Friday, May 17, 2013

Urgent Action for Colombian Conscientious Objector Jhonatan Vargas


On behalf of Conscientious Objector Jhonatan David Vargas Becerra, youth leader of the Central Foursquare Church of Barrancabermeja, Santander who was forcibly recruited by the 34th Battallion of Barrancabermeja

“But with righteousness he shall judge the poor, 
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth.” 
Isaiah 11:4a NRSV

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

In Colombia military service is mandatory for all men who have turned eighteen. Yet the Colombian Constitutional Court established in Sentence C-728 of 2009 that conscientious objection to mandatory military service is a fundamental right, in accordance with international norms and treaties on conscientious objection. In spite of this the Colombian Military does not respect this and does not guarantee this right.

As Justapaz, Mencoldes and the CEDECOL Peace Commission we have accompanied several young men who have gone through the process of claiming Conscientious Objector (C.O.) status – young men who for reasons of conscience do not want to serve in the military. We are aware of the irregularities committed by the Armed Forces and to the difficulties C.O.s face when they refuse military service.

We want to share with you Jhonatan David Vargas’ case and request your solidarity.

On March 16, 2013, 18-year-old Jhonatan David Vargas of Barrancabermeja went to the 34th Battallion of Barrancabermeja to establish his military status. Despite verbally communicating his status as a C.O. – that for reasons of conscience he could not provide military service – he was enlisted against his will in the 34th Batallion. He was sent from Barrancebermeja, Santander to a military district of Tolima and later sent to the 28 ASCP Bochica Battallion in Puerto Carreño, Vichada where he currently remains. To date he has refused to swear allegiance.

Since arriving at the Bochica Battallion he verbally communicated to the sargeants and lieutenants that for reasons of conscience and his religious training he firmly believes in God’s word as his guide and faithfully follows God’s command to not kill and therefore he will not carry weapons, will not learn to use them and will not kill. Jhonatan David believes that learning to use weapons and combat techniques violate his religious beliefs. The Bochica Batallion officers have threatened to court martial him for insubordination and disobedience. They have also made fun of the fact that he is a Christian.

Jhonatan David is a university student and is also studying to be a pastor at the Central Foursquare Church of Barrancabermeja’s school of theology.

Colombia’s Military Recruitment Law (Law 48 of 1993) establishes that persons who are in training for religious life or priestly service may request to postpone their military service (line d, article 29). This could apply for Jhonatan, though we seek that his right to conscientious objection, as established in the Constitutional Court’s sentence C-728 of 2009, be recognized.

1. Share this information with your organizations and congregations and pray for Jhonatan and his family.
2. Write the Colombian Government demanding the following:
  • That they protect the fundamental right to conscientious objection to military service as established in Sentence C-728 of 2009. That they protect the right to freedom of conscience and religious freedom as established in articles 18 and 19 of the Colombian Constitution which are currently being violated by the National Army’s 28th ASCP Battalion.
  • That they release Jhonatan David Vargas Becerras and grant him C.O. status ending his need for military service.
  • That Jhonatan be immediately returned to Barrancabermeja.
3. Send copies of any letters to

Download a sample letter.

Brothers and sisters, your support is crucial because the Colombian government is sensitive and responsive to national and international public opinion, perhaps more than anything else.

We thank you in advance for your support.

JUSTAPAZ, of the Colombian Mennonite Church
Mencoldes Foundation
Peace Commission of the Evangelical Council of Colombia

Please send letters to:

Dr. Juan Manuel Santos
President of Colombia
Edificio Administrativo: Calle 7 No.6-54. Bogotá, Colombia -
Telefax: (57 1) 562 9300

Dr. Angelino Garzón
Vice-president of Colombia
Carrera 8a No.7-57.
Telephones (57 1) 444 2120, 444 2122

Dr. Juan Carlos Pinzón
Colombian Minister of Defense
Carrera 54 Nº 26 – 25 CAN
PBX 3150111

Juan Carlos Mejía Gutiérrez
Director of Recruitment and Reserves
Av. El Dorado Cra. 52 Can
Conmutador (57) (1) 3150111

ASPC Battalion 28 “BOCHICA”
Barrio Mateo Kilometro 1 vía Villavicencio
Teléfono: 0985654504

Dr. Jorge Armando Otálora
Human Rights Ombudsman.
Calle 55 Nº 10 -32 Bogotá, Colombia -
PBX: [57 1] 3147300

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Looking back... looking forward...

