Colombian court accepts conscientious refusal of military service

By staff writers
October 29, 2009

Human rights campaigners and church groups have welcomed the decision of the Colombian Supreme Court to allow citizens 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 last week. Until now, only those studying to be Catholic priests were guaranteed the right to claim an exemption.

Among those who have lobbied hard for the change is the Colombian Mennonite Church, one of the historic peace churches - who believe that the refusal of violence is central to the message of the Christian Gospel.

For many years, peace activists have advocated for the right to conscientious objection, which is recognised by the Colombian Constitution and guaranteed by the country's courts.

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

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

Human rights advocates have long argued that conscientious objection to military service on religious, moral or philosophical grounds should be regarded and implemented as a universal human right.

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