Posted on October 16, 2014
On Saturday, September 27 in Louisville, Kentucky, 22-year-old Colombian conscientious objector Mario Andrés Hurtado Cardozo received the Conviction Award granted by the Muhammad Ali Center. This recognition is given to young adults under 30 years old who stand out for their work in social justice and the defense of human rights in diverse countries of the world.
Mario was selected among many others nominated in Latin America, due principally to his decision to refuse to be trained for war and to work for the rights of young people from working-class areas. These youth are the main target of recruiting by all of the armed groups in Colombia, including the country’s own army, the force which most ropes young people into the war in the form of obligatory military service.
Mario refused the obligatory military service; instead he opted to work for Hip Hop con Jóvenes (“Hip Hop with Young People”) of Soacha, the municipality of Colombia that receives the largest population of people displaced by violence. He also accompanied the denouncements of mothers who lost their children as a consequence of “false positives,” a practice of the army that consists of killing innocent civilians and then dressing them in uniforms of the armed guerilla faction in order to present them as “killed in combat” and therefore claim rewards. These types of actions have left 4,200 victims in the country, of which only 14% have been recognized as such and been financially compensated by the State. After his work in Soacha, Mario joined the Acción Colectiva de Objetores y Objetoras de Conciencia (Collective Action of Conscientious Objectors), where he currently works as a legal counsel and defender of youth in risk of recruitment who, like him, denied military service.
However, there is a serious irony in Mario’s recognition, as in cases of many conscientious objectors throughout history. While other countries recognize his conviction and contributions towards constructing a peaceful society, in his own country, Mario is far from being recognized, and is rather ignored to the point that legal action is necessary in order to guarantee his right to conscientious objection. And now that he is finally able to practice this right, Mario is ostracized for his decision, as if the State wishes to sanction him for claiming that he can serve the country without needing to carry a weapon and be trained for war.
Just like the rest of Colombia’s conscientious objectors, because he has denied military service, Mario cannot claim his Law degree, nor can he practice as a lawyer. This is due to the fact that Mario has refused to carry a military booklet. In Colombia, military booklets are a type of mandatory identification young men are required to have, defining their military status and service. Because Mario has refused to carry one, no business or social entity can contract him, given that the State would impose economic sanctions for hiring a young person without said document.
It is contradictory that a government that says it is going for peace not only continues recruiting thousands of young people for the war, but furthermore, makes civil sanctions through the denial of fundamental rights to education and work to those who decide not to take part in it. “In Colombia it is much more profitable to have a gun than a professional title,” affirms a conscious objector who does not understand how the State offers higher education, economic grants and places of work for guerrillas or paramilitaries who, after having been part of the war, decide to demobilize. This is all while the very same State takes away the fundamental rights of the young people who have never shot against another Colombian and refuse to be trained to have to do it. Instead, it applies quantitative fines that, in the majority of cases, turn out to be impossible for conscientious objectors to pay because with their condition as objectors, they cannot even count on having a decent job.
However, conscientious objectors believe that it is more than the fact that the State does not want to recognize their political right and sanction to those who manage to be recognized as such. Really this is what they say that hides the profound fear that one day, the number of young people who make use of the right to objection will grow exponentially, obligating the State and the military forces to recognize something which they have always tried to deny: that the majority of young Colombians don’t want to take part in the war, and don’t believe in an anachronistic, discriminatory, and obsolete model of obligatory military service.
The amount of young Colombians linked with the public forces are around 412,000, at the same time the Army Recruitment Command proposes that the number of draft dodgers is around 800,000. In any other social State of law, the military forces would have admitted that there is a serious problem that exists with the model of military service by now, given that the number of young people who disobey the law are double those who see themselves as obligated to submit to it. In Colombia they insist on treating those who refuse to take part in the war as delinquents, but they recognize and prize the combatants with all kinds of privileges and options for the citizens’ army.
What would Austrian suffragist Berta Von Suttner think? With her book Lay Down Your Arms!, she not only inspired the creation of the Nobel Peace Prize, but also was the first woman to receive said recognition. What would she say upon seeing that 100 years later the same Prize was awarded to the President of the most potent military power of the world? Upon learning that today, from the same office where the Prize is exhibited, he ordered the bombing of innocents with the excuse of controlling a fabricated enemy as the means to his necessities?
The recognition that today they give to this Colombian objector on an International level is an important deed – it seeks to focus the attention on the necessity of transforming the absurd military logic that reigns in society, hoping that one day those who seek peace will be the model to follow, and not the citizens that the State insists on sanctioning and pursuing.
