Guatemala reaffirmed its commitment to human rights, bringing together 22 delegations from member countries of the Conference of American Armies (CAA) on April 9th-14th at the Ministry of National Defense in Guatemala City. The Specialized Conference on Human Rights for Military Support to Civilian Authorities promoted exchange of experiences and lessons learned among participants.
“Thanks to the invaluable support of U.S. Army South, we were able to hold the Specialized Conference on Human Rrights, with an emphasis on border security, for the first time,” Guatemalan Army Colonel Eric Francisco Espinoza, director of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law for the Guatemalan Ministry of Defense, told Diálogo. “The American armies are certain of [the importance of] respect for people’s human rights and support of civilian authorities.”
CAA is a military body of countries of the Americas whose mission is the analysis, debate, and exchange of information and experiences related to the defense sector. The organization strengthens cooperation and integration among the armies, and contributes a military perspective to the security, democracy, and development of member countries. Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, the United States, Honduras, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, and the Dominican Republic participated. Spain, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the Center for Studies, Training, and Analysis and Human Rights—an autonomous academic organization from Costa Rica, which works closely with the Human Rights Office of U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM)—attended as observers
“Holding this event was a challenge. The administration, logistics, and everything involving the subject itself was complex,” Colonel William López, a Guatemalan Army participant at the conference, told Diálogo. “Guatemala is committed to human rights.”
Military support to civilian authorities
During the conference, the delegations approved a draft for a CAA guide on human rights regarding military support to civilian authorities, focused on border control and immigration operations. CAA military forces must in occasion carry out border control exercises in support of civilian authorities, encouraging the creation of a guide.
“The first thing we cleared up was that border control is not in itself a military function, but rather support the civilian authorities require, given that military units are found in areas where there is always government presence. This makes it necessary to put out a guide on military actions with a focus on human rights,” said Col. Espinoza. “The international migration issue is of the utmost relevance and timeliness in the majority of countries throughout the hemisphere.”
The attendees’ experiences contributed to designing the guide’s development plan, divided into five topics: human mobility conceptual framework and definitions, human mobility operational framework, border control procedures, protocols for action, and general restrictions on the use of force and firearms. “The document is meant to standardize procedures for CAA members,” Col. López said. “This guide will cover the entire Western Hemisphere; however, each country is free to put it into operation in accordance with their internal legislation.”
The manual will include all recommended protocols for CAA members to follow when faced with illegal immigration. “Hence the importance of respect for human rights to the extent possible, and of strengthening close communication and coordination with the proper authorities, so that they are in the know in the shortest amount of time and assume responsibility for these people,” Col. Espinoza said.
The initiative will not only allow service members to respect, guarantee, and protect human rights, “but also [to focus] on the spirit of collaboration and coordination with the authorities of our own governments to prevent committing or being questioned for human rights violations,” said Col. Espinoza. “Every action and attitude of military personnel should always be with respect for human rights without judging or discriminating against anyone.”
During the revision process for the guide, participants agreed that all CAA countries, SOUTHCOM, and U.S. Army South would be able to intervene to improve the content. Once finalized and approved, the guide will be presented to the Inter-American Defense Board, which will present it to the Organization of American States in November 2019.
In addition to creating a general manual, participants analyzed the CAA Guide on Human Rights in Disaster Relief Operations, drafted during the CAA’s 32nd cycle in 2017. This guide includes the protocols and rights to be considered when military units provide humanitarian aid to disaster victims.