Colombia’s Ombudsman demanded Wednesday that the National Liberation Army (ELN), Colombia’s second oldest and second largest rebel group, reveal the number of minors in its ranks following a public acknowledgment from the group’s leader earlier this week.
|“The ELN cannot simply adopt an easy stance ignoring Colombian and international law but also ignoring the the recommendations that the Geneva Convention established to avoid the use of child soldiers at all costs.”|
The Ombudsman’s office, Colombia’s highest governmental human rights agency, demanded the ELN report the number of minors in its organization after the rebel group’s leader Nicolas Rodriguez Bautista, alias “Gabino,” told Colombia’s Vanguardia newspaper that 16 and 17-year olds were active in the armed group’s combat ranks.
During the interview about the ELN’s commitment to potential peace talks, he said that boys and girls can join the ELN after they have turned 16 years of age. The rebel leader added that as long as the ELN does not integrate minors 15 or younger into its ranks there is no problem with either the ELN’s internal regulations and international human rights law.
The Deputy Ombudsman Esiquio Manuel Sanchez dismissed any claims that abstaining from using child soldiers 15 or younger conformed with human rights laws stating, “The ELN cannot simply adopt an easy stance ignoring Colombian and international law but also ignoring the the recommendations that the Geneva Convention established to avoid the use of child soldiers at all costs.”
According to Gabino many of the minors associated with the ELN are orphans who have had their parents killed during the ongoing armed conflict and the ELN had “given them protection and guaranteed their lives.”
He alleged that most orphans are not involved in combat roles and were only put in danger by state “armed forces that repress populations that it believes to have befriended the insurgency.”
The ELN is the second oldest, and second largest, rebel group in Colombia. It was founded in the mid-1960s as a leftist and Catholic insurgency aimed at fighting social and economic inequality. During the mid-1990s the group had as many as 5,000 members but it is considerably smaller today. The group is believed to be heavily integrated into the Colombian drug trade.
MORE: ELN Profile
The use of child soldiers remains prevalent in Colombia. According to Colombia’s Semana news-magazine, The Ministry of Defense estimated that 1,387 children were recruited by rebel groups over a one year period between 2012 and 2013.
- Defensoría del Pueblo reclama desvinculación de menores por parte del ELN (Defensoria del Pueblo)
- “Este Gobierno no quiere la paz”: Alias Gabino (Vanguardia)
- ELN se confiesa sobre reclutamiento infantil (Semana)