Dominican Republic Trains Central American Armed Forces

Central American service members are given exhaustive instruction on human rights and international humanitarian law.
Julieta Pelcastre/Diálogo | 2 October 2017

Capacity Building

Graduates of the fifth course for the specialized Diploma in Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law, taught by the Dominican Republic Graduate School, pose for an archival photograph. (Photo: EGDH-DIH)

The Dominican Ministry of Defense, through the Graduate School of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (EGDH-DIH, per its Spanish acronym), will graduate 415 specialists on human rights and international humanitarian law in November. Currently, the military academy is teaching its sixth course for the Diploma in Human Rights (HR) and International Humanitarian Law (IHL).

“A large number of military officers are expanding their knowledge and sharing their experiences on human rights and international humanitarian law,” Dominican Air Force Brigadier General Rafael Antonio Alegría Arias, the school’s director, told Diálogo. “We’re seeking an optimum level of comprehensive development, better relations among communities, and improved performance by the military institutions in their respective countries.”

Since the school’s founding in 2000, more than 27,000 attendees from the armed forces, police, and civil societies of the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua — member nations of the Central American Armed Forces Conference (CFAC, per its Spanish acronym) — have trained in both fields through continuing education courses. Of those, more than 24,600 belong to the Dominican security forces.

Brig. Gen. Alegría recalled how, in 2008, CFAC designated EGDH-DIH as a regional HR/IHL training center. This educational institute is the first military academy specialized in the teaching, study, and dissemination of the norms and principles of both fields in Latin America. This enables the Dominican Republic to send military instructors to Central American countries to instruct members of their armed forces in these disciplines, the Dominican Ministry of Defense reported in a press release.

“EGDH-DIH understands the needs and responsibilities of modern, professional armed forces in the area of HR and IHL,” Brig. Gen. Alegría said. “We teach partner nations the rights that we must respect, the rights that citizens have, and what level of respect for those rights we must show.”

“The academic, practical, and interactive educational process at the military academy is designed so that each participant develops him or herself up to his or her own capabilities without having solutions imposed on them, and with an eye towards developing our highly trained human resources in both fields,” Dominican Army Colonel Juan Pérez Richiz, an EGDH-DIH instructor, added. “There is a better performance by our armed forces personnel. We’ve improved our techniques and procedures for the use of force and the employment of firearms so as not to incur violations in the assigned duties.”

In order to strengthen its HR and IHL training, the military institute is conducting virtual exercises with CFAC’s armed forces. The exercise simulates response plans and consensual solutions in environments marked by peacekeeping, violence, and armed conflict.

Efficiency, effectiveness, and legality

The Graduate School of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law contributes to training hundreds of Central American service members. (Photo: EGDH-DIH)

“Integrating our Central American armed forces around human rights is important for keeping us operational, efficient, effective, and legal when completing missions within the framework of legality and legitimacy,” Col. Pérez noted. “Given how the nations of the regions are facing an escalation of violence generated by transnational organized crime, drug trafficking, the mara gangs, and other criminal actors, our armed forces are combating these criminal activities head-on within the human rights framework and with strict adherence to the law.”

According to a 2015 report by the UN, “Transnational Organized Crime in Central America and the Caribbean: A Threat Assessment,” the residents of Central America consider crime — particularly violent crime — to be one of the most important problems their nations face. This violence is attributed in great measure to the increase in cocaine trafficking through the region since 2006.

“With the constant changes within society itself and in the world at large, the armed forces have a need to train, equip, and update themselves incessantly,” Brig. Gen. Alegría said. “If the armed forces respect the citizens’ acquired civil rights and their human rights, we contribute to society, in general, being held to the same levels of respect for human rights.”

Beyond the garrison gates

EGDH-DIH knows that human rights must not only be upheld by the military, police, or certain civilians who hold the diploma, or who make up other specialized courses at the highest level. Now they are taking their knowledge outside the garrisons.

“We are training students in their final years of high school to raise the awareness of young people regarding human rights and international humanitarian law,” Brig. Gen. Alegría said. “We’re doing the same thing at universities.”

This public awareness campaign is being taught by highly trained teachers. The team of instructors at the military academy is also bolstering its capacities through the exchange of information, knowledge, and training with an array of international organizations and institutions, such as U.S. Southern Command’s Human Rights Office and the International Red Cross.

“EGDH-DIH is part of this nation’s development apparatus. The only tactics they should use are the ones that we teach them. We give them the tools,” Brig. Gen. Alegría noted. “We’ve met the objectives for consolidating the Dominican government’s policies in the area of respect for human rights and upholding international human rights law.”

“The Dominican Republic is one of the most advanced nations in HR and IHL,” Col. Pérez added. “EGDH-DIH works day in and day out to improve these programs and their quality.”

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