The International Red Cross (ICRC) opened its workshop on international rules governing military operations on Monday in Colombia, the first country in the Americas to host the annual human rights summit.
Since 2006, the Senior Workshop on International Rules governing Military Operations (SWIRMO) has brought together high-ranking military officials from across the globe to discuss human rights issues and international law relevant to military operations.
This year’s conference is being held in Cartagena, on the Caribbean coast, where over 70 top military commanders from 55 countries will participate in a week-long series of workshops run by the ICRC and the Colombian Minister of Defense.
According to an ICRC press release, the purpose of the event is to encourage international human rights cooperation and “provide the participants with the tools necessary to integrate [human rights laws] into their codes, education systems, field training and disciplinary systems.”
A statement released by the SWIRMO director indicated that “all attending officers acknowledged the efforts of a country [Colombia] facing armed violence to commit to the respect of the law applicable to military and internal security operations.”
A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Defense told Colombia Reports that “while Colombia has a complicated [human rights] history because of the armed conflict, the SWIRMO conference is a sign of the government’s continued efforts to improve the situation, and the international community’s recognition of the progress that has already been made.”
The spokeswoman declined to specify, however, what areas in particular the Colombian government and military still need to work on, or how the Defense Ministry plans to apply the information and training from the SWIRMO conference to any ongoing efforts to regulate human rights conduct.
In recent months, Colombia’s security forces’ anti-riot division (ESMAD) in particular has come under public fire over videos, pictures and widespread reports of various human rights violations, including the use of excessive — and in some cases, lethal — force against unarmed civilian populations, the repression of civic speech and the issuing of death threats.
Accusations against the military have been less publicized, but similarly widespread, especially in rural incidents relating to active neo-paramilitary groups and the recent wave of nationwide protests in the countryside.
Additionally, the depth of long-standing illegal practices –such as those involved in the “false positives” scandal, where soldiers killed innocent civilians and dressed their corpses in guerrilla uniforms — are still being uncovered. Human rights groups insist Colombia has still not done enough to investigate and punish human rights crimes perpetrated by the military.
According to the Ministry of Defense’s spokeswoman, Colombia’s delegation to the SWIRMO conference will include several top military officials, including the army’s Director of Human Rights, Colonel Juan Carlos Gomez. Minister of Defense Juan Carlos Pinzon spoke at the conference’s opening ceremony on Monday.
- Interview with Claudia Hurtado, press officer for the Ministry of Defense
- Official SWIRMO website
- CIRC Press Release
- Altos oficiales de various paises analizaran en Cartagena aplicacion de DIH (El Espectador)