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DEVELOPMENT BULLETIN-VENEZUELA: Military Cadets Take Course On Human Rights

Estrella Gutierrez

CARACAS, May 23 1998 (IPS) - Military cadets in Venezuela are taking a course on human rights thanks to an unprecedented initiative which has the support of several United Nations agencies.

The human rights training programme has been accompanied by yet another bold decision by the military – the creation of a Directorate for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law within the Ministry of the Defense, that has operated since last year.

Armando Vargas, from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), told IPS that the idea of the programme, was to give cadets in military academies basic information and to cultivate in them a “sensibility” so that they feel like “agents of human rights.”

The programme was first implemented on May 15 at the University training institute for National Guard officers, and similar inittatives will be launched at the army, navy and air force academies.

“We see the incorporation of human rights into military training as a positive step,” said Raul Cubas, coordinator of Provea, a nongovernmental organization that publishes an annual report about humanitarian issues in Venezuela.

The training session is the first phase of a larger plan to integrate human rights into the regular program of study at military academies, where currently the social sciences have a weak presence. A change attitude, and the creation of new ways of thinking, demanded the incorporation of human rights into the regular military curriculum, Cubas opined.

The current phase of the project also includes the creation and distribution of informational materials and the training of human rights teachers, who will visit all military bases and outposts.

The training sessions include theoretical aspects on such documents as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and regional charters and treaties signed by Venezuela, and the role of the armed forces in their implementation. The practical part of the training provides information about the international protection of refugees, international humanitarian law, domestic violence and violence against women, and the specials rights of children and adolescents.

Magda Moyano, who is in charge of gender issues at the UNDP, commented that one of the first misconceptions which arose in the question and answer sessions following each lecture at the National Guard Institute was that respecting human rights would mean allowing the existence of irregular situations.

Another recurring point expressed by the cadets was that while they intended to respect human rights, this becomes difficult in the face of aggressive protests or conflicts on the Colombian border.

“What happens to our human rights?” many cadets asked. The response to this was to explain that the role of the military within a democratic state wass to implement and enforce the law and to protect human rights, Moyano said. “Moreover, the law requires tht they protect order and confront violent situations without excesses.”

“The UNDP representative stated that the issue which generated the greatest interest was that of violence against women, affirming that the statistics on the problem had an impact on the cadets who, as part of military institutions, comprise representiaves from all social classes, and which are representative of a country where 70 percent of people live in poverty.

Figures from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) indicate there is violence against women and children in at least sixty percent of Venezuelan homes.

Venezuela, a country of 23 million inhabitants has been a democracy for 40 years and has four soldiers for every 1,000 inhabitants. This is the fourth lowest rate in Latin America, after Argentina, Mexico and Brazil, according to regional statistics.

The 1997 Provea report stated that the National Guard was responsible for 11 percent of human rights abuses which resulted in 151 fatalities. The other three branches of the armed forces were responsible for four percent of reported deaths in a year in which the government increased its commitment to confront the problem and generate dialogue with NGOs.

As part of this effort, the govrnment created the National Human Rights Commissio, which established links with humanitarian organizations and promoted the creation of the Human Rights Directorate within the armed forces.

This new office has the mission to receive and process protests and accusations about human rights violations in which military personnel are implicated, regardless of whether these occur within or outside military installations. military ombudsmen will be trained and be assigned to every military base.

While praising the initiative, Cub aid it still had to become funactional. He explained that his organization demanded information about two cases from the Human Rights Directorate, headed by National Guard Colonel Nelson Daniels, who had failed to respond.

The main human rights problems linked to the military are related to the so-called “Theatre of Operation” on the Colombian border, where several regions are under military jurisdiction as a result of Colombian guerrilla activity.

Provea and other organizations launched a human rights education campaign this week in the border state of Apure, in order to promote preventive and corrective actions in the area of human rights. The campaign sought to inform all citizens of their rights and of the means available to enforce them.

During the campaign – called “Human Rights Without Borders” – high-ranking military officials in the local Theater of Operations have been invited to participate in ‘workshops.”

Promoting a permanent rapprochement between the armed forces and humanitarian organizations is part of this very exciting project on which we have embarked, enthused Vargas. (FIN-IPS- tra-eg-ag-hd-mg-mk-98) = 05212126 ORP119

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