July 2012 – In Colombia, art. 3 of Law 1421 (2010) prohibits all contact with non-state armed groups without express authorization by the government, meaning Colombians can be punished for trying to dissuade armed groups from recruiting their children, trying to secure the release of children already recruited, and for trying to ensure that armed groups do not plant landmines in fields or on the roads to their homes, schools, and hospitals. Law 1421 also prevents the UN from engaging with armed groups to negotiate action plans to end recruitment and use of children – an important tool to ensure compliance with international law in the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1612. Watchlist’s report, No One to Trust (April 2012), highlighted this problem as a major challenge to the protection of children affected by the armed conflict in Colombia.

In Colombia, civil society and local communities have resorted to ‘legal activism’ to protect their children. On June 13, a wide coalition of community-based organizations (“Paz desde la Base”) launched a campaign entitled “Es Hora de Parar La Guerra” (it’s time to stop the war). This coalition filed a petition with the Colombian Constitutional Court arguing that art. 3 of Law 1421, and specifically the requirement for express authorization by the government for all dialogue with armed groups, contradicts art. 22 of the Colombian Constitution that states: “peace is a right and a duty.” This coalition argued that art. 22 empowers all Colombians – not just the government – to establish dialogue and seek peace with parties to the conflict. Such actions should therefore not expose them to the risk of criminal prosecution, nor should they need to seek authorization to exercise their constitutional duty to seek peace.

Watchlist will closely followed the Court’s proceedings in response to the petition.