No 46 / April 2009
The monthly email newsletter of War Resisters’ International’s The Right to Refuse to Kill programme
Dear readers of co-update.
Welcome to the April issue of co-update, this time published even a few days early, due to our participation in the protests against the NATO summit in Strasbourg from 1-5 April 2009 (see Upcoming events below).
This issue includes some reports on the issue of conscientious objection during the process of the Universal Periodic Review, a process of the new Human Rights Council of the United Nations. The issue of conscientious objection has been brought up in relation to several countries, some of which is being reported on in this issue of co-update. We will continue to monitor the proceedings within the framework of the Universal Periodic Review, and we are working with other organisations, especially Conscience and Peace Tax International, to feed information into the process.
However, to continue to do this work War Resisters’ International depends on your donations. We therefore ask you to donate to WRI online now at wri-irg.org/en/donate-en.htm.
1-5 April 2009: No to war – No to NATO
NATO will meet on 3 and 4 April 2009 for it’s 60th anniversary summit in Strasbourg, France, and Baden Baden, Germany. Groups from all over Europe are preparing protest actions from 1-5 April 2009, which will include:
* Protest camps from 1-5 April 2009
* Days of action on 1-2 April 2009
* A counter-conference on 3 and 5 April 2009
* Activities in Baden Baden on 3 April 2009
* Mass blockades of the NATO summit in Strasbourg on 4 April 2009
* An international demonstration in Strasbourg on 4 April 2009.
War Resisters’ International is part of the International Coordination Committee preparing for these activities. An international call No to war – No to NATO was launched on 5 October 2008. More information is available on the WRI website at http://wri-irg.org/node/6990.
14 & 16 April: Book launch events “Conscientious Objection: Resisting Militarized Society”
Refusing to take part in war is as old as war itself. This wide-ranging and original book brings together four different bodies of knowledge to examine the pratice of conscientious objection: historical and philosophical analyses of conscientious objection as a critique of compulsory military service and militarization; feminist, LGBT and queer analyses of conscientious objection as a critique of patriarchy, sexism, and heterosexism; activist and academic analyses of conscientious objection as a social movement and individual act of resistance; legal analyses of the status of conscientious objection in international and national law.
1. Conscientious Objection: Resisting Militarized Society and the Case of Turkey
Venue: SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies) – Kalili Lecturer Theatre
Date: 14 April 2009
Time: 18.00-20.00 p.m.
2. Sand in the Wheels: The struggle for the right to conscientious objection in Turkey
Venue: Amnesty International UK, The Human Rights Action Centre, 17 – 25 New Inn Yard, London EC2A 3EA
Date: 16 April 2009
Time: 19.00-21.30 p.m.
15 May – International CO Day: Focus on South Korea
Presently, more than 420 conscientious objectors are in South Korean for their
conscientious objection to military service. About 100 conscientious objectors are facing trials without being detained. It has to be expected that most will receive a prison sentence of 18 months.
War Resisters’ International and Korea Solidarity for Conscientious Objection are organising an international training in nonviolent action, in Seoul, as the centre piece of the activities for 15 May 2009. An international action in support of conscientious objection in South Korea will take place on 15 May itself.
More information is available at http://wri-irg.org/node/6217.
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Israel to recognise conscientious objection?
Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations announces that Israel “would grant the right to those who object on conscientious grounds to serving in the military, alternative civilian service”.
Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Aharon Leshno-Yaar, announced on 19 March during a session on Israel’s response to the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) that the country “would grant the right to those who object on conscientious grounds to serving in the military, alternative civilian service”. This announcement came as a response to recommendations made by Slovenia. Israel’s ambassador Aharon Leshno-Yaar responded to the recommendation: “We were asked by the distinguished representative of Slovenia about the treatment of conscientious objectors. Israel’s Supreme Court has addressed the issue in a number of cases, and in particular the difficulty of balancing conflicting considerations, in particular the need to respect the conscience of the individual objector and the nature of army service in Israel as a general duty imposed on all members of society. The Court has affirmed that where conscientious objection can be proved and is distinguished from political motivations or civil disobedience, exemption from army service must be granted to men and women alike.”
In the review process, Slovenia noted with concern the information in the OHCHR compilation and stakeholders’ reports on the refusal to the right to conscientious objection, part of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and on imprisonment in this regard. It asked if Israel intended to review this, and recommended ceasing imprisoning conscientious objectors and considering granting the right to conscientious objection to serve instead with a civilian body independent of the military.
