Once again it is confirmed that there are no guarantees to exercise the right to object in the army.
Last Friday, July 11, at 2:30pm, two members of Collective Action of Conscientious Objectors (Acción Colectiva de Objetores y Objetoras de Consciencia, or ACOOC) and two international observers from FOR Peace Presence met with Colonel Zambrano, Lieutenant Alarcón, and Major Medina, all members of the Reveíz Pizarro Battalion located in Saravena, Arauca.
The objectives of the meeting were: 1) To verify the status and conditions in which Jefferson Shayanne is exercising his fundamental right to conscientious objection; 2) To notify those in charge of the battalion of the accompaniment that he is being provided; 3) To inform those in charge of the battalion of the national and international recommendations for the exercising of this right that they should be respecting; 4) For Jefferson to be able to turn in the military equipment that was assigned to him, given that in his position as a conscientious objector he cannot be forced to wear a uniform or carry a gun.
With regard to these objectives, we conclude the following from our visit:
The conditions under which Jefferson Shayanne is exercising his right are clearly adverse to his position as an objector, and do not establish any guarantee of his right. Firstly, since Jefferson expressed his status as an objector and made his declaration public, his right has been suppressed and he has been questioned constantly about his reasons. Even in our presence, Col. Zambrano askedJefferson what he would do if the “enemy” were suddenly to attack the battalion. “I would hide” was Jefferson´s response, a statement that baffled the soldiers present. We reminded them that based on that statement, Jefferson is a conscientious objector, not a soldier, being held against his will at a military facility.
Based on this suppression of his rights, we also confirmed that Jefferson has and continues to be treated as a soldier, despite his constant dialogue and communications to make clear his refusal to be in the battalion because he is a conscientious objector. In the words of Colonel Zambrano, “Jefferson was a soldier from the moment they recorded him in the registry as such, and he cannot be treated any other way.”
After verifying the adverse conditions impeding the guarantee of Jefferson’s right, the military officials present were notified of our accompaniment and of the national and international recommendations that exist for the protection of this right. Nevertheless, Colonel Zambrano made it clear that they will only respect these recommendations when they receive an order certifying that Jefferson is a conscientious objector and therefore must be discharged.
One of the most important international recommendations is that a conscientious objector cannot be forced to carry or handle weapons or military equipment. In Jefferson’s case, this has not been respected. When Jefferson has tried to turn in his weapon, the response he gets is that they cannot take it, and should he leave it with them, the weapon could be lost and he would then have to assume the serious implications that would follow. For this reason, we proposed that he be able to turn in his gun and uniform, and that one member of ACOOC and one member of FOR PP would sign as witnesses. Colonel Zambrano and the other military officials present refused to accept that option, arguing that “until receiving certification that Jefferson is a conscientious objector, he will continue being treated as a soldier, and therefore must keep his weapon, equipment, and uniform.”
In the end, the position of the military personnel present in the meeting was to not treat Jefferson as an objector until receiving an official document that certifies him as such. In their judgment, the reasons given by Jefferson do not immediately make him an objector. According to them, the religious and humanitarian beliefs that he holds are also held by other members of the battalion, and furthermore, in the words of Lieutenant William Ovaldo Romo to Jefferson: “Someone can kill a person, then go to church, pray, and ask for forgiveness, and nothing happens… religion is not an excuse not to perform military service.”
As ACOOC, from this statement on, we want to be clear about our concern for the conditions under which Jefferson is exercising his fundamental right to object. We consider that the pressure that Jefferson constantly receives (demonstrated by acts such as waking him up one day at 3 AM, forcing him to put on his uniform, and sitting him alone in a room to explain to him why he should give up his convictions based on all the advantages that being a soldier has) does not allow him to fully exercise his right.
We also consider that their communication with us, in which they declared that only when there is an “official certification” will they give Jefferson the treatment of a conscientious objector, omits all of the international recommendations. The absence of a certification or similar document is not an excuse to violate a fundamental right. None of the other recognized forms of conscientious objection in the constitution depend on a document to be respected. It is evident that there is a lack of recognition by the military, and consequently a total absence of guarantees to exercise this right within military facilities.
We urge human rights organizations, through means of communication, networks, and organized social platforms, to show their support for this young man who decided to refuse to be part of a cycle of violence in one of the most questionable battalions in the country.
Collective Action of Conscientious Objectors
FOR Peace Presence