Life in La Unión, part of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, can quickly become turbulent. Things have been fairly quiet recently, so most of the disturbances come in the form of a pack of horses blasting by, or trying to locate the chopper overhead, only to find an incredibly loud hummingbird or two. But sometimes the disturbances turn into hurricanes and are a little less delightful.
Last Wednesday and into Thursday struck a whopping storm upon La Unión. Rain fell in sheets on the tin roofs and created a lattice of miniature rivers between all of the houses. Gales tore through the village, picking things up and knocking them over, as lightning hit and struck down at least two of the cacao-drying racks. La Unión now continues without power going on 13 days.
That same Wednesday afternoon, a storm of a different variety arrived when a group of seventeen soldiers from the 24th Mobile Brigade of the Colombian Armed Forces marched through La Unión. Not a few minutes later, more trickled through, and then more. In all, around 50 soldiers passed through the neighborhood.
The Peace Community was founded over seventeen years ago on principles pointedly meant to protect Community members from further involvement in the war. These are individuals from regions near and far that came together with a common goal after having been displaced, persecuted, and threatened. Their principles include not providing logistical help to any of the armed actors, maintaining all Community spaces as zones which are free of the presence of armed actors, not possessing or supporting arms or weapons of any kind, and saying “No” to injustice and impunity. In the middle of one of the hottest, most combative zones in Colombia, the Community came together and declared that they were not going to take part in the war. They respectfully requested that from that moment on, actors from any armed group, legal or illegal, avoid the area. They were first granted precautionary, then provisional measures from the Inter-American Court on Human Rights which protect them and validate this standard. The last time military forces hung out in front of the houses of La Unión was six years ago.
This time the soldiers passed through like just another hurricane. When representatives from the Community and FOR accompaniers, who also live in La Unión, went to speak with some of them, their leaders spoke in respectful tones while acknowledging that although they had seen the Community signs earlier (marking the land and listing Community Principles), they chose to walk through anyway. They said that they were waiting for support for a sick soldier who they had left on the other side of the neighborhood. Never mind the fact that this was land on which the Community lives and works, and that as armed forces, the military were not permitted to be there regardless of the circumstance. When one of the smaller groups of soldiers stopped to rest toward the edge of the village, we again approached them to speak further and reiterate that they respect the Community’s space. Some soldiers excused themselves for being within the bounds of the Community. Others refused to excuse themselves and declared, “This is Colombia!” and “Whatever happens to the sick soldier is your responsibility.” When another soldier started to cross through, after most of his troop had already gone, he was approached by still more Community members and posited, “Well, the rest of them went through this way, so I’m going here, too,” and he did.
The Peace Community means just that – a community space which intends to strive for peace even while surrounded by war. According to the theory of the Community, where there is one group of armed actors, including military, other armed groups are sure to follow. In order to avoid conflict, the Community has chosen to avoid armed actors altogether, and to instead live and work together, constructing their own alternatives to the ever-present conflict around them. After seventeen years of declaring themselves as such and living their principles, there are still violations on their wishes and their rights.
Una vez más se verifica que no existen garantías para ejercer el derecho a objetar en el ejército.
El pasado viernes 11 de julio, a las 2:30 pm, dos integrantes de la Acción Colectiva de Objetores de Conciencia y dos acompañantes internacionales de FOR (Peace Presence), nos reunimos con el Coronel Zambrano, el Teniente Alarcón y el Mayor Medina, todos integrantes del Batallón Reveíz Pizarro ubicado en Saravena Arauca.
Los objetivos de la reunión eran 1. Verificar la situación y las condiciones en las que está ejerciendo su derecho fundamental Jefferson Shayanne 2. Notificar a los responsables del batallón, sobre el acompañamiento que se le viene dando 3. Notificar a los responsables del batallón sobre las recomendaciones nacionales e internacionales para el ejercicio del derecho que deben respetar 4. Realizar la entrega del material de intendencia que le fue asignado a Jefferson Shayanne, toda vez que en su calidad de objetor de conciencia, no puede ser forzado a portar uniforme o portar un arma.
Con relación a estos objetivos a partir de nuestra visita podemos concluir que:
Las condiciones en las que está ejerciendo su derecho Jefferson Shayanne, son claramente adversas a su situación como objetor y no generan ninguna garantía para su derecho. En primer lugar, desde que Jefferson manifestó su condición de objetor e hizo pública su declaratoria, su derecho ha sido coaccionado y Jefferson ha sido cuestionado en virtud de sus razones constantemente. Aún en presencia de nosotros, el Coronel Zambrano inquirió a Jefferson preguntándole que haría si “el enemigo” atacara el batallón justo en ese momento; “Yo me escondo” fue la respuesta de Jefferson, afirmación que desconcertó a los militares presentes, mientras nosotros les recordábamos precisamente con base en dicha afirmación, que Jefferson en estos momentos no es un soldado, sino un objetor de conciencia, que está siendo retenido contra su voluntad en una instalación militar.
