Media Center

Press Release


  November 19, 2003

Today, at the Organization of American States (OAS), José Miguel Vivanco, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, issued an appeal to the parties in conflict in Colombia to demobilize children under 18 from the troops so that they may be handed over to national and international humanitarian organizations for their well-being and safety.

Vivanco presented the report “You’ll Learn Not to Cry” to the Permanent Council of the OAS, at the invitation of the Ambassador of Colombia to the OAS, Horacio Serpa. The study emerged from an in-depth investigation with actual testimony that reflected the situation of 11,000 children. These children are recruited primarily by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the Army of National Liberation (ELN), and the paramilitary group United Self-Defense Groups of Colombia (AUC).

As indicated in the report, “[a]t least one of every four irregular combatants in Colombia's civil war is under eighteen years old, which is in violation of the norms of international humanitarian law. These children, mostly from poor families, fight an adult war. Often, child combatants have only the barest understanding of its purpose.”

The Executive Director of Human Rights Watch added that “they fight against other children whose background is very similar to their own, and whose economic situation and future prospects are equally bleak. With much in common in civilian life, children become the bitterest of enemies in war.”

The study covers the recruitment of minors, their training, life in the ranks, their combat role, and the treatment they receive when they desert or are captured or rescued.

Ambassador Serpa thanked Vivanco for his report and said that that human rights organization “has had remarkable experience, has a deep understanding of the topic, and is exploring possible solutions to one of the most serious problems affecting our country.” He asserted that the report was clear, courageous, objective, and heartrending, and he indicated that “I am certain that when the world is familiar with the tragedy in Colombia–when it is learned about and understood–we Colombians will be much closer to finding a solution

Reference: E-223/03