Colombian Defense Minister Iván Velásquez announced Thursday that all military actions against rebel groups will be halted if the presence of children at the target locations is confirmed or suspected.
The Armed Forces have been instructed to abide by these rules of engagement even if the minors are wearing combat uniforms. As per international humanitarian law, people in uniform or with their guns visible may be treated as a fighter.
The bombings must be suspended, we are going to evaluate the specific moment in which an absolute directive can be issued, but that is where we have to tend to, Velásquez told reporters in Bogotá, as the government of President Gustavo Petro distances itself from practices that were common under Iván Duque, who had ordered a strike on FARC dissidents in the department of Caquetá which resulted in the death of eight children aged 12 to 17, forcing then-Defense Minister Guillermo Botero to resign.
His departure, however, did not change much, as the death of 3 other minors was reported on March 2, 2021, after another attack against FARC rebels. Diego Molano, the new Defense Minister, argued it had been an operation on a narco-terrorist structure that uses young people to turn them into war machines. On September 16 of the same year, Molano admitted the legitimate death of yet another 4 children aged 13 to 17 years old after a government-ordered bombing in Chocó against a dissident camp.
The Army acts in legitimate defense of the State, of the country's sovereignty and the protection of that extension of the terrorist threat and it is a responsibility that we have to assume with all forcefulness, Molano had said in a broadcast message.
Velásquez insisted Petro's administration placed life over death. We have to privilege life over death and we cannot develop operations that endanger the civilian population, but neither in the consideration of these forcibly recruited minors that we repeat very painful acts of the past, that these actions in this direction have to end.
Colombian Armed Forces Chief General Helder Giraldo said the military brass would submit their recommendations to Velásquez shortly, but hinted these instructions might encourage criminal gangs to forcibly recruit minors and thus be safe from attacks.
Rightwing groups have labeled the announcements as just the guarantees violent groups needed.