Antecedents for conscientious objection in Colombia

In Colombia, conscientious objection first became a topic in 1988 when a group of people (academics, philosophers, lawyers, intellectuals and church members) began to question obligatory military service.

In 1991, taking advantage of the change in constitution in Colombia, the Collective of Conscientious Objection and the program Objectors for Peace from the Mennonite Church, during the National Constitutional Assembly, mounted a campaign to have CO included in the debate. Public actions in that year included marches, press interviews, mobilizing schools and collecting 6000 signatures that were delivered to the National Constitutional Assembly. Thanks to this work, the theme was discussed and article 18 was included in the new constitution, guaranteeing freedom of conscience of the Colombian people (article 18).

At the same time, the Red Juvenil of Medellín was born, a community organization that affirms the rights of young people, such as conscientious objection, taking an approach based on nonviolence and civil disobedience.

In 1994 a significant event happened: on presenging his public declaration of conscientious objection, Luis Gabriel Caldas was taken to prison and then forced to live clandestinely until Amnesty International, having adopted him as a prisoner of conscience, exerted sufficient pressure to resolve his situation.

In the same year, Colombia participated in the first Latin-American Meeting of Conscientious Objectors in Paraguay, and was the venue of the 9th International Meeting of Conscientious Objectors, getting media attention.

In the year 2000, the group Acción Colectiva por la Objeción de Conciencia en Colombia was created in Bogotá through the convergence of organisations interested in strengthening the work on conscientious objection in Colombia.

Between 2002 and 2004 the campaign called ‘Juventudes desde la Noviolencia Activa Resistiendo a la Guerra’ was promoted by various youth groups from different regions of Colombia. It was one of the first steps for the creation of a national network about conscientious objection that, in September 2005, was converted into the National Assembly of Conscientious Objectors.

Since then, 4 national assemblies have taken places, plus a workshop about legal alternatives for conscientious objectors and, in July 2006 in Bogotá, an international meeting of solidarity for the conscientious objection in Colombia, with the presence of various international delegates of movements of war resistance and conscientious objection. This raised where the idea of creating an international support network for the conscientious objection in Colombia.

As the Colombian context is very different from other countries and the conscientious objection has been developed in the middle of an armed conflict between the State, guerrilla and paramilitary groups, with multiple causes and factors that play a role, the right to object for conscience doesn’t refer only to official military service, but also to any coerced service in any armed group involved in the conflict, to all the expressions of militarism in the daily life (like authoritarism), and to the systems such as the neoliberal economical model, that sustain militarism.

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