On Saturday, September 27 in Louisville, Kentucky, 22-year-old Colombian conscientious objector Mario Andrés Hurtado Cardozo received the Conviction Award granted by the Muhammad Ali Center. This recognition is given to young adults under 30 years old who stand out for their work in social justice and the defense of human rights in diverse countries of the world.
Mario was selected among many others nominated in Latin America, due principally to his decision to refuse to be trained for war and to work for the rights of young people from working-class areas. These youth are the main target of recruiting by all of the armed groups in Colombia, including the country’s own army, the force which most ropes young people into the war in the form of obligatory military service.
Mario refused the obligatory military service; instead he opted to work for Hip Hop con Jóvenes (“Hip Hop with Young People”) of Soacha, the municipality of Colombia that receives the largest population of people displaced by violence. He also accompanied the denouncements of mothers who lost their children as a consequence of “false positives,” a practice of the army that consists of killing innocent civilians and then dressing them in uniforms of the armed guerilla faction in order to present them as “killed in combat” and therefore claim rewards. These types of actions have left 4,200 victims in the country, of which only 14% have been recognized as such and been financially compensated by the State. After his work in Soacha, Mario joined the Acción Colectiva de Objetores y Objetoras de Conciencia (Collective Action of Conscientious Objectors), where he currently works as a legal counsel and defender of youth in risk of recruitment who, like him, denied military service.
However, there is a serious irony in Mario’s recognition, as in cases of many conscientious objectors throughout history. While other countries recognize his conviction and contributions towards constructing a peaceful society, in his own country, Mario is far from being recognized, and is rather ignored to the point that legal action is necessary in order to guarantee his right to conscientious objection. And now that he is finally able to practice this right, Mario is ostracized for his decision, as if the State wishes to sanction him for claiming that he can serve the country without needing to carry a weapon and be trained for war.
Just like the rest of Colombia’s conscientious objectors, because he has denied military service, Mario cannot claim his Law degree, nor can he practice as a lawyer. This is due to the fact that Mario has refused to carry a military booklet. In Colombia, military booklets are a type of mandatory identification young men are required to have, defining their military status and service. Because Mario has refused to carry one, no business or social entity can contract him, given that the State would impose economic sanctions for hiring a young person without said document.
It is contradictory that a government that says it is going for peace not only continues recruiting thousands of young people for the war, but furthermore, makes civil sanctions through the denial of fundamental rights to education and work to those who decide not to take part in it. “In Colombia it is much more profitable to have a gun than a professional title,” affirms a conscious objector who does not understand how the State offers higher education, economic grants and places of work for guerrillas or paramilitaries who, after having been part of the war, decide to demobilize. This is all while the very same State takes away the fundamental rights of the young people who have never shot against another Colombian and refuse to be trained to have to do it. Instead, it applies quantitative fines that, in the majority of cases, turn out to be impossible for conscientious objectors to pay because with their condition as objectors, they cannot even count on having a decent job.
However, conscientious objectors believe that it is more than the fact that the State does not want to recognize their political right and sanction to those who manage to be recognized as such. Really this is what they say that hides the profound fear that one day, the number of young people who make use of the right to objection will grow exponentially, obligating the State and the military forces to recognize something which they have always tried to deny: that the majority of young Colombians don’t want to take part in the war, and don’t believe in an anachronistic, discriminatory, and obsolete model of obligatory military service.
The amount of young Colombians linked with the public forces are around 412,000, at the same time the Army Recruitment Command proposes that the number of draft dodgers is around 800,000. In any other social State of law, the military forces would have admitted that there is a serious problem that exists with the model of military service by now, given that the number of young people who disobey the law are double those who see themselves as obligated to submit to it. In Colombia they insist on treating those who refuse to take part in the war as delinquents, but they recognize and prize the combatants with all kinds of privileges and options for the citizens’ army.
What would Austrian suffragist Berta Von Suttner think? With her book Lay Down Your Arms!, she not only inspired the creation of the Nobel Peace Prize, but also was the first woman to receive said recognition. What would she say upon seeing that 100 years later the same Prize was awarded to the President of the most potent military power of the world? Upon learning that today, from the same office where the Prize is exhibited, he ordered the bombing of innocents with the excuse of controlling a fabricated enemy as the means to his necessities?
The recognition that today they give to this Colombian objector on an International level is an important deed – it seeks to focus the attention on the necessity of transforming the absurd military logic that reigns in society, hoping that one day those who seek peace will be the model to follow, and not the citizens that the State insists on sanctioning and pursuing.
FOR Peace Presence provides protective and political accompaniment to ACOOC, and nominated Mario to the Muhammad Ali Center for the award in Conviction.
Human Rights Watch’s World Report 2014 notes that, “as of June 2013, the Human Rights Unit of the Attorney General’s Office had been assigned investigations into 2,278 cases of alleged unlawful killings by state agents involving nearly 4,000 victims, and had obtained convictions for 189 cases.” (http://www.hrw.org/world-report/2014/country-chapters/colombia?page=2) In early 2014 the Attorney General’s office stated it is investigating cases involving 4200 victims. Many additional cases are being pursued in the regional offices of the Attorney General’s offices and unknown numbers of other cases. http://www.elpais.com.co/elpais/conflicto-armado/graficos/infografia-cuanto-le-cuesta-conflicto-armado-pais http://www.senalradiocolombia.gov.co/noticia/en-el-pa-s-cerca-de-800-mil-j-venes-evaden-el-servicio-militar