FOR Peace Presence provides protective and political accompaniment to ACOOC, and nominated Mario to the Muhammad Ali Center for the award in Conviction.
Human Rights Watch’s World Report 2014 notes that, “as of June 2013, the Human Rights Unit of the Attorney General’s Office had been assigned investigations into 2,278 cases of alleged unlawful killings by state agents involving nearly 4,000 victims, and had obtained convictions for 189 cases.” (http://www.hrw.org/world-report/2014/country-chapters/colombia?page=2) In early 2014 the Attorney General’s office stated it is investigating cases involving 4200 victims. Many additional cases are being pursued in the regional offices of the Attorney General’s offices and unknown numbers of other cases.
Category: Anti-militarization, Conscientious Objection, News, Our Partners Tags: active nonviolence, colombia, Conscientious Objection, conscientious objectors, demilitarization, drop beats not bombs, impunity, justice, latin america, Militarism, Military Recruitment, nonviolence, pacifism, peace, Peace and Nonviolence, peacebuilding, social movements, speaking tours, violence, war resistance, youth
Posted on September 10, 2014
August was a month full of movements. In the midst of a move into a lovely new apartment in Bogotá, team member Gale transitioned from our team in the Peace Community to our team in Bogotá. There she will work with Michaela and Kaya, while Isabel and Nikki continue FOR Peace Presence’s permanent accompaniment, living in the Peace Community of San Jose de Apartadó.
As of late there has been an increase in militarization of the area surrounding the Peace Community. Most notably there have been numerous firefights between the mobile 24th military brigade that commonly operates in the Urabá region, and the FARC guerrilla group. This has put the civil population in heightened danger, including members and leaders of the Peace Community, where FOR accompaniers also live and work. See the Peace Community’s latest communiqués for further updates. Our team has been present to respond to the community’s movements and stand in solidarity with their political work.
Supporting our team in the field is an important element of the work we do in Bogotá. This has meant telephone and written communication with commanders of varying military brigades, an emergency response intervention, and follow up with national and diplomatic authorities. In these communications, we have shared our concerns about the situation in San José de Apartadó and surrounding areas, and of course that we are in constant communication with our accompaniers in the Peace Community.
In August, the Bogotá team physically accompanied for 5 days in Cundinamarca, Bogotá, standing in solidarity with former GM workers organization ASOTRECOL in their ongoing protest at the US Embassy. We also accompanied in other regions of Colombia for a total of 13 days, including accompaniment of a human rights defender from Tierra Digna in Magdalena and Cesar, ASOTRACAMPO in Tamarindo, Atlántico, the Inter church Justice and Peace Commission and Humanitarian Space of Puente Nayero in Buenaventura, Valle de Cauca, and the “People’s Consultation – Yes to Life, No to Mines” event in La Guajira.
Political work has included a joint meeting with the European Delegation and our accompanied partner ACOOC (Collective Action for Conscientious Objectors) regarding the irregularities in Colombia’s army recruitment and illegal roundups of young men, a meeting with the Human Rights Unit of the Colombian Ministry of Defense about the right to conscientious objection and recent escalation of military presence in the Peace Community, and three informative letters sent to national and diplomatic authorities.
We released four written works on our Peace Presence webpage, one of which focuses on the newly formed Puente Nayero Humanitarian Space in Buenaventura and is published on Upside Down World. It can be viewed here. You can always see what we’ve been writing about in the News section of our website.
Last but not least, we are very excited to announce that we’ve been busy preparing for two quickly upcoming FOR Peace Presence US Speaking Tours!
We are eager to continue beside our partners in their courageous struggle for land, life, and dignity. Your help is invaluable to this cause. If you would like to make a one-time or ongoing donation to FOR Peace Presence and our work in Colombia, please click here.
FOR Peace Presence Team
Candice, Liza, Gale, Isa, Kaya, Michaela, Nikki
Posted on August 12, 2014
By Nikki Drake, accompanier at FOR Peace Presence
Article originally published on Upside Down World
An alarm of lively music starts each day around 6am, and the street slowly comes to life. Sweetened coffee percolates in houses, fishermen head out in their small wooden boats, and kids get shuffled off to school. Over the ocean, the houses on stilts become busy, and playing children fill the rocky dirt road and elevated walkways of wooden planks. As day turns to night, the doors and windows remain opened until late, the smell of food and sound of voices and music fill the air, and the news of the day is shared between small groups of neighbors and families gathered outside of their houses. It is a daily scene far removed from what it was just four months ago. Welcome to Puente Nayero, the first urban Humanitarian Space in Colombia.