However, a lot of skepticism remains. Already in the Working Group Israel’s delegation replied to Slovenia’s recommendation saying that “the Supreme Court has affirmed that, where conscientious objection can be proved and is distinguished from political motivation or civil disobedience, exemption from army service must be granted”. Even if Israel would pass a law leading to the recognition of conscientious objection, it can be doubted that this would change the situation. Already now, some pacifists get exempted from military service. However, any conscientious objector who links his or her conscientious objection to the situation in the Occupied Territories is unlikely to achieve recognition as conscientious objector, and is more likely to be seen as being politically motivated.
In addition, Aharon Leshno-Yaar represented the outgoing Israeli government at the session of the Human Rights Council. With the new Israeli government, it is even more doubtful that any substantial improvement of the situation of conscientious objectors would be passed in the Israeli parliament. In the past, there have only been vague announcements by Israeli politicians not about a recognition of the right to conscientious objection, but about forcing a mandatory civilian service (probably militarised to some degree or other) on anybody who’s not serving in the Israeli army today. Everybody involved has made it specifically clear that the military, not the individual, decides whether military or civilian service would be performed.
Sources: Haaretz: Israel to UN: We’ll improve treatment of minorities, 19 March 2009; Human Rights Council: Draft report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review: Israel, A/HRC/WG.6/3/L.8, 9 December 2008; Email Sergeiy Sandler (New Profile), 20 March 2009
Colombia: Conscientious objectors submit the question of unconstitutionality to Constitutional Court
On 18 March, several Colombian groups submitted a claim of unconstitutionality of article 27 of the Colombian recruitment law from 1993 to the Colombian Constitutional Court. The claim was submitted by the Public Interest Group of the Law Faculty of the Universidad de Los Andes, Acción Colectiva de Objetores y Objetoras de Conciencia (ACOOC), CIVIS and the Observatorio de Constitucionalidad de la Universidad de los Andes. In their submission it is claimed that the government of Colombia failed to provide for the right to conscientious objection, in violation of article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Colombian constitution.
Colombia’s Constitutional Court has previously dealt with the issue of conscientious objection in judgments dating back to 1992, 1993, and 1995, denying that the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion as granted by Colombia constitution includes the right to conscientious objection. In their submissions, the claimants show that international law on the right to conscientious objection has developed considerably since then, notably with the decision of the United Nations Human Rights Committee on South Korea in 2007 (see co-update No 27, February 2007), and the opinion of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on Colombia (see co-update No 42, October 2008).
The issue of conscientious objection was also part of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Colombia. Again Slovenia brought up conscientious objection. It noted: “Following the concern expressed by the Human Rights Committee in 2004 that Colombia does not allow conscientious objection to military service, Slovenia recommended that Colombia (a) recognize this right in law and practice and ensure that recruitment methods allow it. The State should guarantee that conscientious objectors are able to opt for alternative service, the duration of which would not have punitive effects.”
However, Colombia did not accept this recommendation, and stated: “The Colombian Constitution and the legal framework establish that all citizens have the obligation to enroll in the military service when the circumstances so require to defend the National sovereignty and the public institutions and to provide security conditions for all citizens. This obligation has been upheld on several occasions by the jurisprudence of the Constitutional Court.”
Sources: ACOOC: Comunicado de Prensa: Demanda de inconstitucionalidad del artículo 27 de la ley de reclutamiento, 18 March 2009; Human Rights Council: Universal Periodic Review: Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review, Colombia, A/HRC/10/82,9 January 2009; Human Rights Council: Universal Periodic Review: Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review: Colombia, Addendum: Views on conclusions and/or recommendations, voluntary commitments and replies presented by the State under review, A/HRC/10/82/Add.1, 13 January 2009
Sweden: An end to conscription
On 19 March, the Swedish government announced that Sweden will end conscription as part of a package of military reforms. With this move, a tradition of more than 100 years of conscription will come to an end. “Staff support will be modernized so that voluntary service constitutes the foundation for the staffing of the force instead of compulsory military service,” the defence ministry said in a statement. Ministry spokeswoman Sofia Krigsman said the government planned to shelve the draft in mid-2010 and bring it back only if the country’s security situation worsened. Sweden will instead rely on a part-volunteer, part-professional military.
According to the present system, most conscripts undergo military service of 2 periods totalling around 11 months. However, only 8 000 people out of an annual cohort of 120,000 Swedish citizens are called in to carry out military service. Sweden recognises the right to conscientious objection for conscripts. However, with the discussion about an end of conscription, and the low rate of call-up for military service, the numbers of conscientious objectors went down. While more than 2,000 people applied for conscientious objection every year until the mid-1990s, in 2005 and 2006 there were only 160 and 128 CO applications. The institutions providing non-military basic training for conscientious objectors in Sweden are already closing down due to lack of funds. As a consequence, conscientious objectors in Sweden cannot get basic training and do a substitute service, and will be placed in the “training reserve”.
