Saturday, August 24, 2013

Marching for Conscientious Objection

'I'm an artist and I prefer painting the world with brushes and oils instead of painting Colombia with innocent blood and arms.
These young people protested today against a Colombian institution - Obligatory Military Service - which may be on the way out for several reasons. In theory, military or police service is obligatory for all young men - but not in practice, since it's legal to pay not to do it. As a result, the wealthy pay their way out while the poor do time and risk their lives in remote jungle camps. There are also many other exceptions, including for only children, students and those with disabilities.
'No al fuero militar.' The fuero militar is a military
jurisdiction law protecting soldiers from
charges for rights absues.

In principle, it's also possible to plead conscientious objection - but many young recruits don't know about that right. And, reportedly, it's hard to use in practice. 

At today's rally, speakers protested against the practice of police and military stopping young men in public and demanding proof of having done military service. If they don't have it, it's off to the army. Speakers also portrayed military service as a practice of 'killing innocent campesinos and defending multinational corporations.' 

The military certainly has committed abuses, most notoriously the False Positives killings. But advances by the military against guerrillas have also brought peace calm to parts of the countryside, enabling farmers to return to their land. 

And, some poor families see military service as a positive opportunity for employment, character building and a small income - at the very least, the family has one less mouth to feed. 

'I object.' 
Today's protesters also forgot about the guerrillas' own 'recruitment' practices. The groups are notorious for turning children into guerrilla fighters, sometimes against their will or under fals pretenses, and holding them for decades under threat of death if they try to flee. In the guerrilla ranks, young men are sometimes used as cannon fodder and girls become lovers of senior guerrilla leaders - and are forced to abort when they become pregnant. 

If the ongoing talks between the FARC guerrillas and Colombian government are successfull, the need for a miltary draft may end. That would be the best outcome of all.

And today's small protest march was striking for the quantity of riot police called out - to protect against an inherently anti-violence organization. It's a common response to protests by Bogotá authorities, whether from an excess of caution or a wish to intimidate.

The crowd on Plaza Bolivar.

By Mike Ceaser of Bogotá Bike Tours

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