The petition to create the Humanitarian Space came from one of the community leaders of La Playita. After exploratory visits and exchanges with rural humanitarian zones in other regions of the country, he proposed the creation of an urban space free from the presence of all illegal armed actors. He made an official petition to the Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz (Inter-Ecclesiastic Commission of Justice and Peace), a Colombian human rights NGO, to help facilitate the establishment and accompaniment of the Space. The Commission accepted the petition, and in turn requested the presence of international accompaniers to help provide additional security and spread international visibility for the community.
Prior to the creation of the Humanitarian Space on April 13th of this year, this road in La Playita was empty by 6pm every evening. One of Buenaventura’s most dangerous neighborhoods, residents were prisoners in their homes, afraid to be out in the street after dark. At the end of the road was a ‘chop house,’ where local paramilitary groups tortured and dismembered people, tossing their remains into the ocean. As a bold move toward empowerment, during the opening week of the Humanitarian Space the community made the decision to burn down the house.
It is not a new violence in Buenaventura, but one that continues to be complicated by the presence and involvement of the region’s powerful actors: Colombian public forces, illegal paramilitary groups and drug-traffickers, multi-national corporations, and touristic mega-projects. Buenaventura contains Colombia’s largest port, and has been the country’s drug-trafficking hub for decades under the control of surrounding illegal armed groups.For as long, the city has also been a destination for families and communities forcibly displaced from throughout the Department of Valle de Cauca by these same powerful groups. As people fled to the city for safety, lack of space soon became an issue. In order to create more habitable space, communities constructed roads out of garbage, dirt, and rocks, allowing for new neighborhoods to reach out over the ocean waters like outstretched fingers.
Now these same neighborhoods have become the new urban targets of 21st Century Colombia. Their coastal location has been identified as prime real estate for tourist development and mega-projects, such as hotels and boardwalks. Great efforts have been made to free up the valuable property, including threats and violence toward residents by paramilitary and criminal groups. Since the 2005 “demobilization” of Colombia´s paramilitary groups – considered largely unsuccessful by many national and international entities – smaller, but powerful factions have continuing operating throughout the department. Officially referred to as criminal or delinquent gangs by the State, said groups have had a heavy presence throughout Buenaventura’s urban neighborhoods and rural surroundings, using extortion, threats, violence, and murder as a means to control and displace the civilian population anew.
Local officials have tried other large-scale tactics, such as the campaign they launched in February for tsunami emergency evacuations drills. Poor neighborhoods along the coastline were urged to permanently evacuate and relocate due to the high probability for tsunamis. Coincidentally, these are the same locations that have been earmarked for new hotels and a long, extensive boardwalk. As another way to relocate residents from neighborhoods on desired land, authorities have used the promise of an opportunity for better living conditions in newly constructed housing further inland called San Antonio. According to the Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz and residents, those who accept the offer find themselves in a completely isolated area without potable water, a health center, a school, or access to transportation. It isn´t until they attempt to return to their previous house that they realize they unknowingly signed it over to the state.
With the port expansion, entry of more multinational corporations, and increase in large-scale tourist projects, violence and displacement in Buenaventura have continued at an alarming rate. Local and regional authorities, plagued by years of corruption, have yet to develop an effective or comprehensive strategy to address the urgent situation. As part of his bid for reelection, President Santos demonstrated his dedication to curbing the extreme violence in Buenaventura by calling for additional militarization of the city during the months leading up to the May elections. Despite the massive joint effort between the marines, coast guard, and national police, neighborhoods continue to be controlled and terrorized by violent groups who identify themselves as paramilitary factions, but whose existence the State refuses to acknowledge. These groups regularly announce their connections to and support by the local authorities, an accusation residents have been making for years. Local residents have reported that not only do the marines and national police ignore the movements of paramilitary and faction groups, but often clear out of areas just before violent acts are perpetrated against civilians.
Labeled a humanitarian crisis by Human Rights Watch and featured in a report by Amnesty International earlier this year, Buenaventura and Puente Nayero have been gaining international attention. Even so, since the Humanitarian Space was established, more than fifty threats have been made toward community leaders and members, as well as toward the national and international accompaniers. It has remained a challenge to prevent illegal armed groups from moving through the Space, which can be easily accessed by water and neighboring streets. The community is also still waiting for a response from the State to its official request for the provision of additional security measures, including a request for protective measures made to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Despite all the obstacles they face, the members of Puente Nayero are continuing to organize and unite one another in their mission to maintain a space free of violence, and hope to serve as an example and inspiration for surrounding neighborhoods of the power of a non-violent social movement. To date, there have been no murders in the Humanitarian Space.