Dentro de la coacción al derecho, también verificamos que el trato que se le ha dado a Jefferson ha sido el de un soldado, omitiendo las constantes interlocuciones en las que Jefferson ha buscado dejar clara su negativa a estar en el batallón por ser objetor de conciencia. En palabras del Coronel Zambrano, “Jefferson es soldado desde el momento mismo que lo inscribieron en el registro como tal y no puede ser tratado de otra forma”.
Una vez fueron verificadas las condiciones adversas que no permiten la garantía del derecho, los militares presentes, fueron notificados de nuestro acompañamiento y de las recomendaciones nacionales e internacionales que existen para la protección del derecho, sin embargo, pese a la notificación, el Coronel Zambrano dejó claro que ellos solo respetarán dichas recomendaciones hasta cuando les llegue una orden certificando que Jefferson es objetor de conciencia y que por lo tanto debe ser desacuartelado.
Dentro de las recomendaciones internacionales, una de las más importantes es que el objetor de conciencia no puede ser obligado a portar y manipular armas o intendencia de tipo militar, cuestión que en este caso no se ha respetado, pues cuando Jefferson ha intentado entregar el fusil, la respuesta que recibe es que ellos no pueden recibírselo y que en caso de que él lo dejara por ahí, el arma podría perderse y el tendría que asumir las graves implicaciones que eso acarrearía. Por esta razón, propusimos hacer un acta de entrega del fusil y el uniforme, que firmaríamos como testigos un representante de ACOOC y una representante de FOR, pero el Coronel Zambrano y los militares presentes, se negaron a acoger dicha opción, argumentando que “hasta no recibir una certificación de Jefferson como objetor de conciencia, seguirá siendo tratado como un soldado, por eso debe conservar el arma, la intendencia y el uniforme”.
Por último, la postura de los militares presentes en la reunión, fue la de no darle ningún trato de objetor a Jefferson hasta que no llegue un documento oficial que lo certifique como tal, a su juicio las razones alegadas por Jefferson no lo hacen inmediatamente objetor, ya que las creencias religiosas y humanitarias que el manifiesta, según ellos también están presentes en otros integrantes del batallón, además, en palabras del Teniente William Ovaldo Romo, en una conversación que sostuvo con Jefferson le dijo: “Uno puede matar una persona, luego va a la iglesia, reza y pide perdón, y no pasó nada… la religión no es excusa para no prestar el servicio militar”.
Como ACOOC, a partir de este comunicado, queremos dejar clara nuestra preocupación por las condiciones bajo las cuales Jefferson está haciendo su ejercicio del derecho fundamental a objetar. Consideramos que la presión que recibe constantemente Jefferson (que se manifiesta en hechos como pararlo un día a las 3am, obligarlo a que se ponga el uniforme, sentarlo solo a él en un salón y explicarle porque debería desistir de su convicción, basándose en todas las ventajas que tiene ser un soldado) no le permite ejercer plenamente su derecho.
También consideramos que los efectivos que hablaron con nosotros, omiten todas las recomendaciones internacionales, al declarar que solo hasta cuando haya una “certificación oficial” le darán a Jefferson un trato de objetor de conciencia. La ausencia de una certificación o documento similar no es excusa para violar un derecho fundamental, ninguna de las otras formas de objeción de conciencia reconocidas en la constitución depende de un documento para ser respetada, es evidente el desconocimiento de la norma por parte de los militares y en consecuencia, la ausencia total de garantías para ejercer el derecho dentro de las instalaciones militares.
Instamos entonces, a las organizaciones de Derechos Humanos, a los medios de comunicación, y a las redes y plataformas sociales organizadas, a manifestar su apoyo a este joven, que decidió rehusarse a hacer parte de un espiral de violencia, en uno de los batallones más cuestionados del país.
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
By Ethan Vesely-Flad
The human voice can never reach the distance that is covered by the still small voice of conscience. (Mahatma Gandhi, 1922)
As a first-time father, I am newly attuned to the issues of social, spiritual, and ethical formation that consume the minds of parents across the world. And as our child grows day-by-day, my spouse and I listen attentively to the stories of friends whose children are older, and may already be in school or other social settings. We have begun to wrestle with the questions of how our son will find his moral foundation, and what will shape his life choices. How is a conscience developed?
By Mark C. Johnson
Louisa Thomas never uses the word quixotic to describe the lives and passion of her great-grandfather, Norman Thomas, his pacifist brother Evan, or their soldier siblings Ralph and Arthur. But the nostalgic, ambivalent echo of lives largely unrewarded, when spent in loyalty to conscience, gives a certain reverence to this family biography, and you can almost see them tilting at the windmills of idealism.