Pacifist youth gain right to opt out of military in Colombia

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) has welcomed the Colombian Supreme Court’s decision to allow Colombians to opt out of obligatory military service because of religious, moral, or philosophical objections.

The decision to uphold the right to conscientious objection was made on the 16 October, 2009. Before this, only young men studying to be Catholic priests were guaranteed the right to claim an exemption.

Religious groups, particularly the Colombian Mennonite Church which maintains a pacifist tradition, have advocated for years to see this right, which is recognised by the Colombian Constitution, guaranteed by the courts.

Over the past couple of decades, many young Colombians have fled efforts to forcibly recruit them into illegal armed groups only to find themselves conscripted into the Colombian military, with no option to decline.

Human rights groups also estimate that there are around 11,000 child soldiers in Colombia. Most of these have been recruited into illegal armed groups, but there are also cases of minors working with state security forces.

Stuart Windsor, CSW’s National Director said, “We share the joy of our partners in Colombia at this development.

"The issue is particularly pressing in a country which has been torn by conflict for half a century.

"We congratulate the Colombian Supreme Court in taking the lead in recognising the right to conscientious objection, and now call on armed groups to also respect the right of Colombians to refuse to participate in acts of violence because of their beliefs.”