I can hardly believe that another year of ministry here in Colombia has come and gone… and what a year it has been! Amidst it all, one of my biggest challenges has been keeping you all informed of what our partners and I have been up to. So as I begin 2013 I want to share with you all some of the highlights of the past year as well as what we are looking forward to this year.

Looking back on 2012

2012 was an exciting year for Colombia, for the work of the Cedecol Peace Commission and for my ministry here.

The Cedecol Peace Commission eagerly entered into a partnership with the Virginia Region of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) during 2012. The highlight of this partnership was a visit of four members of the Peace Commission and myself, to Virginia from May 30 - June 13 where we attended the Virginia Disciples Regional Assembly and visited over a dozen churches throughout the region sharing about the Peace Commission’s work.

Following our time in Virginia we travelled to Washington, DC where we were hosted by our partners in the Central Atlantic Conference of the United Church of Christ and held successful meetings with numerous faith-based justice organizations, the State Department, several congressional offices, the US Institute for Peace and even held a congressional briefing on the state of churches in Colombia in the midst of the armed conflict.

Upon returning to Colombia in July I was asked to begin working full-time with the Peace Commission’s Prophetic Call human rights documentation program. Our goals there continue to be to document the impact of the armed conflict on Protestant and evangelical churches in Colombia, to provide material, spiritual and legal support to the victims and to advocate for governmental policies - both in Colombia and from the US - that support victims and bringing an end to the armed conflict. 

In late 2012 we published the short-format Prophetic Call annual report with cases from 2010 and 2011 and as of right now are working hard to get the long-format reports published in both Spanish and English. These reports, which bear witness to the hundreds of human rights violations suffered by members of our churches as well as the positive responses to the conflict from our churches, can be found at

We continued to accompany the farming communities of El Garzal, Las Pavas and a group of 12 farming communities in southern Córdoba Province all of whom face violence in their struggle to keep the land they depend on for survival. We celebrate with the communities of El Garzal and Las Pavas recent decisions from the Colombian Rural Development Institute (INCODER) in favor of the peasants’ ownership of the land.

The biggest development in Colombia in 2012 was the beginning of formal negotiations between the FARC guerrilla and the Colombian government seeking to end their armed conflict. This new scenario for peace has invigorated peacebuilding networks throughout Colombia, who in late 2012 scrambled to find ways to contribute to the peace process. As the Cedecol Peace Commission we were delighted to help organize the Peoples Building Peace – International Peace Conference including hosting the Rev. Raúl Suárez of the Martin Luther King Center of Havana, Cuba. Negotiations are ongoing in Havana and we ask all to pray for a positive outcome.

Looking ahead at 2013

In 2013 we hope to continue the work mentioned above – accompanying the victims of the armed conflict, bearing witness to their testimony and creatively seeking to build peace with justice in Colombia.

I personally, and the members of the Cedecol Peace Commission generally, are grateful for the support we receive through the four official partnerships with which we’re blessed: the Central Atlantic and Connecticut Conferences of the United Church of Christ and the Capital Area Region and Virginia Region of the Disciples of Christ. We hope that each of these can be renewed and strengthened in 2013.

We look forward to hosting a delegation from our UCC partners from May 30 – June 9 of this year. There is still space available. Won’t you consider joining? If interested please contact me and/or Charlie Pillsbury of Shalom United Church of Christ in New Haven, CT {} for more information.

I am grateful to all those who support my ministry in Colombia in so many different ways. I’ll do my best to stay in touch in 2013 and thank you in advance for your prayers and support!