solidarity network, that reacts quickly to attempts to recruit or arrest a conscientious objector. While the National Assembly of Conscientious Objectors and WRI will attempt to distribute information as quickly and widely as possible whenever a conscientious objector is in danger, this information needs to be acted upon as fast and widely, to have an impact on the Colombian authorities. Contact the WRI office now if you want to be part of this "protective shield" for objectors in Colombia.

Andreas Speck

War Resisters' International
5 Caledonian Rd, London N1 9DX
Tel +44-20-7278 4040
info@wri-irg.org http://wri-irg.org/en