Sweden so far does not recognise the right to conscientious objection for professional soldiers. It is unclear if the reforms will include this right for professional soldiers.
Source: Sweden to scrap century-old draft, Ottawa Citizen, 19 March 2009; War Resisters’ International: Country report and updates: Sweden, 28 October 2008
Cyprus: no shorter military service
The Cypriot Council of Ministers rejected a plan to reduce military service from 25 to 19 months, Cyprus Mail reported on 11 March 2009. The proposal was axed on the basis that the timing is not right for such a scheme, while the Defence Ministry blamed the stance taken by the majority of the parties for the proposal’s failure.
“Due to the stance taken by the majority of the political parties it is very difficult for the Ministry to move forward, because we do not wish to do something with which the political scene disagrees,” Costas Papacostas said according to Cyprus Mail.
The proposal provided that conscription service is reduced gradually to 19 months, on the condition that each year there are two waves of conscripts; 18-year-old high-school graduates should start their military service in July, while those who are not 18 by July will wait until January to enter the National Guard. The majority of political parties disagreed with this double-conscription proposal, arguing that the system would cause social problems.
Papacostas confirmed that the issue will be re-introduced in the future, but because the timelines have not been followed, the reduction in service cannot take place in 2009 as was initially proposed.
The related proposal for the reform of the National Guard has also been halted for the time being. Although the two proposals are considered separate, Defence Ministry believes that they complement each other and should be introduced simultaneously.
“The National Guard reform and the reduction of national guard service are separate issues but are connected, because the re-organisation will not be possible without the reduced service. Unfortunately, the majority of political parties disagree both with the reform and with the reduction in service,” Papacostas explained.
Sources: Cyprus Mail: Compulsory army service reduction off the cards ‘for now’, 11 March 2009;
Taiwan: No conscription by 2014?
China Post reported on 13 March that Taiwan is to abolish conscription by 2014. Minister of National Defense, Chen Chao-ming, announced that Taiwan’s military will become an all-volunteer force within five years. Speaking to a military committee under the Legislative Yuan, Minster Chen explained that the process would commence in 2011 and by 2014 all divisions of the R.O.C. Armed Forces will be filled with career soldiers instead of conscripts. However, a more detailed look at the announcement reveals that conscription won’t be abolished completely. Chen also said: “In the future, local men will only be required to serve four months of basic military training”. This in fact means that the duty to serve in the military will remain, at least for some basic military training.
In recent years Taiwan has shortened compulsory military service, most recently in December 2008 from 14 to 12 months. Up to 2004, the duration of military service was 22 months.
Sources: China Post: End of military conscription, 13 March 2009
Uzebkistan: Conscientious objection only for some registered religions
During the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the Human Rights Council, Uzbekistan insisted that conscientious objection will only be recognised for “members of registered religious organizations, the faith of which prevent the use of weapons and service in the armed forces”. According to the Uzbek government, “the regulation of issues related to the execution by citizens of the Republic of Uzbekistan of the universal military duty and the fulfillment of military service are determined by the law of the Republic Uzbekistan «On Universal Military Duty and Military Service» of 12 December 2002 (with subsequent amendments). Universal military duty includes the preparation of citizens for military service, conscription, fulfillment of military service on conscription or on a contract base, military reserve service, alternative service, compliance with the rules of military record keeping, measures to protect the population in emergency situations or in a case of war aggression against the Republic of Uzbekistan”.
“Currently, the rights to conduct alternative service are granted to citizens of the Republic of Uzbekistan, who are members of religious organizations, such as «Union of Churches of Evangelical Christians – Baptists», «Jehovah’s Witnesses», «Christian Church – Seventh Day Adventist», «Council of Churches of Evangelical Christians – Baptists».”
According to the Working Group report, Uzbekistan indicated that it would study whether the recommendation of Slovenia to “ensure that conscientious objection to military service is available to individuals irrespective of their religion or belief and that the process for consideration applications is under civilian control and to provide a non-punitive civilian alternative service” complies with the national legislation, and would provide an answer in due time. However, in the report on the conclusion Uzbekistan only reiterates the present legal situation, without any comment that it would change the law to broaden the scope of the right to conscientious objection.
Source: Human Rights Council: Universal Periodic Review: Draft report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review: Uzbekistan, A/HRC/WG.6/3/L.15,19 December 2008; Human Rights Council: Universal Periodic Review: Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review: Uzbekistan: Addendum: Views on conclusions and/or recommendations, voluntary commitments and replies presented by the State under review, A/HRC/10/83/Add.1, 13 March 2009