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Colombia: Successful strategy of accompaniment frees conscientious objectors from military service

Death threats against WRI affiliate Red Juvenil after successful 'Antimili Sonoro XIV'

It does not happen often that we have good news to report from Colombia, but this month we do (among quite a bit of bad news - but the good news first). Two months ago, two Colombian conscientious objectors who had been illegally recruited in January and February have been released from the military, albeit without any acknowledgement of the right to conscientious objection.

Diego Alexander Pulgarin was recruited on 5 January in the northern bus terminal of Medellin. He declared himself conscientious objector immediately from the moment of his recruitment, and refused all orders.

Also, Diego Yesid Bosa Rico, who had been recruited on 23 February 2008, was released from the military after several weeks, including a time during which he went on hunger strike in protest against the military forging documents (see co-alert, 27 March 2008).

In both cases, strong local support, including nonviolent direct action, combined with international support contributed to the release of these conscientious objectors from the military. However, this does not constitute a recognition of the right to conscientious objection by the Colombian military, as in both cases the military used other means to rid itself from these problematic and unwilling 'soldiers'. Both are still at risk of being recruited again.

As reported in a previous newsletter, since the beginning of 2008 the recruitment efforts of the Colombian military increased, which lead to more incidents of 'batidas' on the street. During War Resisters' International's visit to Colombia, we could witness two 'batidas' in Bogota, with the military checking people's military papers and ordering those without a 'libreta militar' onto a waiting truck which would bring them to the barracks (see photos). On 20 May, also a major 'regular' recruitment day, we could witness the military boarding minibuses to check young men for their 'libreta militar'. This form of recruitment constitutes a major human rights violation [right to liberty (Article 9 ICCPR), right to liberty of movement (Article 12 ICCPR)], but is common practice in Colombia. However, even during the 'regular' recruitment, a huge number of irregularities and human rights violations occur on a regular basis.

On 20 May, the Accion Colectiva de Objetoras y Objetores de Conciencia (ACOOC) from Bogota did not only accompany conscientious objector Alvaro Pena (see co-update No 37, March 2008) to the recruitment station, but also put up information on legal provisions for exemption from or postponement of military service, and assisted the families of those affected by recruitment in filing petitions. This was a very successful action, which gave some insight into the scale of irregularities in the supposedly legal recruitment process.

More - and difficult - news can also be reported on conscientious objector Alvaro Pena, who presented himself again on 20 May. His case has turned more complicated, as the military had meanwhile declared him a 'remiso' (draft evader), based on the fact that his name was in the list of those who did not present themselves in February 2008. Only that in Alvaro Pena's case he had been asked by the military to sign his name into this book, so that his entry also includes his signature - a clear proof that he must have been there in February.

While Alvaro Pena was again not recruited on 20 May, he again spent a full day in the military, and was only allowed to leave at the end of the day, this time without having to sign anything, which also means he does not have any proof that he presented himself. He was asked to come back on 4 June, to sort out his status of 'remiso' - but on that day again it was not possible to clear Alvaro Pena of this status.

It seems the military is playing on time, and attempts to wear out Alvaro Pena, who is now in a situation where he cannot plan his future. However, the good side of this is that the military seems to be avoiding the open and full-scale confrontation with a publicly declared conscientious objector, knowing that this could lead to another human rights problem - and the military already has more than enough of them.

More bad news is to be reported from Colombia. War Resisters' International is very concerned about the death threats received by its Colombian affiliate Red Juvenil de Medellin. Last week, Red Juvenil received death threats in the name of "Aguilas Negras" (Black Eagles), a name widely used by groups of supposedly demobilised paramilitaries.

On Thursday 29 and Friday 30 May 2008, Red Juvenil de Medellín received the following message from "Death to anarchists disguised as a pacifists. No more concerts of drugs and communists. No further notice." The threats were directed at eight named members and close friends of Red Juvenil, and signed Aguilas Negras.

In a statement on these death threats, the War Resisters' International Executive writes: "War Resisters' International is concerned about the negligence of the authorities of Medellin in permitting the re-emergence of groups such as the Aguilas Negras, apparently formed by former paramilitaries, and the threat they pose to human rights in Medellín and to youth groups such as the Red Juvenil. War Resisters' International reminds the authorities of Medellin and Colombia that the prevention of human rights violations by groups such as the Aguilas Negras is one of their responsibilities, and that they will be held accountable for failure to act if the Aguilas Negras put their death threats against named activists of the Red Juvenil into practice."

"War Resisters' International expresses its strong support and solidarity with its affiliate Red Juvenil and all their activists, who under difficult circumstances promote nonviolence as a means to resist militarism and violence within the society of Colombia, and refuse participation in any of the armed groups, be they legal or illegal."

Sources: Red Juvenil de Medellin: El objetor reclutado Diego Alexander Pulgarin esta ahora fuera del ejercito, April 2008