EBCO Annual Report “Conscientious objection to military service in Europe 2015”
Foreword by Friedhelm Schneider, EBCO President (download report)
In September 2014 Heiner Bielefeldt, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, speaking at a side event to the Human Rights Council, observed: “Conscientious objection to military service is a specific issue, but not a side issue!”.
One year on, in October 2015, the European Bureau for Conscientious Objection, for the first time launches its Annual Report “Conscientious objection to military service in Europe 2015” in Geneva, immediately before the Session of the UN Human Rights Committee which will deal with the reports of Greece and the Republic of Korea - two states in which the right of conscientious objection to military service continues flagrantly to be violated.
Monitoring the situation of conscientious objectors in Europe during the last year we discover a sad continuity of problems on three levels:
1) Conscientious objection to military service has been acknowledged as a human right in the framework of the Council of Europe and the United Nations system of international law. Nevertheless there remain a number of states that notwithstanding having signed the European Convention of Human Rights or the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights persistently refuse any non-discriminatory implementation of the right of conscientious objection. In Greece the change of government did not halt the obsessive prosecution of non-religious conscientious objectors far beyond the age of 45 when they are no longer liable for conscription. In Turkey conscientious objectors continue to be exposed to arbitrary repression by military and police authorities. EBCO is deeply disturbed that in the context of a militarized inner state conflict escalation AlperSapan and PolenÜnlü, members of our Turkish affiliate VR-DER were among those murdered in the Suruç massacre on 20 July 2015 while on their way to carry out relief work in Kobane. This Report is dedicated to their memory
2) Looking at developments in Ukraine and the surrounding region, we note again the tendency to deny the right of conscientious objection to military service, just when it is most relevant – in time of war. Ukraine (and Lithuania) has reintroduced military conscription shortly after suspending it. In Ukraine, only members of certain religious minorities may be recognised as conscientious objectors. Other Ukrainians who do not want to fight against their neighbours or long-time fellow citizens are forced to become draft evaders and/or asylum seekers - draft evasion has become a mass phenomenon.
3) With regard to the areas of armed conflict in Ukraine and the Middle East the topic of conscientious objectors seeking refugee status has become a matter of increased urgency. Satisfying the criteria established by UNHCR regarding claims to refugee status related to military service is a complicated and sophisticated process (see EBCO Annual Report 2014). Meanwhile the tendency of some states to exclude refugee claims by listing safe countries of origin is a matter of grave concern to EBCO. A country declared as safe in most instances for repatriation is not necessarily a country which respects the right of conscientious objection to military service.
The respect of the right of conscientious objection to military service is an important indicator of the credibility of the human rights orientation of a society or a state. It is EBCOs commitment to stimulate this perspective of freedom of conscience and to work for its implementation.