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Colombia: UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention says batidas are a form of arbitrary detention

An important legal victory for conscientious objectors in Colombia

The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention declared in its Opinion No 8/2008 (Colombia) the practice of recruitment in the form of raids (batidas), and the recruitment of conscientious objectors a form of "arbitrary detention". This is an important legal victory for conscientious objectors in Colombia, although the opinions of the Working Group are legally non-binding.

In 2007, War Resisters' International (WRI) presented three cases from Colombia to the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention:

  • Frank Yair Estrada Marín was detained by members of the army in May 2007 during a 'batida', and was recruited by force. Frank Yair Estrada Marín declared himself a conscientious objector.
  • Carlos Andrés Giraldo Hincapié was detained during a batida in August 2006, and recruited by force. He too declared himself conscientious objector.
  • Alejandro de Jesús Gonzáles Duque was detained on 8 April 2007 during a batida. He was released a few days later.

The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention decided on these three cases on 8 May 2008, and transmitted this decision to War Resisters' International on 25 September 2008. In all three cases the Working Group concluded that "the deprivation of liberty of which Mr Estrada Marin, Giraldo Hincapie and Gonzales Duque were victims was arbitrary, and in contravention of article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights."
In the two cases of conscientious objection the Working Group concluded that "with reference to Mr Estrada Marin and Giraldo Hincapie, contravened also article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, corresponding to category I of the categories applied by the Working Group."
The Working Group is very clear on the right to conscientious objection and states: "The detention of those who have expressively declared themselves conscientious objectors does not have a juridical substance nor a legal base, and their incorporation into the army against their will is a clear violation of their assumption of conscience which can violate article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Not to provide a space for the right to conscientious objection can be a violation of this article."
About the 'batidas', the Working Group states: "Neither does the practice of 'batidas', raids, or 'levas' with the aim to detain youth who cannot confirm their military situation in the streets or public spaces a legal basis or juridical substance."
The opinion of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention is very important for Colombia, especially for two reasons:

  1. The Working Group clarifies that the practice of 'batidas' is illegal and constitutes arbitrary detention in all cases, not only in cases of conscientious objectors.
  2. The Working Group clarifies that the sentences of the Constitutional Court of Colombia about conscientious objection to military service do not conform with international law, and that not to provide a space for the right to conscientious objection can be a violation of article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Since May 2007, WRI jointly with the groups of the National Assembly of Conscientious Objectors (Asamblea Nacional de Objetores y Objetoras de Conciencia (ANOOC)) give out "Conscientious Objectors' Cards" to declared conscientious objectors, and maintain a database of conscientious objectors in Colombia. Until today, more than 100 persons declared themselves conscientious objectors.
Sources: War Resisters' International: Press Communiqué. The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention of the United Nations declares raids on potential recruits and the recruitment of conscientious objectors "arbitrary detention". 25 September 2008, http://wri-irg.org/news/2008/detention-en.htm, Grupo de Trabajo sobre la Detención Arbitraria: OPINIÓN No. 8/2008 (Colombia), 8 May 2008