Military Leaders Promote Human Rights in the Americas

Military Leaders Promote Human Rights in the Americas

By Myriam Ortega / Diálogo
February 13, 2020

Leaders of the armed forces and Defense ministries of Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Paraguay, and the United States gathered for the Seminar on Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law for Regional Experts, held on January 27-29 in Bogotá. The seminar, organized by U.S. Southern Command’s (SOUTHCOM) Human Rights Office as part of its Human Rights Initiative (HRI), sought to promote knowledge exchange among its participants, taking as a reference the processes established by the host nation, Colombia.

“Colombia is very advanced in terms of human rights [HR],” Army Colonel Claudio Panza Desvars, HR director for the Paraguayan Armed Forces, told Diálogo. “We can learn from their experiences and apply them in our country.”

In addition to sharing the policies and doctrines of their countries and militaries, participants analyzed the training of personnel in command positions and their troops, as well as civil-military relations, among other topics. The respect and guarantee of HR and international humanitarian law (IHL) — which regulates hostile action — in the use of force, especially when confronting illegal armed groups, was another topic raised during the seminar.

“[This forum] helps identify the different causes of instability, how we [Colombia] have continued to fight against them and attack them from an HR and IHL perspective,” Lieutenant Colonel Fredy Leonardo Galindo García, head of the Colombian Army’s School of Human Rights, International Law and Legal Affairs, told Diálogo.

Elements of the Colombian Army simulate an encounter with members of an indigenous community while ensuring respect for human rights, as part of a SOUTHCOM-organized seminar on human rights and international humanitarian law. (Photo: Colombian Army School of Human Rights, International Law and Legal Affairs)

The information Colombia shared about the procedures it uses to confront illegal armed groups, in terms of HR, was of great interest to guest nations, since criminal organizations represent a regional threat.

“It’s very important to instruct our personnel on the differences in how to treat personnel and citizens on the one hand, and illegal armed groups on the other, with respect to HR,” said Army Colonel Carlos Humberto Villagrán Reyes, HR director for the Ministry of Defense of Guatemala.

Strategic communication was another aspect discussed at the seminar. Army Brigadier General Javier Ayala Amaya, commander of the Colombian Armed Forces’ Joint Strategic Transition Command, stressed the importance of facilitating a dialogue between the armed forces and society to shed light on their achievements and flaws with regard to HR.

“There’s nothing more important than acknowledging that errors can occur in any business where 475,000 men and women are being led,” the officer said.

“It’s important for our community to know that the Armed Forces are the guardians of HR and IHL and that we plan to communicate to the different sectors of the population that the Armed Forces are respectful of HR,” said Army Colonel Héctor Alfredo Alemán, HR director for the Honduran Armed Forces.

Lectures included gender integration and how to encourage women’s participation in the armed forces; how to transform the military mindset regarding women; and how to strengthen the institutional role to prevent gender-based violence. The seminar concluded with a visit to the Pedro Pascasio Martínez Rojas School for Professional Soldiers, located 87 miles southeast of Bogotá, where participants attended a presentation by the Colombian Army about their HR and IHL course.

“It’s a scenario that allows for the simulation of real-time events on the ground, where we provide a framework for appropriate behavior that respects and guarantees HR,” Brig. Gen. Ayala said about the initiative, which includes situations such as violent protests or encounters with indigenous people, and is considered an international benchmark for hands-on instruction.

In addition to its work with military forces of the hemisphere in the framework of its HRI, SOUTHCOM will sponsor three courses on HR and IHL in 2020. Part of the United States-Colombia Action Plan on Regional Security Cooperation (USCAP), the courses — a basic course in Bogotá and two regional courses in Tegucigalpa, Honduras — are planned for service members of the Americas.