EBCO REPORT: Conscientious objection to military service in Europe 2014

Istanbul, October 2014, Researcher: Derek Brett
The researching of this report was enabled by a grant from the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, York, UK.

FOREWORD by Friedhelm Schneider, EBCO President
In 2014 we are looking back to numerous commemoration events which – often in a military-centered perspective – focus on the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War.

The European Bureau for Conscientious Objection and its member organisations have been involved in a series of activities, exhibitions etc. which draw the public attention to those who resisted war and to the history of the peace movement over the following century. Moreover there were other anniversaries, such as the beginning of World War II and the conscientious objectors and deserters related to it. EBCO’s spring meeting in Brussels was marked by the 50 years of the recognition of conscientious objection in Belgium, the leading person of which had been EBCO’s former President Jean van Lierde.

Of course this report does not focus on any of these commemorative events, but on the ongoing situation of conscientious objectors and wider issues of militarism in Europe today. The fact that our report is for the first time presented in Istanbul shows our deep concern about the obstinate violation of the Human right of conscientious objection to military service in Turkey. Though signatory state of the European Convention of Human Rights Turkey disregards constantly the judgements of the European Court of Human Rights that have been delivered in favour of Turkish conscientious objectors.

Countries of special concern are not only Turkey, Azerbaijan and Belarus, where there is still no legislation, but also Greece, where the persecution of unrecognised conscientious objectors from many years ago has continued, and the inequitable law continues to be applied in a discriminatory manner, and of course Northern Cyprus, where this spring EBCO board member Murat Kanatli underwent a 10-day prison sentence for his refusal to answer a call-up for one day's reserve service in 2009.

Another important issue which continued to require EBCO’s commitment is the difficult situation of conscientious objectors as refugees. Some of the objectors who contacted us succeeded in obtaining refugee status (e.g. Ugur Bilkay in Italy and Yunus Özdemir in France) but the fact remains that there have also been failures and that some European governments are still far too ready to return people to countries where not only will they face imprisonment if they refuse to perform military service, but there are in grave danger of persecution for having attempted to "avoid" it. In this context we welcome the significant release of the new UNHCR guidelines on International Protection N°10 which specify claims to refugee status related to military service. In these days we are eagerly awaiting the opinion from the Court of Justice of the European Union expressing itself on the case of André Shepherd, US deserter who applied for refugee status in Germany.  [A postscript has been added to the final edition of the report, detailing the opinion which was published on 11th November.]

Summing up we have to realize like in 2013: The progress made in the field of international law and institutions often is not implemented in practice. We are extremely concerned about on-going violation of the right to conscientious objection to military service, and we see that there seems to exist a de facto impunity for states that do not respect this right. As long as we don’t want to give up the significant value of human rights, this situation cannot be accepted.

Download EBCO report 2014

PDF icon 2014-EBCO-REPORT-EUROPE.pdf4.68 MB