On Feb. 12, 2008, an informal national recruitment day, 30,400 people joined or were forced into the Colombian armed forces. That is 2,533 per hour. In Colombia, it is mandatory for every man eighteen years an older to serve in the military for two years. The Colombian government issues a wallet-sized card, which signifies completion of service. If a young man is stopped and does not carry such a card, he is taken to the nearest military battalion to begin his training. The only legal alternative available is to pay a fee, which varies depending on personal financial standing, and which most cannot afford. Social sanctions are placed upon those who do not own a card and have not completed their military service. Those who do not have a card cannot work for the state, cannot graduate from post-secondary institutions, cannot charge the state and cannot apply for a visa. This creates a vicious cycle. For those who can afford to pay the price of a military service card, there are also negative impacts. This fee will go towards buying military equipment, uniforms and weapons. One young man, a conscientious objector, compared paying this price to “buying the bullet that will kill me tomorrow”.
Today the conscientious objection movement in Colombia is small, and although there are many who don’t want to serve, many don’t know that they have an option. The Conscientious Objectors Collective in Colombia is working to raise awareness of conscientious objection on radio stations and in schools. A part of their work is gathering respect for the legitimacy of conscientious objection, accompanying these war resistors through the legal process and creating authorized recognition for those going through the procedure. With help from the local and international community the Conscientious Objection Collective has successfully supported conscientious objectors who have been recruited, have deserted the army or no longer wish to serve in the armed forces. Letters have been written, from Canada, the United States, Spain and other countries, to the Colombian government asking for freedom for certain conscientious objectors cases, and wanting to avoid the situation the young men are often released. The Conscientious Objectors Collective has created conscientious objection cards as an alternative to the military service card. The card reads;
“War is a crime against humanity. I am therefore determined not to support any kind of war and to strive for the removal of all kinds of war.”
This card is slowly being accepted at bus stations, military checkpoints, and military battalions. With the international community’s support and the growth of conscientious objection in Colombia, hopefully one day this will become the norm.