IACHR Expresses Concern Over Death of Adolescent Girl During Military Operation in Guaviare and Over Vulnerability of Children and Adolescents to Forced Recruitment in Colombia

March 18, 2021

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expressed its concern over reports of the vulnerability of children and adolescents in Colombia to forced recruitment by illegal armed groups, as well as the use of force in military operations. Specifically, the IACHR condemned and spoke out against reports of the death of at least one adolescent girl during military operations carried out on March 2, 2021, in Guaviare Department. In response, the IACHR called on the state to conduct exhaustive investigations into this operation, including ascertaining the victims' identities and ages and continuing to implement and reinforce actions to prevent and sanction forced recruitment by armed groups in Colombian territory.

The IACHR was alarmed to receive the information published in the media regarding a military operation that was carried out on March 2, 2021, targeting FARC dissidents in Calamar, Guaviare. According to data from the Ministry of Defense, at least 10 people were reportedly killed. The National Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences also reported that it is investigating the identities of the deceased. However, the preliminary reports, including information provided by the Ombud's Office, indicate that a 16-year-old girl died as a result of the bombing. According to her father's statements in the media, her family allegedly lost contact with her in January 2021 and she may have been a victim of forced recruitment. The IACHR also took note of reports on the possible death or injury of other children and adolescents during the attack.

It also acknowledged statements by authorities at the Ministry of Defense, who indicated that the appropriate protocols were followed during the operation and that two child victims of forced recruitment were rescued.

The State also provided information on the institutional efforts being made to prevent the forced recruitment of children and adolescents within Colombia. These include the Súmate por mí [Join in for me] strategy implemented by the Intersectoral Committee for the Prevention of Recruitment and Utilization of Children (CIPRUNNA) to prevent recruitment in high-risk areas. According to reports, this strategy began to be implemented in the department of Guaviare in response to the following early warnings issued by the Ombud's Office: 057 of 2018, 005 of 2019, and 054 of 2020. As part of its work in January and February 2021, different achievements were reported, including the inclusion of 144 children and adolescents in the program.

The State of Colombia once again expressed its continued rejection of the forced recruitment of minors by organized armed groups and criminal organizations, arguing that such acts jeopardize children and adolescents. It also noted that State authorities have announced criminal charges in response to forced recruitment.

However, the IACHR is concerned about the lack of public information that would facilitate better understandings of victims' identities and ages, particularly in view of the ongoing reports of forced recruitment in the country. Furthermore, the IACHR is concerned about the fact that authorities at the Ministry of Defense said that children and adolescents can become "war machines."

In light of the above, the IACHR urged the Colombian State to adopt all the measures needed to clarify what happened; locate the children and adolescents whose whereabouts are unknown; and identify the victims who lost their lives as a result of the aforementioned military operation.

In this regard, the IACHR urged the Colombian State to adopt measures to investigate these events in a serious, prompt, exhaustive, independent, and impartial manner, with due diligence. These investigations should seek to establish the identities and ages of those who died in the operation and the circumstances in which they did so. Where applicable, those who are responsible for carrying out and masterminding the events and authorities who by action or omission could be responsible for such crimes should be prosecuted and punished in accordance with the law and inter-American standards, guaranteeing effective reparation for victims and their families and nonrepetition. Likewise, the IACHR called for investigations of those responsible for forced recruitment to ensure that these cases do not go unpunished.

With regard to the overall context of vulnerability, the IACHR noted that the Ombud's Office has issued 157 early warnings since 2017, warning of the risk of forced recruitment of children. As the Ombud's Office reported, 83 cases of recruitment came to light in 2020. Similarly, the information provided by the State indicates that forced recruitment continues to be used by organized armed groups and that 460 children and adolescents have allegedly been recruited using these means since the Final Agreement between the Colombian State and the FARC-EP was signed in 2016. This issue has been analyzed in different IACHR reports, including Truth, Justice, and Reparation and the 2019 Annual Report, which notes the opening of Special Jurisdiction for Peace case no. 0007, "Recruitment and Use of Children in the Armed Conflict."

In this regard, the IACHR notes once again the children and adolescents who are obliged to join armed groups or criminal organizations are victims of forced recruitment. It thus calls on the State to redouble its efforts to continue adopting, strengthening, and implementing effective measures for the comprehensive protection and restitution of the rights of children and adolescents who were forced to join armed groups or criminal organizations and to prioritize their best interests. To this end, the IACHR noted that the State needs to redouble its efforts to adopt measures to prevent forced recruitment, in response to its international obligations, and to continue responding to the early warnings issued by the Ombud's Office. Such measures include the meeting planned for March 2021 to promote children and adolescents' recognition of themselves as subjects of rights, to improve protection for them and their ability to protect themselves, and to implement policies that promote the rehabilitation of children who are victims of forced recruitment and re-integrate them into society.

The IACHR is a principal and autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), whose mandate derives from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote the observance and defense of human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The IACHR is composed of seven independent members who are elected by the OAS General Assembly in their personal capacity, and do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 064/21