At the end of Puente Nayero, the dirt road meets the ocean and a welcome breeze cools the hot air. Between two houses there stands an empty space where just four months ago the ‘chop house’ used to be. In the time since, the community has converted their grief into a space to commemorate and celebrate life. Life. Welcome to the Humanitarian Space of Puente Nayero.
Posted on August 11, 2014
This week we are excited to send our first email update as FOR Peace Presence to our grassroots community. We are eager to share with you the evolution of our ongoing work in Colombia as we continue with our transition from a project of Fellowship of Reconciliation USA (FOR USA) to our own independent organization that is part of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation (IFOR) family. Here’s what we have been up to in the past few months:
In recent months, we’ve been saddened and concerned as other international accompaniment and solidarity organizations face difficulty funding and maintaining their teams on the ground. We are doing our best to respond to an increased demand for accompaniment here in Colombia and to be here for the long haul. In response to this increased demand, we’ve started traveling to the Afro-Colombian port city of Buenaventura to accompany the Inter-Church Justice and Peace Commission and their work with the incredibly courageous people of the Puente Nyero Humanitarian Space.
Additionally, two members of our team just returned from the northern Guajira Department where they observed a People’s Consultation, a community-led endeavor to publicly examine the impacts of mining on territories and communities in La Guajira. This region is undergoing a major drought and environmental and social ills directly associated with the Cerrejón mine, the largest open-pit coal mine in Colombia, and we urge you to sign this petition in solidarity with the affected communities.
We regularly update our website (www.peacepresence.org), our Twitter (https://twitter.com/Peace_Presence), and our Facebook (www.facebook.com/PeacePresence) with the latest happenings on our team and with our partners.
Our work is still needed at this critical moment, and with your support, we continue to stand with Colombian communities and organizations engaged in active nonviolence to defend life, land, and dignity.
Please stay in touch, and thank you for joining us as we carry out this important work in Colombia and explore new paths forward! Together we are building a real and lasting peace.
FOR Peace Presence
Posted on August 6, 2014
Escrito por Nikki Drake, quien forma parte del equipo FOR Presente por la Paz. Se encuentra el artículo publicado aquí en NACLA Reporte de las Americas
El joven entra en el salón con el rostro tenso y solemne. Ha estado aquí en el batallón más de tres meses. Él es Jefferson Shayanne Acosta Ortiz, y está en la base del ejército en Saravena, Aruaca, uno de los departamentos más peligrosos de Colombia debido al conflicto entre el ejército y los grupos guerrilleros.
Jefferson fue reclutado en abril, y durante su reclutamiento, expresó su objeción a prestar el servicio militar por motivos de conciencia, basado en su convicción religiosa y sus principios morales de la no violencia. Se declaró oficialmente objetor de conciencia—cuando uno se niega prestar servicio militar—apenas después, en cuanto aprendió sobre el derecho reconocido a nivel nacional e internacional. Dos integrantes de FOR Presente por la Paz hicieron el viaje de 15 horas en bus para visitar a Jefferson y reunirse con militares como acompañantes de la organización Acción Colectiva de Objetores y Objetoras de Conciencia (ACOOC), que ha estado trabajando en el caso de Jefferson a partir de su reclutamiento.
Aunque la objeción de conciencia como derecho fundamental y ejercicio político de resistencia a la guerra ganó reconocimiento internacional durante la Primera Guerra Mundial, en Colombia se empezó a desarrollar recién en 1989, debido a unos primeros esfuerzos realizados por la Iglesia Menonita y el Colectivo por la Objeción de Conciencia (COC). El mayor logro impulsado por estas dos organizaciones fue la inclusión del derecho a la “Libertad de conciencia” en la Constitución de 1991. Este movimiento se secularizó paulatinamente, y en el año 2000 se conformó la ACOCC, colectivo que agrupaba a personas y entidades como el COC, Justapaz, la Juventud Trabajadora Colombiana (JTC) y La Fundación Creciendo Unidos (FCU).
La ACOOC de hoy en día fue creada en 2009, y es una organización que se enfoca en la estrategia y la incidencia en su trabajo en los temas de la desmilitarización de la sociedad y el reclutamiento de jóvenes por parte de actores armados. En ese mismo año, ACOOC en coordinación con la organización sueca CIVIS y el Grupo de Interés Público de la Universidad de los Andes, logró que la corte constitucional ratificara el carácter fundamental de derecho a objetar por razones de conciencia. Actualmente a pesar del trabajo de ACOOC y otras organizaciones y redes en el país, la ideología y la práctica de la objeción de conciencia aún no son masivamente conocidas por la población civil, a esto contribuye el hecho de que muy a menudo los militares no reconozcan o nieguen el derecho.
