Armed Forces Training in Human Rights

Armed Forces Training in Human Rights

By Geraldine Cook/Diálogo
November 17, 2016

Infantry Major Douglas dos Santos Leite, an instructor at the Brazilian Army's Officer Advanced Training School, is ready for his first lesson. Today, however, he is not an instructor but a student. It is 5:00 pm on Monday, October 24th, and Major Dos Santos takes his seat next to his traveling companion, Lieutenant Colonel Francisco José Borges da Silva, from the Office of the Commander of the Brazilian Army. They traveled to Lima, Peru together to join a group of 50 officers from the Peruvian Armed Forces and National Police who are registered in the basic international humanitarian law and human rights course offered at the Peruvian Armed Forces International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights Center (CDIH-DDHH, per its Spanish acronym). “I am here because I am going to instruct younger captains on human rights. The Brazilian Army has implemented several measures to make sure the topic becomes more widespread within our forces,” said Maj. Dos Santos. “Today the topic is training plans for soldiers and all military members.” Meanwhile, Lt. Col. Da Silva explains the topic’s importance for his country. “It is in the Army's best interest to have more people who are trained in, who can deal with, and who can handle and understand the subject,” he said. “The subject of human rights cuts across all of the Brazilian Army's military affairs.” So much so that Brazilian military personnel attend the Peruvian center annually to receive training and to update their knowledge on the subject. Human rights integrated throughout the Armed Forces “Integrating human rights within the Armed Forces is very important,” said Peruvian Air Force Captain Katty Bejarano Aguado, who is enrolled in the human rights course. “It is an integration that motivates us and allows us to share and debate.” According to Capt. Bejarano, the fact that her classmates are officers with different ranks and belong not only to the Army, but also the Navy, the Police, and the Ministry of Defense is a plus. The course also allows her to better her academic profile and complement her military education as an attorney. The CDIH-DDHH was created in February 2003 to train Peru’s Armed Forces personnel as well as those from other Latin American countries. The center also trains National Police personnel and civilian professionals from the judiciary and the Public Prosecutor's Office who work in areas related to human rights. The center offers a month-long basic course and a three-week advanced course that allow students to tackle human rights, its principles and protection, as well as to analyze international humanitarian law, international agreements, and the participation of the armed forces in defending and promoting human rights. Students discuss the role of the armed forces within a constitutional framework, their internal and international humanitarian law regulations, take field trips, and engage in other academic activities. “We all need to know about human rights so that afterwards we can be ‘multipliers’ [pass on knowledge to others],” said Peruvian Army Lieutenant Colonel Francisco Pitty Esteban Reyes. The student at the basic-course believes it is essential for military training to include human rights to prevent violations that could result in criminal complaints. More than a decade of service The CDIH-DDHH welcomes students at the door with the phrase “Armed Forces, respecting human rights.” The halls are papered with photographs showing the history of the development of human rights. Classrooms have signs that motivate students to follow the rules of behavior as observers of human rights. After13 years of uninterrupted service, the CDIH-DDHH has trained more than 15,000 military members, police officers, judges, prosecutors, and ministry of defense personnel. It has also awarded degrees to military members from Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Bolivia, Argentina, and Brazil and defense-sector members of the Union of South American Nations. While some officers were beginning the basic course, others were completing their training. “In recent decades, the Peruvian Armed Forces have gone through a process of becoming aware of, and thinking about, its stewardship role as guarantors of state security and human rights,” said Miguel Ángel Gutierrez, an attorney and deputy prosecutor of Peru’s Public Prosecutor’s Office. “The presentations have been interesting, especially the knowledge and scope of international humanitarian law within the framework of international law. Obviously, we were strengthened [by the course] and we would like these types of courses to continue.” For Attorney Sara Luz Canales Aguilar, general manager of the Peruvian University of Global Integration, the course is fundamental because it teaches students that in addition to protecting national sovereignty, the Armed Forces also watch out for the citizenry. In her opinion, this type of training should also be given in universities. Multipliers of human rights “I am going to be an instructor, and I would like to share everything I've learned about human rights and international humanitarian law with the personnel that I am responsible for,” said Peruvian Navy Lieutenant Commander Agustín Castro Lecaros, in reference to the need to learn about human rights because of their constant interaction with the civilian population. When they conclude the course on November 24th, the officers will have a new mission – to be “multipliers” of human rights. For Maj. Dos Santos and Lt. Col. Da Silva, this mission can't wait. “The soldiers see the huge importance of human rights in the missions they carry out, and that is why they know that it is important to completely understand everything that has to do with human rights,” said Maj. Dos Santos. “In Brazil there is a lot of concern over expanding the subject of human rights within the Armed Forces, and nothing is better than bringing people from Brazil to take classes that are offered by this partner nation and by this center of excellence in human rights... This school in Peru is a worldwide benchmark in human rights.”
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