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Report on the International Conference on War Tax Resistance and Peace Tax Campaigns held February, 2013 in Bogotá, Colombia

Javier Garate giving a Skype presentation to the conference from the WRI office in LondonJavier Garate giving a Skype presentation to the conference from the WRI office in LondonMany WRI friends and affiliates were involved in this conference, and here we reprint a report produced by American Quakers on the conference.

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This report was drafted by members of New York Yearly Meeting - Quakers (NYYM) who attended the 14th International Conference on War Tax Resistance and Peace Tax Campaigns which was held in Bogotá, Colombia in early 2013. Four members of NYYM were conference participants. NYYM was a conference sponsor and provided financial support with funds allocated through its Committee on Conscientious Objection to Paying for War.

Participants from several regions of Colombia and six other countries attended the conference. This biennial international conference was held in South America for the first time.

The conference was organized and coordinated by Acción Colectiva de Objetores y Objetoras de Conciencia (ACOOC), a Colombian group of human rights defenders who advocate for those who are conscientious objectors to obligatory military service.

Why do we pay for war?

Individuals are forced to pay for war and violent conflict in various ways: they pay with compelled military service; they pay with their lives; they pay when they are injured in body and in spirit; they pay when relatives and loved ones are killed or injured; they pay when their property is seized or destroyed; they pay when human rights are violated; and they pay when coerced to provide financial support for warmaking through taxation. Conference participants acknowledged how they each pay for war and expressed their objections in personal statements of conscience.

In 2009, the Constitutional Court of Colombia established the legal right of conscientious objection to obligatory military service. The National Congress was ordered to acknowledge this ruling and to create the laws necessary to protect this human right, while the Defense Ministry was ordered to proceed with an information campaign with its ruling T-018/12. These agencies have not yet complied with the Court order. Lower court judges still fail to protect the legal rights of conscientious objectors; no form of alternative service has yet been established in Colombia; and documentary proof of military service is still improperly required for access to educational and occupational opportunities.

ACOOC continues to document this illegal practice of forced conscription by the Colombian military. Army patrols still pick up and detain young men who are not carrying military identification papers. Detainees may be transported in unmarked trucks to recruitment centers and forced into military service, in violation of their legal rights. This type of raid, called a batida, has been characterized as an arbitrary detention by the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions and in a Colombian Constitutional Court judgment.

ACOOC is actively engaged in the process of ensuring that the ruling of the Constitutional Court is codified in enforceable national statutes and regulations and then put into regular practice.

In order to draw attention to the use of illegal military conscription practices and the situation of conscientious objectors in Colombia, conference participants accompanied ACOOC members and met with officials at various government agencies and at the Office of the UN Human Rights Commissioner.

One group of conference participants interviewed Clara López, Director of and presidential candidate for the Alternative Democratic Pole Party, as well as the assistant to House Representative Alfonso Gil Padra. During the dialogue, both expressed their interest in supporting the draft Law, which would bring into effect the ruling of the Constitutional Court, as it was approved and proposed to us the possibility of speaking when the legislation is considered or they will give us the names of contacts to lobby within the First Committee of the House of Representatives to advocate for the bill . The assistant to the Representative said the Representative could speak in favor of the Bill to put it in a favorable light, however it is the President of the Commission who makes the decision as to who will be among the group of speakers.

Another group visited the National Human Rights Ombudsman (Defensoría del Pueblo) as well as the Military Department of Human Rights (Jefatura de Derecho Internacional Humanitario y Derechos Humanos). The officials in each office expressed their intention to comply with any new laws concerning conscientious objection enacted by the legislature.

These government officials emphasized that the batida raids are illegal. Nevertheless, ACOOC has documented 45 such incidents in recent months. The Army Colonel in charge of monitoring special cases of human rights violations within the Colombian military provided his telephone number to ACOOC members during the meeting held in his office. He offered to accept a call from any of them reporting a batida in progress.

The third group visited The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights - Colombia (UNOHCHR-Colombia). Two staff members from this office met with the group. ACOOC presented a written report of 45 documented batidas, and discussed several representative cases. The group asked the Commissioner's Office to communicate directly with the Defense Ministry, to denounce the situation and demand that these illegal actions cease immediately. The group also requested that UNOHCHR-Colombia provide technical advice to members of congress working in the Constitutional Commission and draw attention to improvements in the international understanding of conscientious objection as a human right.

Staff members encouraged ACOOC to provide monthly detailed reports of batidas in coordination with other regional organizations in Colombia concerned with this issue. This group also visited with the Director of Human Rights and the Government District Secretary for Justice Support, Mr. Camilo Castellanos, to request that this institution order the national police not to permit batidas. Mr. Castellanos also encouraged ACOOC to work in coordination with other regional organizations in order to report violations to his office, and encouraged ACOOC to create programs which his office can broadcast on radio and television.

ACOOC members also spoke with government officials about the illegal practice of forcing young men directly into military service when they have not completed the required registration process. The Constitutional Court of Colombia clarified that unregistered individuals cannot be immediately forced into military service if they are located and identified by military personnel.

These so-called draft evaders, or remisos, have legal rights. A remiso can be fined and compelled to complete the first step of the registration process, but cannot be arbitrarily detained for any length of time. These persons still have the right to qualify for an exemption to military service, and this includes the possibility of declaring a conscientious objection.

ACOOC arranged for a series of excellent speakers and forums. The topics included: examples of war tax resistance worldwide and over time; support for the peace talks in Habana despite the flaws; the question of whether Colombian society will be demilitarized; the amount of money spent by Colombia and other countries on armaments; and the question of whether human beings are naturally inclined toward violence.

A keynote presenter, Ricardo Esquivia, spoke about the capacity of conscience to awaken and transform us, and enable us to create a way forward based on social justice. He explained how conscience can influence memory. He reminded us of the faith required to visualize the tree inherent in the seed. He suggested that conscience can become sleepy and talked about the discipline needed to ensure that what we actually do is consistent with our personal morals and beliefs. He stressed the importance of maintaining integrity in small things as well as large, and that this sometimes requires civil disobedience. He encouraged us to acknowledge our fears, summon courage, act with conviction and deepen our lives.

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