Armenia: possible end to the jailing of COs

Armenia's Ministry of Justice has presented to parliament amendments to provide for a substitute 'civilian' service. These have now passed all their readings, and therefore the amendments to the 2003 Alternative Service Law and to the 2003 Law on Implementing the Criminal Code should be enacted.

There has been a law for substitute service in Armenia since 2003 (entering into force 2004), but the alternative service was still entirely controlled by the military, and therefore it neither met international standards on substitute service, nor was it sufficient for the many Jehovah's Witnesses in Armenia who refuse to serve under the military (of the approximately 275 young men who have been convicted and imprisoned to punish them for their conscientious objection to military service in the past decade, all but one have been Jehovah's Witnesses).

These amendments means that two forms of substitute service will come into play: 1.) "Alternative military service" for 30 months which is not connected with bearing, keeping, maintaining or using weapons; and 2.) "Alternative labour service" for 36 months not connected with the armed forces. These changes are likely to mean that Jehovah's Wintesses will no longer face a prison sentence, since they are likely to take up these substitute service options.

The changes also allow for substitute labour service for all young men with a conscientious objection to military service, whether they are religious or not, according to Forum 18.

Previously the Armenian government committed itself, on joining the Council of Europe, to introduce a civilian, non-military alternative service by January 2004, but it failed to do so. It also pledged to release all those imprisoned for refusing military service in the interim, but continued with a policy of imprisonment.

Sources: Forum 18, ARMENIA: New legal amendments to end conscientious objector jailings?, 6 June 2013; Forum 18, ARMENIA: Jailings of conscientious objectors resume, 6 June 2013; 20 September 2012.