Colombian War College organized

The II. International Symposium on Military Ethics at Bogota

The ISME-Network is now permanently installed in South America

From October 7th to 11th, 2013 in Bogotá, an important delegation from EURO-ISME, headed by its president Benoît Royal, had the opportunity to contribute to the success of the II. International Symposium on Military Ethics organized by the Colombian War College under the title “The Peace Process and the ethical challenges for the military”. The event gathered more than 350 participants and speakers coming not only from South amd North America and Canada, but also from Europe and Africa.

The huge variety of subjects discussed during this year’s edition already became obvious during the workshop sessions on Monday and Tuesday at the War College. The Colombian hosts showed their particular interest by inviting not only all officer cadets and staff officers of the various courses but also a great number of academics and media repesentatees.

Already on the first day of the event, thanks to the initiative of Euro-ISME member Dr. Eric Germain from the French MoD, the association could present a highly interesting participant to the audition in Bogotá. Father Michael Lapsley, born in New Zealand and then a practising Priest in the Republic of South Africa, affected by Apartheid and racial segregation, caught the attention of the audience with his powerful contribution. The fascinating and captivating story of his life set a powerful initial sign to the whole Symposium. During the 1970’s, Father Michael Lapsley joined the African National Congress (ANC) which had been strengthened and influenced by a group of black civil rights activists around Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo. As a white Priest, Father Lapsley took part in the fight for civil rights of black people in South Africa. Of course, the consequences of his outstanding activity were a lot of suspicion and a violent reaction of the white government. Father Lapsley lost both hands and one eye after having received and opened a letter bomb, obviously sent by the white authority of the country.

But of course, the still ongoing civil war in Colombia played a major role in many of the contributions made to the Symposium as well. Ethics, forgiveness and reconciliation were debated on the background of the yet unsolved conflict that has divided and hurt Colombia for several decades. Representants of different academic institutions insisted in pronouncing their hope for a positive continuation of the peace talks between the government and the rebel organisation FARC.

The analysis of the academic specialists widened the spectrum of knowledge of the European guests and delivered some very interesting detailed information on how the Colombian public is dealing with the difficulties resulting from the civil war, on scepticism and hope regarding the peace process and – as all participants kept emphasizing – the steadily high respect and trust in the Colombian armed forces. The vast majority of the people still accepts the army as the most reliable authority of the country.

Host General Javier Fernández Leal not only invited a illustrous circle of contributors from the most different parts of the society, in the same time he also called to set the topic of military ethics on the highest level of discussion inside the Colombian army and to treat it with a maximum of attention. The high number of participants can be seen as a proof for this policy. Our hope that this policy will also be continued.

Mr. Jon McCourt was another outstanding contributor to the II. Symposium, who already captivated the whole audience at the annual general assembly of Euro-ISME in Amsterdam back in May. During the late 1960’s and through the 1970’s, Mr. McCourt actively took part in the fight of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and he already realised during the armed fight, that a peaceful and joint solution of the conflict in Northern Ireland would only be possible through a path of active reconciliation on both opposing sides in the conflict. After having lost a lot of relatives and close friends in the conflict, he got engaged into the process of active reconciliation and still today, he takes part in numerous events at schools, universities and public administrations in order to promote his way of peaceful reconciliation.

It was not just the high number of participants that proved the huge success of the Symposium, it was also the variety of representants coming from different countries that showed the high importance of military ethics. This international network which has been knit within only a short period of time shall be enlarged in the horizon of new events and by this means, it will be able to set the focus of high interest on military ethics in future times.

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