Mientras nos estabamos esperando reunir con el teniente coronel de la Caballería Aerotransportado No. 18, tenemos unos minutos con Jefferson. Los dos miembros de ACOOC sólo tenían tiempo para unas preguntas breves, tratando de evaluar rápidamente su situación y como lo están tratando. Respondía con calma en voz baja, siendo consciente del militar presente en el salón. Como Jefferson nos había informado en conversaciones anteriores por teléfono, recibe presión constantemente por sus superiores y compañeros. Una vez lo levantaron a las 3am, y lo obligaron ponerse el uniforme y sentarse en un salón, durante la cual lo presionaron a desistir de sus convicciones por las ventajas de ser un soldado. Están haciendo a sus compañeros cumplir con ejercicios más duros, como castigo por su comportamiento. Jefferson había intentado entregar su uniforme y su arma de forma de protesta, pero esto le fue negado.
A medida que inició la reunión con el Teniente Coronel, más militares entraron en el salón. A diferencia de muchas de las brigadas de Colombia, él sabía que es objeción de conciencia. Sin embargo, no perdió tiempo en señalar el hecho de que Colombia no tiene ninguna legislación ni ley que protege este derecho. La Sentencia C-728 de 2009 de la Corte Constitucional de Colombia determinó que objeción de conciencia es un derecho fundamental derivado de los artículos 18 y 19 de la Constitución Política de Colombia, las cuales garantizan la libertad de conciencia, religión y culto. Además, Colombia firmó la Declaración Universal de Derechos Humanos de la ONU, que sirvió como la base para el reconocimiento official de la ONU del derecho de objeción de conciencia al servicio militar. Sin embargo, el gobierno colombiano aún no ha aprobado ninguna legislación para regular este derecho mediante una ley estatutaria.
Por lo tanto, cada caso depende en gran parte de los militares de alto nivel a cargo de un batallón y brigada específica, que cada uno tiene diferentes niveles de sensibilidad a la presión nacional e internacional. En la reuníon, uno de los mayores presentes, captó rápidamente la importancia del caso para ambos lados. “Yo sé lo que quieren hacer. Quieren establecer jurisprudencia para usar en otros casos. No lo vamos a permitir. No vamos a perder.” Al destacar la falta de protección por ley, pueden intentar hacer este proceso legal lo más largo y difícil posible. ACOOC está lista para el reto, y se dedica a lograr la libertad de Jefferson. El 9 de julio, entregaron una acción de tutela como un paso oficial para iniciar el proceso judicial. Mientras ambos lados esperan los resultados de la petición, ACOOC ha publicado un comunicado oficial, y FOR Presente por la Paz está trabajando con nuestras redes internacionales y políticas para conseguir atención y apoyo para el caso de Jefferson.
Antes que terminó la reunión, ACOOC expresó sus preocupaciones sobre la presión que Jefferson está recibiendo por sus superiores y compañeros sobre sus convicciones, pero los militares las descartaron. ACOOC también pide servir como testigo, junto con las integrantes de FOR Presente por la Paz, para que Jefferson realice la entrega de su arma. Pero los militares repiten lo que habían explicado antes, “Las armas son la responsabilidad del soldado… Jefferson fue declarado un soldado a partir de su 10º día.” Por primera vez en la reunión, el Teniente Coronel se dirigió a Jefferson directamente: “Si el enemigo nos empieza disparar, y nos están acercando en este salón, ¿qué harías?” Su respuesta recibe un silencio sorprendido, seguido por miradas de desaprobación: “Me escondo”.
Su respuesta sirve para demostrar lo que han estado diciendo ACOOC y Jefferson. ¿De qué sirve al ejército un individuo que no quiere usar un arma, ni participar en, ni apoyar ningún tipo de acción militar? Jefferson es solo uno más entre los innumerables casos actualmente desconocidos en el país, de los cuales casi la totalidad carecen de asesoría jurídica o representación legal. Hasta que la legislación de Colombia alcance con los fallos de su propia corte y su propio apoyo a las declaraciones internacionales de la ONU, los jóvenes que se oponen a la guerra y la violencia seguirán siendo reclutados, uniformados y armados por la fuerza. Y las organizaciones como ACOOC continuarán tener que navegar por las aguas turbias de la justicia colombiana.
Para obtener más información sobre el caso de Jefferson Acosta, o para aprender más sobre la objeción de conciencia en Colombia, puede contactar firstname.lastname@example.org.