European Court of Human Rights consolidates its jurisprudence on conscientious objection

Following the Grand Chamber judgment in the case of Bayatyan v Armenia from July 2011, in which the European Court of Human Rights for the first time recognised the right to conscientious objection as a right recognised under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights (see CO-Update No 67, August 2011), several chambers of the European Court have no consolidated this new jurisprudence of the Court.

As reported in CO-Update No 70, December 2011, on 22 November 2011 the Second Section of the Court recognised the right to conscientious objection in its judgment in the case Erçep v. Turkey. Since then, there have been three more judgments:

  • On 10 January, the Third Section handed down a judgment in the case of Bukharatyan v. Armenia. In this case, the Court noted "that it has already examined a similar complaint in the case of Bayatyan v. Armenia and concluded that the imposition of a penalty on the applicant, in circumstances where no allowances were made for the exigencies of his conscience and beliefs, could not be considered a measure necessary in a democratic society (see Bayatyan, cited above, §§ 124-125). In the present case, the applicant was similarly a member of Jehovah’s Witnesses who sought to be exempted from military service not for reasons of personal benefit or convenience but on the ground of his genuinely held religious convictions and the only reason why he was not able to do so and incurred criminal sanctions was the absence of such an opportunity."
  • On the same day, the Third Section also handed down its judgment in the case of Tsaturyan v. Armenia, giving almost identical reasons.
  • One week later, on 17 January 2012, the Second Section handed down a judgment in the case of Demirtaş v. Turkey, again a case of a Jehovah's Witness conscientious objector who had been imprisoned repeatedly by a military court. In this case, the Court found a violation of article 3 (inhuman and degrading treatment), article 6 (right to fair trial), and article 9 (freedom of thought, conscience, and religion) of the European Convention of Human Rights.

With these three judgment, the Court has now firmly established the right to conscientious objection as a manifestation of religion or belief in straightforward cases where there is no legal provision for the recognition of conscientious objection in national law.

Sources: European Court of Human Rights: GRAND CHAMBER: CASE OF BAYATYAN v. ARMENIA (Application no. 23459/03), 7 July 2011; AFFAIRE ERÇEP c. TURQUIE (Application no. 43965/04), 22 November 2011; Case of Bukharatyan v. Armenia (Application no. 37819/03), 10 January 2012; AFFAIRE FETİ DEMİRTAŞ c. TURQUIE (Application no. 5260/07), 17 January 2012