WRI encourages the Colombia government to meet international standards


War Resisters' International have made a submission to the Colombian government, as a law that will regulate the right to conscientious objection makes its way through the Colombia parliament.

The submission will be input to the relevant parliamentary committee through ACOOC (Acción Colectiva de Objetores y Objetoras de Conciencia).


London, 14 February, 2013

War Resisters' International (WRI) works for a world without war. We are a global antimilitarist and pacifist network, with over eighty member organisations in over forty countries. Since 1921 we have been supporting and connecting people around the world who refuse to take part in war, and who use nonviolent action to tackle war's causes. We remain committed to our founding principle that war is a crime against humanity. War Resisters' International has consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.

The Right to Refuse to Kill programme of WRI specialises in conscientious objection to military service. This programme has been working with contacts in Colombia since 1995, and particularly closely since 2007. We have provided international accompaniment in individual cases - for example the forced recruitment of conscientious objectors to military service - as well as in assisting Colombian partners to engage with international institutions on issues around conscientious objection to military service.

WRI welcomes steps to implement the 2009 Constitutional Court ruling (C-728) that confirmed conscientious objections to military service is required by the Constitution of Colombia (as well as by its international treaty obligations – notably Article 18 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights). In July 2010, the United Nations' Human Rights Committee echoed the Court's call that Colombia “should, without delay, adopt legislation recognizing and regulating conscientious objection” (CCPR/C/COL/CO/6, para 22.).

International standards

We urge you to ensure that the final text of the law guarantees international standards are followed. On substitutes to military service, these include:

Any substitute service must be genuinely civilian in nature: Any alternative service required of conscientious objectors in lieu of compulsory military service must be compatible with the reasons for the objection, of a civilian character and in the public interest.

We note that the Defensa Civil is one option cited as an alternative service. Such a service may well not comply with the stipulation of being civilian in nature, and may not be compatible with the reasons for the objection to military service.

Substitute service must not be punitive: This means both that the duration of alternative service i.e. the length of substitute service should not be greater than military service1, and also the nature and conditions of that service must not be punitive.

WRI affirms that conscientious objection is an issue of self-definition. No committee or judicial process should have the authority to confirm or deny the authenticity of someone else's conscience: we therefore urge you to abandon plans to allow the Comité Nacional de Objeción de Conciencia al Servicio Militar to fulfil this role. Instead, allow individuals to declare their own status, without inquiry.

We are moreover concerned that such a committee may be prejudiced regarding the motivations of individual conscientious objectors to military service. Conscientious objection to military service develops for a number of reasons; these may be religious, moral and/or political.

The Human Rights Committee has made clear that no discrimination is permitted between the religion or belief on which the objection is based.2 Indeed, in its General Comment 22 the Human Rights Committee simply referred to situations where “the obligation to use lethal force may seriously conflict with the freedom of conscience and the right to manifest one’s religion or belief”.

Finally, we remind you that anyone may develop a conscientious objection whilst serving in the military, as a result of a change in belief in general, or specifically related to military service. The freedom to change one’s religion or belief is recognized in Article 18(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In 2007, the Human Rights Committee recommended the adoption of legislation on conscientious objection to military service to a reporting State, “recognizing that conscientious objection can occur at any time, even when a person’s military service has already begun”3. .

The UN Commission on Human Rights stated that “persons performing military service may develop conscientious objections” and affirmed “the importance of the availability of information about the right of conscientious objection to military service, and the means of acquiring conscientious objector status, to all persons affected by military service”.4

Hannah Brock
On behalf of War Resisters' International


1. Unless that difference in length is based on “reasonable and objective criteria, such as the nature of the specific service concerned, or the need for a special training in order to accomplish that service.” (Human Rights Committee: Foin v France (Communication No. 666/1995), CCPR/C/D/666/1995, 9 November 1999, para. 10.3.).
2. Human Rights Committee General Comment 22, para 11; also Brinkhof v Netherlands (Communication No. 402/1990 of 27 July, 1993). Similarly, UN Commission on Human Rights resolution 1998/77 (adopted without a vote): “Recognizing that conscientious objection to military service derives from principles and reasons of conscience, including profound convictions, arising from religious, moral, ethical, humanitarian or similar motives”.
3. Human Rights Committee, Concluding Observations on Chile, March 2007 (CCPR/C/CHL/CO/5), para. 13.
4. UN Commission on Human Rights resolution 1998/77.

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